James Coleman

Citation for 2000 Mount Holyoke College Faculty Award for Teaching

During interviews with colleagues in all the arts about possible candidates for teaching awards, Jim Coleman's name came up more often than any other. Both Jim and his partner Terese Freedman are cited repeatedly by professional dancers and colleagues elsewhere as models for college teachers of dance, and both are credited with giving national stature to the dance programs at Mount Holyoke and the Five Colleges. There is little precedent for a dance company functioning as teachers who incorporate advanced students in their professional tours. They teach by the example of their own professionalism while stressing issues of reactive performance rather than inculcating a set of predetermined recipes. Their success as teachers stems from their sensitivity to an environment of women dancers, encouraging independent creativity as well as solidarity -- a sense of 'company' -- in the framework of the intimacy and physicality of dance movement and its complex kinesthetic interactions.

Yet Jim and Terese would wish to be seen also as individuals, and it's Jim's concern for relating dance to the other arts and humanities that's so consistently praised. Many of us remember his role as member of the PEW-funded seminar that explored how the several arts could function in a liberal arts curriculum. The course sponsored by this seminar, "Doing It: Creativity, Performance and the Liberal Arts" helped elevate the role of dance on this campus, already transformed by the creative examples and teaching of both Terese and Jim. Memorable works, making use of the campus itself, made us hope for more such performances.

Jim's role in the Five College Dance Department has been remarked upon by both students and faculty at the other colleges. Faculty have been especially taken by his encouraging junior colleagues in the Five College program to improve their teaching. Together with his partner Terese Freedman, Jim is praised by other professionals for the reciprocity of performance and teaching, a rare enough phenomenon that it inspires special praise.

We learn from student evaluations that Jim's courses stress choreography, modern dance techniques, contemporary dance history and aesthetics, and philosophical issues. Very favorable from the beginning in 1983, the evaluations have grown even stronger with the years. To their own surprise, students are engaged by Jim's insistence upon the history, theory, and esthetics of dance. (They may not know that for his B.A., Jim majored in anthropology and minored in philosophy.) Some students say that DESPITE the journals he makes them keep, and all the reading he requires, they are better dancers because they now understand how intellect and experience work together in the dance. One Five College student writes that she is -- with apparent wonder -- "beginning to look at dance on a more active intellectual level." Students also remark on Jim's memorable teaching. One writes: "The fact that he's so passionate about his work means a lot to me. He reminds me of the professor in the movie 'Dead Poet's Society'." And another writes: "What has changed for me [is] to see others change their views of dance." To have this kind of effect on his students makes Jim Coleman indeed a model teacher.