DAN: All right, why don't we just start with, why don't you introduce yourself?
SETH: Well, what would you like to know?
DAN: How about just say your name.
SETH: Alright. I'm Seth McCoy.
DAN: And you're a student at AACC?
SETH: Mm-hmm (affirmative).
DAN: And what was your course of study when you first got here?
SETH: When I first got here, I didn't know what I wanted to do.
DAN: So did that change?
SETH: Yes, that changed. I took one chemistry course, and I was like, "Oh, this is pretty great." So I changed my major to chemistry. Then I also added a dance major, because I've been dancing for a while.
DAN: That's an interesting combination.
SETH: Yes, it is.
Welcome to Redefine U, a podcast that explores what happens when we’re challenged to change our beliefs, our thoughts or even who we think we are.
What if chasing our passions produced tangible results? What if our varied, seemingly unconnected interests powered each other?
I’m Dan Baum and in this episode we’ll talk to Seth McCoy about how he came to pursue his interests in both chemistry and dance. Then we’ll hear from Lynda Fitzgerald, coordinator of AACC’s Dance program, about the benefits of dance and what teaching dancers has meant to her.
First, Seth’s story.
DAN: Let’s start with the science part. What appeals to you most about science?
SETH: I don't really know. I just like learning things. I like to know things. I think science is interesting just because it can be understood, and it's really interesting to know the way that the world works and just how everything works together.
DAN: So are you just pursuing your curiosity? Or are you considering a career path there?
SETH: Oh, for sure. I want to go into some sort of research field. Because I think that we have a lot of problems in the world right now …
DAN: We do.
SETH: And we need people in those research fields to help work it out.
SETH: So I'm hoping to do environmental research, try to get that sorted out.
DAN: Is the environment something that's really important to you?
SETH: I mean, we're floating on a dying rock and we're killing it faster, so if we want to get anywhere in the universe, we need to start figuring out how to fix our environment. Because we're not doing it any favors right now. I don't think we're putting the effort that we need to necessarily into that kind of stuff, because of course people go where the money is, and the money is in fossil fuels and all that stuff, but it's not very good for us. I just feel like if we want to continue advancing scientifically, if we really want to figure out as much about the universe as we can, we need to start fixing the environment of Earth. Because, you know.
DAN: Suddenly I got this image of dancing on a dying rock.
SETH: It's a very artistic thought.
DAN: I'm thinking there's some choreography opportunities for you there.
SETH: Indeed. Can grab some interstellar music.
DAN: What about dance?
SETH: Dance. So, my sister, she was a dancer when she was younger. She started dancing when she was seven or something. And her teacher learned that she had three male siblings and she told our mom that she wanted all three of us to try dance. So all three of us did. Two of us stuck with it. And that's basically how I started dancing. It was just, my sister's teacher wanted me to. So …
DAN: Then how did you get involved in dance here at AACC?
SETH: I never stopped dancing from when I started to my time at AACC. I heard that the AACC had a dance company, and I was like, "Oh, that should be fun. I want to try that."
DAN: So what connections do you see between your chemistry studies and dance? Do you see some similarities, or mainly differences?
SETH: That's a tough one. I don't really see direct connections between the two of them. I see it's like that left brain, right brain thing. One of them is the artsy-fartsy stuff, and then the other one is the science-y stuff. I don't know. I guess it just keeps me well-versed.
DAN: Do you kind of compartmentalize them, or do you feel that it just sort of keeps you whole? As you said, right brain, left brain.
SETH: I feel like it kind of keeps me whole, in a sense. They apply to each other for sure in a lot of ways, in terms of self-discipline and that kind of stuff. They really help each other out.
DAN: Do you find some of the creative skills transferrable to other areas, whether they're to science or other areas of your life?
SETH: I'd say so, yes. I think dance definitely helps with the creativity and thinking outside the box in some senses, like kind of opens up those creative pathways.
DAN: Who were the people helping you along the way?
SETH: For sure my mom. Basically all of my family. My family's fantastic. I love them. My mom and Lynda, for sure, has been a huge influence, especially of course the last three years when I was at the college.
