Dr. Patrick O'Connor
The Road Less Traveled is a recurring feature that describes the path creative, interesting people took to get to where they are in life. Most creative people have traveled very interesting paths to get to where they are … usually zig-zagging a lot, shifting artistic gears, retracing steps, exploring new passions, revisiting previous works, failing a whole bunch, and generally bouncing back often. All these experiences are part of their creative profile and serve to motivate and inspire them. This feature tells that story. This issue of The Road Less Traveled features Joan Meggitt; associate professor of Dance in the School of Theatre and Dance at Kent State University. Joan has an extremely wide and deep record in the arts, especially dance, and brings a world of experience to her profession.
“I never imagined I’d be in a long term academic position, let alone in multiple positions of leadership. I think my whole road is an accident, up to a point”. Joan Meggitt has evolved from athlete to singer to musician to aspiring law student to entrepreneur to performer to dance educator and administrator. Usually, dancers who achieve Joan’s level start as a child prodigy with special lessons, guidance, and experiences.
In high school Joan was an outstanding athlete (tennis) and musician (piano) while taking all the usual high school classes. She was also a classically trained Mezzo-soprano who performed in opera. She performed in the Pittsburgh Mendelsohn choir (both Junior and Senior). Mezzo means half so Mezzo-soprano is half soprano. This looks to be about the only thing Joan has ever done half-way.
She studied economics at Allegheny College with plans to go to law school. She was quite sure she knew what she wanted to do and where she was headed. Life, however, would have different plans for her. While at college, she was active in the vocal program, performing with multiple choirs, giving recitals, even performing in opera productions. However, even with all her experiences in singing up to that point, she took voice lessons for the first time in college! She had relied mainly on her natural talent and love for singing. It was her voice teacher who told her to take a dance class to improve her posture and singing. So, at 19, she took her first dance class—a modern dance class with a former dancer from the Erick Hawkins Dance Company in New York City. Soon, the dance director told her she should be a dancer, which really set off a bomb inside her. “I remember feeling as if I were exploding and imploding at the same time”. She stayed the course as an economics major, graduating from Allegheny with a bachelor’s degree. “In my economics classes, I had some very passionate and creative teachers but I found a cohort in the arts that was missing in Economics.” Though she was very focused, goal oriented, and successful in many ways, her path was still being formed.
After making the leap to dance, she was very intentional about living a life in dance; but even then, opportunities randomly presented themselves. When an opportunity presented itself, she took it. She never thought about what she was supposed to do; she “just jumped”.
She arranged a dance audition at Case Western Reserve University for the Masters in Fine Arts program. She was denied admission but was given very specific feedback on what she needed to do to improve. She spent the next four years tending to that feedback and returned to Case for another audition. This time, she was accepted, ultimately receiving the MFA. Along the way, she worked numerous part-time jobs and started a dance company, touring internationally. She also worked with many dancers, composers, musicians, and visual/ film artists before eventually arriving at KSU in 2005.
Joan has two parallel passions in the world of dance. First are her professional experiences in the KSU dance division. Second is her passion for taking dance to people from nontraditional populations. Both paths are, for the most part, completely accidental. Joan is a dance scholar who combines her many artistic experiences with her skills as an educator. Her world revolves around dance for traditional and non-traditional populations.
In addition to her current faculty role, Joan served as the Coordinator of Dance Division in the School of Theatre and Dance from 2017 to 2019. She makes dance, teaches dance, reads and writes about dance, and directs and produces dance. Joan’s competence and dedication were recognized when she received KSU Excellence in Teaching Award in 2009. She also writes, make dances, and co-directs the annual Student Dance Festival.
She teaches classes in the modern dance technique of Erick Hawkins, improvisation, composition, dance history, and dance appreciation. Her work is all about creativity and innovation. She works with dance majors and minors as well as students outside of dance. For info on dance courses, programs, and performances visit the website: https://www.kent.edu/theatredance.
She is also very devoted to providing dance opportunities for non-traditional populations. She taught dance to children in the Cleveland Public Schools and ran summer dance programs for urban youth. She has also shared dance programs for people with disabilities, primarily Parkinson’s disease (PD).
For 17 years, she directed the Antaeus Dance Company she started in partnership with her husband, Brian. She named the studio Anteaus in honor of the Greek God of the same name. Antaeus had his power rooted in the ground and would be victorious as long as he kept his feet on the ground. Joan named her dance company after Anteaus because her style of dance is close to the ground. Many forms of dance feature the upper body but Joan’s dancing is about being close to the ground.
