By Laurence C. Schwartz
When it came time to cover the Dance in my Introduction to the Arts class, I was determined to have some serious fun, hoping it would rub off on my students. The modicum of bodily grace I possessed was hard-earned through a rigid program of exercise during my salad days as a student actor. I had the perfect opportunity to physically demonstrate as well as elucidate. I rigorously prepared for the class. I would explore the art of the Dance within a contemporary context. I boned up on the Jitterbug, the Hand Jive, the Twist, the Boogie Woogie. I versed myself in terms like Arabesque, Jete, and Pirouette. I even studied the moves of John Travolta’s Tony Manero, when he takes charge of the disco’s dance floor in the film Saturday Night Fever. Then I reflected and took some notes on how Dance can be considered an agent of integration and socialization in the schema of our Democratic experiment.
I began class by discussing the founding of ballet during the Italian Renaissance and progressed to its efflorescence on the continent in the 18th century. Fast forward to my discussion of Elvis lighting a fire under the ass of America’s youth, inspiring them to “a dance craze that scared a lot of parents and spooked a lot of their teachers. Now kids were merrily making public displays of bumping and grinding, letting an energy emerge from below their waists! Now the Dance in America embraced a sexuality it had never known before.” The students were rapt. Then I said, “When an amateur undertakes a task better left to a professional, there can be dangerous consequences. When it comes to dance, you’re looking at a supreme amateur.” Then I moved away from my lectern to demonstrate ballet’s first and second positions. As I attempted the remaining three positions with intentionally disastrous results, I murmured, “wow is this hard, how do they do it? Is it a natural talent or the results of painstaking training? What do you guys think?” There were plenty of responses. “Now let’s see how the masters do it,” whereupon I screened some footage showing the likes of Baryshnikov and Nureyev in their prime. Before I dismissed class, I knew that I had opened some unchartered territory as to how the students would now think of the Dance.
The above is just one example among many from my thirty-plus year journey as a part-time college instructor that I chronicle in my recently published Teaching on Borrowed Time, An Adjunct’s Memoir (Page Publishing). Adjuncts make up some 65% of undergraduate faculty. Adjuncts have no benefits, no job security, and are paid per course. And we are underpaid. I have taught 23 subjects at 20 different campuses. Despite the hardships, I feel fortunate because I have received many opportunities to shine and inspire my students to appreciate my passion for film, literature, art, opera.
I had a consummate freedom and autonomy in my approach to the material. I could spend as much time as I like describing Monet’s use of sun and shadow, or the rich color scheme of Don Corleone’s office. Teaching as an adjunct has allowed me to continue pursuing my first love, theatre. My memoir also covers my many experiences as an actor and stage director in the New York theatre scene. My memoir can certainly speak to anyone in education or theatre. Yet I hope it can inspire any of the lone wolves who stubbornly survive and thrive in professions that offer little in material rewards and job security, yet they continue to rise to the challenges and cultivate a spiritual nourishment that continues to grow.
Teaching on Borrowed Time, An Adjunct’s Memoir is available online at amazon.com, Barnes & Noble Booksellers, iTunes, Googleplay.