DAN: In what way? What ways were they helping or influencing you?
SETH: They helped me figure out what I should be doing, like thinking about what the best path to take is, that kind of stuff. Helping me if I needed advice or anything, I could always go to them and they would be able to help me figure out what I needed to do.
On the surface, dance and science seem totally unrelated. In the beginning, even Seth had trouble articulating any similarities. They are both just a part of who he is.
According to Seth, dancing opens his creative pathways and allows him to think outside of the box. What else can we gain from the pursuit of dance? How can an artistic outlet feed our seemingly less artistic endeavors?
Lynda Fitzgerald started dancing when she was eight. She’s been teaching dance at AACC for over thirty years. Let’s talk to Lynda to learn what has kept her moving forward.
DAN: How long have you been with AACC?
LYNDA: About a million years. I've been at the college since November of '87, and I've had a couple of different positions during that time. I was initially hired in admissions as a part time admissions counselor, and then I took over a dance class for someone who went out on maternity leave, and that kind of got the ball rolling in regards to dance.
Some students wanted a performing club, and asked me if I was interested in signing on as the advisor, and I said yes, and that's when the dance company was born, which was fall of '88. So our first public performance was spring of '89. And, ultimately, somewhere around 2000-ish, they came up with a full-time dance position, and I've had that since.
DAN: So going back to when it started, this is the 30th anniversary.
LYNDA: Yes. Yeah, we had an amazing celebration. We had almost 80 alums returning to celebrate, and we had an alumni concert, which was just exceptional. And then we had a really big reception in the dining hall, which was so much fun. Just catching up with everybody, and hearing what they're doing and everything. It's a big family, and we had a great time, so it was wonderful. And then all the alums were inviting guests to the current company show that night, and that kind of finished out the weekend.
DAN: That's great. It was a big milestone, so congratulations.
LYNDA: Thank you.
DAN: Let's talk about the students that you typically see. What types of students take dance classes? Are they all dance majors?
LYNDA: No. In fact, there are a lot who aren't majoring in dance, and some of them just are curious about it. Some of them heard that ballet helps with balance and alignment, which it does. I've had rock climbers. I've had certainly theater people. I've had returning students, non-traditional students, senior citizens. It's such a lovely grouping of people. The population in the classes is really very diverse, so it's not just the stereotypic college kid.
DAN: What kind of skills and experiences do these students bring then?
LYNDA: A lot of different experiences. It really depends. I mean, there are some who have never danced ever, and they find out that we have dance, and they want to try it. And then I've had kids who have been dancing since they were three, and they bring a lot of different experience with them, depending on their background. Whether it's competitive, or simply technique or classical training.
DAN: Given this range of students, what do they typically gain from exploring dance?
LYNDA: I think a good sense of self. Their kinesthetic sense is really important. Knowing where their body is in space, and being able to coordinate things. It's a very different thing for people who haven't danced to come in, especially if they're taking a ballet class, which is extremely structured, and there's no gray area. It's pretty much black and white. So I think, for them, it's learning how their body works, and getting stronger in a different way that they hadn't initially thought would happen.
DAN: What do you typically see in students' ability to transfer what they're learning in dance into other areas of academic learning or in life?
LYNDA: I have friends like a really dear friend of mine who was a dance major, and she's now a nurse, and she understands how the body works, and she can relate to people that way. I also have some friends who have gone into physical therapy, and there is dance therapy as well, and that's also a really beneficial field to explore.
Some of the dancers have gone on into arts management, which is also a great field. Some have gone onto stage design and lighting. So it's much more than meets the eye. It's not just the studio type of dance. There's a really big field out there. You can be a historian, you can be a dance critic …
DAN: Any creative art is going to be transformative in some way. What does dance specifically teach us about transformation in our lives, or redefining ourselves?
LYNDA: Again, I think it's more of an expression that you can use physically, and I think it helps get things out there in terms of how you're feeling, or what you've observed, and just letting the physicality of it ... Let that help how things turn out.
DAN: By teaching as much as you do, you dance. What do you do for you?
