Erin Puskar ’15 is a dancer from head to toe and inside and out. She’s also a dance educator, graduate student and national fellowship winner – and she’s not even out of her early 20s.
Puskar, of Allentown, Pennsylvania, who has danced since age four, attended the Alpha Chi National College Honor Society conference in Chicago this spring. There, she presented her senior group dance piece, “Homines in Machina,” which netted her an H.Y. Benedict Fellowship of $2,500 for her graduate studies. She was one of fewer than 30 people to receive fellowships and scholarships from about 300 chapters of the honor society. She also won a $100 presentation prize for the solo piece she choreographed, “Delusions of Grandeur,” which she performed at the conference.
She then headed back to the Windy City over the summer for a internship required as part of her Performing Arts Leadership and Management master’s program studies. Puskar, who is set to earn her master’s in May 2016 via an accelerated track, combined her graduate work with her Bachelor of Fine Arts in dance education as an intern in the youth dance program at Hubbard Street Dance Chicago. “Hubbard Street Dance Chicago is a huge, internationally known organization and dance company,” Puskar said. The contemporary dance company performs year-round and is deeply committed to community, youth, and educational programs.
Hubbard Street is well known in the dance world for its innovative approach to dance education by creating sustainable school partnerships, offering family and youth workshops and conducting classes with a variety of student types, including people with Parkinson’s disease. According to the company’s website, it utilizes “the choreographic process to assist students in strengthening basic proficiencies to develop analytical and abstract thinking, interpretation and problem-solving skills.”
Puskar described her experience at Hubbard Street as being “incredibly eye-opening and educational.” She served as a teaching assistant for summer technique workshops and creative movement camps, working with students between the ages for four and 14, did some administrative work, and met department heads at lunches attended by interns. She was also able to take class with master dance teachers, as well as watch the company rehearse and perform. “Everything about the internship was inspiring,” she said. It was “so all-encompassing and fulfilling. It was perfect.”
“I adored the staff there,” she said, noting that she received valuable feedback from teaching artists (instructors) on her methods. The teaching artists have a very strong curriculum, she said. “They have a very sophisticated approach to it.”
Her passion for all aspects of dance education and the performing arts merged well at Hubbard Street. “Erin came to Hubbard Street already familiar with many aspects of curriculum development, classroom management and dance pedagogy, which helped significantly in the on-boarding process for our Youth Dance Program. She spent 40 hours a week with us this summer, sharing her appreciation for arts education. She’s a welcome addition to our field, we look forward to watching her grow as a teaching artist, and wish her the best in future endeavors,” Hubbard Street Dance Chicago Youth Dance Programs Manager Kelsey Allison said.
“The experience was exhausting, but absolutely worth it”, said, Puskar, who said her ultimate long-term goal is to be a manager of education and outreach programs for a major dance company. But, she said that after she earns her master’s, she’d like to explore the performance side of dance, noting that performance experience will add to her credibility as an instructor. She continues to train in dance technique classes at Shenandoah and serves as a dancer for senior ensembles. And make no mistake, she adores teaching dance, from technique to creative movement. “I just like to see the growth of students and how dance can affect their lives positively in so many ways – mind, body, and spirit,” she said.
Puskar worked as an educator and choreographer this semester as she continued her PALM studies. She served as a dance instructor at the Shenandoah Conservatory Arts Academy, show choir choreographer for Handley High School, and choreographer for a musical theatre production at Musselman High School in Inwood, West Virginia.
“I like how dance parallels life in so many ways,” she added. “Being able to express yourself physically is just very freeing and fulfilling and challenging.” In dance, like life, one is always striving for perfection, but there’s always another step to learn. And she said she’s ready for whatever opportunities come her way. “The options are wide open.”
Photo Credits: Rick Foster & Allison Noah