Faculty feature: Professor of Dance Jane Hawley

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Professor of dance Jane Hawley.

Professor of Dance Jane Hawley (‘87), was awarded the Nena Amundson Distinguished Professor Award in October 2020 for her groundbreaking Movement Fundamentals research, titled “Sensing Identity.” This award is highly competitive and boasts several grants for funding a research project, with which Hawley will focus on involving twenty students in investigating how dance can help identify personal practices for self-care, selfhood and well-being.

Upon hearing her project proposal had been selected for this prestigious honor, Hawley was extremely grateful and immediately reflected upon how the COVID-19 pandemic had brought clarity to her project. In the spring and summer of 2020, with her students sent home and the rising Black Lives Matter Movement, Hawley was inspired to change the subject matter of her project to further reflect how people articulate their experiences through sensations and experiences. This sparked the title “Sensing Identity.” Hawley realized that dance was being taught through a hierarchical approach, and through only certain styles, such as ballet or traditional modern dance. With this project, Hawley hopes to continue to change the way dance is taught.

“The training [the hierarchical approach] was more about colonizing the body or dancer, encouraging everyone to look the same, which can cause damage or injury, self-loathing, and low self esteem,” Hawley said. “I wanted to change dance training to be more somatic, more scientific, and encourage creativity within the art form from the students themselves. I wanted to train dancers as artists and empower people to love and feel gratitude for their bodies.”

Even before diving into this new research project, Hawley has been impacting the world of dance at Luther College and on a larger scale for years. In the years between graduating from and starting her 21 year career of dance instruction at Luther College, Hawley found herself studying improvisation at the Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater in New York City; spending time at a dance company in Chicago, Illinois; going to graduate school at the University of Illinois to study dance and choreography; and starting a nonprofit organization called Black Earth Collaborative Arts that focused on bringing together artists of all mediums. Finally, Hawley received a call from Luther College to serve as a sabbatical replacement for a dance professor, which turned into a three year contract, then a tenure course, and now Hawley serves as the only full professor of the dance department. Dance major Helen Roets (‘21) shared her thoughts on Hawley.

“Jane is an empathetic and passionate professor, committed to guiding her students through the art of dance,” Roets (‘21) said. “As the only dance professor at Luther, she takes on a huge amount of responsibility, especially considering how many Luther students outside of the dance department take a class from her at some point in their college careers. Her impact on Luther is incredible — she has created a safe space for absolutely anyone to find joy and fulfillment in movement.”

Hawley has attempted to change how dance is trained at Luther by focusing on training dancers to be artists, and encouraging all ages and body types to be performative. She has tried to create an environment in her class in which all skill levels feel welcomed and valued as performers.

“[Hawley] is very open and welcoming of students of all backgrounds, students with no dance experience, and those with a lot,” Cassie Kaminsky (‘22), a member of Hawley’s Movement Fundamentals course, said. “She works to help you dance in a way that is comfortable and natural for your body, and she’s very supportive of each individual and the way in which they want to move.”

For those interested in “Sensing Identity,” Hawley intends for the project to take place on and off campus over the next two years.

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