LYNDA: I keep trying. As I get older, things become more limited. You find new challenges and new things that you can capitalize on while you can still do them. So every year brings on a new challenge that way. Something is taken from me, and try to find something else that I can still do.
I really enjoy it. The joy I get from dancing at this point in time for myself is more seeing the students succeed, and what they're getting out of it, and watching the expression on their face when they get something they've been working so hard to get. And they master it. Or when they complete a piece, and it's actually a lovely composition that was really well crafted. That makes me really happy. That's the teaching and the learning aspect.
I learn something new every day, whether it's about me or about my students.
DAN: What about the program? How has the program grown and changed over time?
LYNDA: The program has grown tremendously over time. Initially, we just had two courses, or just a few courses listed in physical education and there was no major.
Skip Brown was the chair of physical education at the time, really wonderful man, and just so helpful in telling me what I needed to do, and how I needed to do it, and making these changes, and see if they worked. Thankfully, one by one, we got the courses changed to an hour and a quarter, and I had rewritten the description of them, and started writing some new courses. And then the dean finally approached me, he said, "Why don't you just write a dance curriculum?" So I said, "okay."
DAN: No pressure.
LYNDA: Yeah, I know, right? It was a little daunting. There were definitely some roadblocks, and some issues, and some frustrations along the way, but in 1995, they accepted the dance major, and we've added courses since then. We have about 23 courses on the books.
DAN: That many?
DAN: That’s a lot.
DAN: Getting that early support must've been really validating and exciting. But there must've been some real risk here. You had been in the admissions office, now it's a whole new venture. What was … What were the risks that you had to overcome to make this happen?
LYNDA: The risks were finding the students to populate the program. I mean, that's a really scary thing, and when nobody knows that you have this kind of a program, they're not going to come.
The best thing that we had going at the time probably were our performances, and getting out into the public eye that way. And Wendi Winters, bless her heart, was instrumental in getting us publicity through the Capital.
LYNDA: She came frequently to our performances, and often would just write comments for me.
DAN: Yeah, she was such a strong advocate for the arts, and for the college.
LYNDA: Yeah, exactly. Exactly. So she's missed, oh, all the time.
But the challenge, and it still remains, getting students to come into this program, and understand that we have a valid program, and I've worked really hard with the four year schools in the area, so we have great articulation. Everybody's very supportive. I think all the chairs of the dance programs of UMBC, of Towson, of University of Maryland, Goucher. All these local schools that have helped me in regards to making sure that I have a program that is going to be working with theirs.
DAN: The program has grown and changed so much. What about for yourself? What changes do you see in your own self-perception?
LYNDA: That's a good question. I think the things that I've seen are more student-oriented in terms of how I deal with the students. The students have changed over time.
DAN: In what way?
LYNDA: A lot of them are coming in with a lot more experience, which is really exciting, There are so many dance studios in this area, and a lot of them have been going to them, and the dance program in the high schools in the county, the middle schools, the elementary schools, phenomenal
So the feeding into the colleges is that much better, too, because of that.
DAN: What's next for the program?
LYNDA: Somebody younger coming in and taking over, and bringing it to the next level, which I think is really important to think about. And exciting to think about for the students who will eventually come here. I love what's happened here, and I think that it's been such a great experience. And I'm not hanging up my shoes yet, but it's certainly in the future.
I've been so blessed, and so lucky, and I really do thank everybody who has helped me, and who has supported me along the way.
LYNDA: I think in the toughest times, I was constantly reminded why I was here by the students, seeing their faces in class, and by the faculty and staff here. The people who are here just reminded me all the time this is a great place. It really is.
DAN: And when I think about redefining, you redefined a curriculum, a whole program. Completely redefined it.
LYNDA: Oh, thank you. I had a lot of help, and it was done with a lot of support of everybody here. So I'm so grateful, and I'm so lucky.
Lynda says dancing provides a sense of self. It helps us know where our body is in space. It provides an outlet to express our emotions. It can bring us joy.
Lynda’s students, like Seth, and their own devotion to dance have kept her going.
