Nationally-known educator encourages School of Dance students to find their 'quiet fire'

Published: October 6, 2022 Author: Emma Skidmore BSJ ’23

Ashley Suttlar Martin said students trust her, even when she gives them notes to “find your inner Springbok.”

Suttlar Martin, an independent dance educator, administrator and advocate, and teaching artist at the Northwest School of the Arts and the Charlotte (NC) Ballet, is on Ohio University’s Athens Campus this week as a guest artist in residence. Suttlar Martin’s visit is supported by professor Christi Camper Moore’s 1804 Endowment Grant.

Suttlar Martin is working with all School of Dance students in classes like ballet, modern dance, composition and is also holding various lectures that unpack topics like the living history of dance and the present. 

Community members are invited to join her “Creating Inclusivity through Global Traditions” event, featuring guided movement, breakout groups and a ‘preview’ of movement-based work and discussion, on Friday, Oct. 7 from 3 to 4:30 p.m. in Putnam Hall, room 134. The event is free and open to all.

Ashley Suttlar Martin photo

The 1804 Grant, which supports Camper Moore’s research, enables the week-long residency that aims to foster collaboration among all dance majors for a second year in a row. The residency also specifically engaged first-year dance majors in creating a piece that will premiere at the Winter Dance Concert Feb. 17 and 18, 2023. Suttlar Martin said the theme of the performance will merge the spiritual and material to reflect the infinite cycle of energy, destruction and recreation.

Annabelle Coleman, a first-year dance major, said she feels she has already grown so much this week in getting to work with Suttlar Martin.

"As a student from North Carolina, it has felt like having a piece of home in class and rehearsal,” Coleman said.“Her rehearsal is really setting me up for success in the real world with the fast-paced choreography. She has done such a great job of harvesting a productive but fun work environment and I look forward to rehearsal every day. I am so grateful for the opportunity to learn from Ashley and be given the experience to perform and do what I love."

“I've been really interested with my experience this year dealing with a lot of loss and a lot of transitions and moments of self-awareness,” Suttlar Martin said.

According to Camper Moore, the guaranteed performance opportunity for first-year students that this residency offers is important as many first-year students come from backgrounds where performing is deeply embedded in their identities as dancers.

“Especially for first-year dance majors, the significance of performing has implications for social connectedness, levels of student involvement, sense of dance identity, and the perceptions of the learning experience and environment,” Camper Moore said. “Students who choose to major in dance have typically danced for years prior to arriving at OHIO and have forged a clear sense of their dance identity through performance.”

Two artists-educators connect and collaborate

Suttlar Martin and Camper Moore connected as colleagues at Coker University where they collaborated on dance pieces and taught students together. Suttlar Martin noted that she and Camper Moore have similar teaching styles and pedagogy, so she was thrilled to teach at OHIO.

“Higher ed is where I love to be,” Suttlar Martin added. “Dance is not in conformity, and I love when the students realize that they have their own approach.”

Suttlar Martin said she has loved working with OHIO students because of their candor, honesty and humility.

“There’s something I call a ‘quiet fire,’ it’s just the je ne sais quoi a dancer has when they’re hungry and they’re invested and fully-embodied.”

Suttlar Martin describes herself as a life-long learner and said the practice of dance is an exchange.

“If I’m not discovering something new, then I don’t really feel like I should be teaching,” she said. “There’s so much that you learn from the students when [they are] ... part of it ...”

Camper Moore adds that this approach to teaching is part of a larger shift that’s happening in the field.

“Bringing in Ashley as someone who has that as a central tenant of how they teach means that the students can see themselves inside of everything,” Camper Moore explained. “There are certainly moments where students – in any of their classes – can be frustrated or overwhelmed, but they’re still situating themselves in the experience rather than it feels like the experience is being done to them.”

Suttlar Martin said transferable skills surrounding dance include authentically expressing emotions, empowerment and creativity, and deemphasizing solely technical focus.

“Dance is a mode of healing,” Suttlar Martin said. “I think with everything that’s been going on externally in the world lately, I’ve even found myself shifting more into [thinking], ‘How can this serve my students in a way that supports their well-being?’”