Internationally known dance teacher and choreographer challenges students to realize dance is more than just having a healthy and flexible body.
USF.edu News Writer
Associate Professor of Dance, College of The Arts
School of Theatre & Dance
When Michael Foley was a young boy, he had no idea that dance would enable him to see the world.
“I could barely stand on one leg, much less imagine that the world would accept me as an artist,” he says.
Today, only Foley’s passport could come close to being as worn as the soles of his feet. The associate professor of dance in USF’s College of The Arts has been involved in the world of professional dance for more than 20 years – with the emphasis on world.
A master teacher and choreographer, Foley has taught classes and workshops at over 20 different colleges and universities in 15 different states and in 11 different countries. For example, he was a faculty member at DanceSpace Center in New York City for 10 years, as well as an instructor at The Alvin Ailey American Dance Center, the National Ballet of Cuba and the Ballet National de Marseille. He has directed his own dance company, which toured the United States and Europe and was based in Ireland for several years. He has received choreographic commissions around the globe, including Cirque du Soleil’s “La Nouba” show at Walt Disney World and Jus de La Vie Dance Company in Sweden, and his work has been performed at many well-respected venues including Lincoln Center’s Out-of-Doors Festival and The Beckett Centre at Trinity College in Dublin.
Prolific and internationally renowned, Foley has performed on stages from New York City to Rome. The New York Times has called him “hypnotic” and “exuberant,” The Miami Herald the “best of show” and The Dallas Morning News tabbed him “fascinating.” At USF, however, where he has taught since 2002, students simply call him “Michael.” He’s the professor and mentor who teaches modern dance technique, choreography and dance history and makes them laugh.
“Despite my casual exterior, students understand that I demand their complete dedication to educating themselves as dancers and as people,” he says.
Surprisingly, the most important lesson Foley says he teaches is not about technique. “Dance is unlike so many other pursuits in life in that a dancer must live his or her life as a dancer 100 percent, which means extraordinary sacrifice and dedication to the craft,” he says. “However, dancing is more than just having a healthy and flexible body. Dancers must also be intellectually curious, able to collaborate, articulate their opinions clearly and contribute to growth of the art form.
“I want my students to know that they are an essential part of an important legacy of artists, which gives them a sense of appreciation for what has come before them and the responsibility they have to its future.”
Last year, Foley traveled to Mazatlan, Mexico as a Fulbright scholar to work with one of the country’s most celebrated modern dance companies, Delfos Danza. Setting new choreography and training students, he facilitated a greater artist/student exchange between the United States and Mexico.
“Any time that I am away from my students at USF, I feel I have an enormous amount of creative information that needs to be ‘tried out’ on them,” says Foley. “Whether it is something I saw at a performance, or a new approach to teaching dance technique – USF dancers are always ready for a challenge.”
Foley says that whenever and wherever he travels, he finds a universality about the human movement experience. “Each place I perform, teach or choreograph has its share of extraordinary artists who are there to inspire, provoke and mentor. I’m a choreographic sponge, so I try to see a lot of dance concerts in the country I am visiting and then I experiment back home with what I’ve seen.”
In addition to his classes on campus, Foley directs a summer abroad program for student dancers in Paris, France. “I want USF dancers to become global citizens of dance,” he says, adding that during the past several years that he has taken USF dancers to France, the experience has irrevocably changed both students and him.
“The goal is to make sure that students understand they are an essential and integral part of a much larger artistic community beyond the American model,” he says. “For me, when I see Paris anew through their experiences, that, in turn, figures into how much more I need to integrate the global perspective into my daily teaching.”
And it is that daily teaching – his role as an educator – that Foley finds most gratifying.
“I have yet to find a place that offers anything remotely similar to what I have at USF in terms of the level of commitment by the faculty and the depth of talent in the students,” he says.
“The gifts of being an educator are infinite. When I see my students reach their goals, even if it is well after they’ve graduated, it is like the sun coming out.”
Mary Beth Erskine can be reached at 813-974-6993.