College of Fine Arts

Michael Worcel: One Step at a Time

By Michael Worcel, Assistant Professor of Dance
Winner of the 2002 College of Fine Arts Dean's Teaching Award

Last year was my 10th year of teaching dance at Ball State, and receiving the 2002 College of Fine Arts Dean's Teaching Award was a special honor. It was exciting to hear my name called as the recipient at last year's commencement, and I so appreciated the support that I felt from the students, our largest graduating class of dancers to date.

Our dance major has grown so much in numbers and in the caliber of students who are now attending. It has been rewarding to see many of our graduates go on to perform in professional companies and national tours and to teach students of their own.

When I am asked to talk about my philosophies for teaching dance, I reflect upon my own training experiences and why I chose to dance. For me, dance has been as much a part of my life as the air I breathe. I found an outlet in dance by expressing through movement what I sometimes found difficult to express otherwise. The feeling that I have inside when I perform, teach, take a class, or witness a great performance is exhilarating and difficult to explain to those who have never experienced it.

Dance is a form of communication and self-expression, and that can only come from within. While dance is a strict discipline involving many years of study to even begin to perform at a competitive level, and although it is through technical development that a dancer finds the freedom to execute movement with confidence, what I try to instill in my students is that it is not just about the steps. We must reach deep within ourselves and find that place that will allow us to let go and make the movement a part of our individuality.

Dance is a lifelong process. Within the physical capabilities that we are born with, we are constantly striving to discover how our bodies work and connect to the movement. We learn both through our dance instructors and by watching each other. I try to encourage students to set goals within each class because every day is important in their training. It is also necessary to find longer-term goals for each semester, for their years at Ball State, and for their years ahead.

I believe it is important to have a strong ballet basis, to be comfortable with improvisation, and to study all forms because professional dancers and educators are being asked to do it all. I also think that students need to attend live performances and to have a historical knowledge of where dance has come from and where it is going. Dance is an art form that is in a constant state of change, reflecting what is happening in the world around us.

If I can impart just one aptitude to my students, it would be to find the drive from within to always be reaching for new heights. Even on those days when we are tired from previous days of long hours of rehearsals, class, and performance, we still must find the energy to go on. It is through each new revelation and accomplishment that we come to understand more about ourselves.

I thank my students and colleagues for sharing their talents with me and for allowing me to learn from them as I continue my journey of teaching.