Let’s return to Seth’s story. What challenges has he faced? How has his study of dance and science helped him?
DAN: If you were to think about it, given the disciplines that you've been studying, what do those disciplines teach us about transforming ourselves or redefining ourselves?
SETH: That's a good question. Well, dance definitely transforms you in multiple ways. It transforms you physically for sure, because it's not easy stuff to do. Mentally, it gives you that confidence. It gives you that kind of artistry, that kind of sense about yourself. I think dance is really good for that. Definitely a confidence boost in that sense.
DAN: Tell me about your confidence level when you came here.
SETH: It was very, very low. I don't know. I just realized I was really shy. I was not really getting out of things what I wanted to. Out of my relationships and my studies and everything. It just wasn't what I felt like I wanted it to be. And I was like, "You know, this is all stemming from one common issue."
DAN: And what help did you seek?
SETH: Help did I seek... Well, I started just looking inside, kind of applying myself to certain things more, definitely.
DAN: I'm just having a hard time reconciling this. You're a very tall, striking, redhead out on stage dancing, and I'm thinking, "Where's that shyness coming from?"
SETH: I think that's part of the issue, is that I don't really like being the center of attention, which is very ironic considering that I'm a performer. Being that tall and striking appearance and not liking to be the center of attention isn't a good combination.
DAN: So, you’ve been reconciling that. I can see that. What about now?
SETH: Oh, I'm definitely far more confident in myself.
DAN: What's helped you get there? What's been the difference?
SETH: I guess just going through all the dance courses and performing, and then finishing up the STEM courses and all that stuff kind of makes me feel like, "I can do this. I don't give myself enough credit. I can actually do this stuff." So it kind of makes me feel a little better when I accomplish those kinds of things.
DAN: Well, yeah. I'm thinking of being up on stage, putting yourself out there. I would think that would give you a lot of confidence.
SETH: Yeah. It's kind of weird, because when you're on stage and the adrenaline hits you, you kind of forget about everything. Sometimes you don't even remember there's an audience there. And then once you're done, you're like, "Oh. That just happened." I don't know, it's always been like that performing for me. I have legitimately forgotten there was an audience before.
DAN: So what has changed most in your self-perception?
SETH: In my self-perception. That's a good question. I guess I just... Really, I think the confidence thing is something that really has changed a lot about me. I really feel much more confident in myself than when I started here. I think that's kind of one of the really big takeaways that I've gotten from here, which maybe doesn't seem like a big thing, but it's very important.
DAN: Then this question may be a bit redundant. How have you redefined yourself?
SETH: How have I redefined myself? Well, I went from having absolutely no idea what I wanted to do with my life to having a pretty strong idea of where I want to go. I'm charting out my path, and before I was just kind of transient, not really sure what I was doing. So, I think that's a really, really big thing that I've changed.
We are complex beings. Many individual elements — a mix of our values and passions — create the compound of our soul.
Creativity seems particularly special and its use has incredible benefits. Scientists claim activities like painting, drawing, writing and dancing can help with everything from depression to immune deficiencies. Lynda told us having a creative outlet helps her release emotions she couldn’t otherwise express. Seth described how it fuels the accomplishments that give him confidence.
We need creativity. It is the key to discovering real solutions — some choreographed, others improvised — to the world’s problems. And someday, those solutions might allow us to dance on a thriving rock.
What are you passionate about? Family? Service? The arts? If the latter, the arts need our support now, more than ever. Go see a show, donate to your local arts council or visit our show notes for ideas to connect, inspire and fund the creative endeavors of our community.
Redefine U is a production of Anne Arundel Community College.
Our executive producer and creative director is Allison Baumbusch.
Our producer is Jeremiah Prevatte and our writer, Amy Carr Willard.
Others who helped with this podcast include Angie Hamlet, Alicia Renehan, and Ben Pierce.
Special thanks to Seth McCoy and Lynda Fitzgerald.
Find show notes, how to subscribe and other extras on our website: aacc.edu/podcast.
I’m your host and creator of this podcast, Dan Baum. Thanks for listening.