Joan has also been involved in the “Yes…I Can (!) Dance” program at InMotion dance studio in Warrensville Heights. The mission of InMotion is to use dance, exercise and healing arts to strengthen the mind, body, and spirit of those affected by Parkinson’s disease. Considerable research evidence supports dance as a healing activity both mentally and physically with a wide assortment of health benefits, especially as people age. It is good for balance, energy level, memory, endurance, heart/lungs, muscle tone, and strength. Dancing reduces stress, improves self-confidence, and controls weight.
It even contributes to better social skills, which leads to overall well-being and longevity. I visited InMotion and participated in a session Joan led of the “Yes… I Can (!) Dance” class. My goal was to see these benefits in person. It was inspiring to see her blend singing, dance, music, exercise, and movement into one physical, emotional, and social experience for us. We were all very much engaged on many levels.
Multiple Mentors and Role Models
It is quite common for successful people to have role models and mentors who have influenced their RLT. Joan’s case in this area is a bit unique as she has many mentors and role models. They include people in dance but also in music, ceramic art, theatre, choreography, athletics, film, and non-profit management including her husband, Brian. Kathryn Karipides, Shanna Sheline, Sherri Mills and Kelly Holt highlight a long list of mentors on her path. A primary lesson she has learned from these important people is everything connects into a holistic view of the important role the arts play in life. She has also learned from them that everyone teaches everyone!
Dance is a metaphor for life.
When Joan says everything in her RLT is connected, she means it. In addition to her vocal studies in college, she took studio art classes. All those arts experiences have stayed with her to this day. The lessons were interchangeable from discipline to discipline and applicable to life. One of her first dance teachers, Jan Hyatt, would always say, “It’s all connected”. She believes this is true for any creative individual, regardless of their discipline, in and out of the arts. She met other artists and has worked with them to create multi-media pieces that included original music, film, set, and lighting design. She has reciprocated with her artistic friends by creating dances to accompany their work. Music, singing, and dance are companions to provide an overall experience in the arts.
Joan has done an amazing job of merging her talent/abilities/experiences in music, dance, singing and athletics. A common thread in each is they all require considerable discipline and dealing with disappointment. Her parents' wisdom that “disappointments abound; that’s life “was instrumental in making sure she recognized her own value; from the inside out. While external recognition is valuable and rewarding, she finds the intrinsic
rewards are in making art. It feeds her soul and enables her to meet disappointments head on. Wisdom from one of her many mentors: “Use it for good rather than evil."
Problem solving is a premium for Joan. She finds, in some respects, making the dance is the easiest part—particularly when you work with a great group of creative people. Finding the resources for space, music, costumes, sets, lighting … that’s the real challenge and has forced her to be creative. She even taught herself to sew so she could design and make costumes for her dance company!
Hats are part of the costume a performer wears and perhaps a symbol of vulnerability. When you wear a hat you feel different than without it. Hats can transport you to exciting artistic places.
Joan believes vulnerability is important. This is really an asset rather than a weakness, as it is sometimes perceived. “What I do as a teacher and artist requires me to be vulnerable.” She also asks those around her to be vulnerable because it keeps everyone engaged. It is also a great responsibility that she takes seriously. Vulnerability enables us to be open to new ideas and approaches. This encourages us to travel paths we might otherwise overlook. It opens us up to risks, which broadens our perspective and experience. As an artist, you must be permeable and aware that vulnerability provides growth from new experiences. For anything new to come out, something new must go in.
A Gift to Share: Keep Moving
Joan has a professional and personal passion for dance and the impact it has on people and cultures. She views her dance abilities and talent as a gift to share with others. Joan practices her passion. She guides numerous students who study dance professionally as performers and teaches courses for students majoring in other academic subjects. She wants them to see how important dance can be in all aspects of life. Her goal is to expose as many people as possible to dance. She believes our current view of dance is too narrow. Some people think dance is off limits for them. We need to take a broader look at the importance of dance in our society thereby increasing the number of people who experience it.
Joan believes if you become too attached to what you think something should be, you will be disappointed. You must be willing to give way, to move around, or through something in order to keep moving. If something fails to work one way, you can always find another way. Joan believes it’s important to be fluid.
“I’ve always been about moving on; I keep moving and trying to learn”. This makes sense considering her accidental (yet inspiring) path from law student to multi-talented artist, dedicated to sharing her love of dance with as many people as possible. It appears Joan’s RLT will continue to wind and evolve and take her (and others) to amazing places. She will stay the course holding tight to her belief: Take the leap; someone will catch you.”