Faculty Q&A with Gillian Finley

February 6, 2017

Gillian Finley, USC Kaufman’s newest lecturer, joined the faculty this spring and has an extensive background in both ballet and teaching. She has danced with Ballet Pacifica, Nevada Dance Theatre, and Eugene Ballet; along with a B.A. in Dance from the University of California Irvine, an M.A. in Arts Management from American University, and a Stott Pilates certification, Finley has dance experience that makes her the perfect fit for USC Kaufman’s blend of conservatory dance and university education. She teaches DANC 183a and DANC 183b, both ballet classes for non-major dance students at USC Kaufman. We asked her a little bit about herself:

When teaching ballet, what elements do you like to focus on?

GF: Here I’m teaching mostly non-majors, so for me it’s really great and really interesting to go back and think about how to teach young adults the very foundations and beginnings of ballet without making them feel like children. It’s going to a more intellectual place, being able to incorporate some ballet history, explaining mechanics more–you teach children a lot by mimicking, but these are young adults. They’re able to understand the mechanics of movement, the anatomy and physiology, a lot better. I think that’s something that I can bring to ballet. I’m also certified in Pilates, so I can let them know, “here’s the deep rotator that’s rotating your leg,” and things like that. As a teacher in general, I’m very oriented towards clear movement–precise, clean, clear movement that looks bold onstage. I think that concept of being clear in your movement is transferrable to other dance styles, which I feel fits the overall Kaufman philosophy of the hybrid dancer.

Is there something nonphysical that you want to impart to your students here?

GF: Passion and courage. Right now, I’m teaching the 183 students, who I just love and are fabulous. Having the courage to get out there and not be perfect–I want them to try it. Go across the floor. If you make a mistake, that’s not a problem. We’ll go back and we’ll do it again. They were doing waltz turns the other day, which is a very hard concept. We started out with the triplet, did the triplet turning, added a brush, added arms, and they got it.

What has been your experience teaching at USC Kaufman so far?

GF: From day one, the faculty and staff have been incredibly supportive. The very last day of finals was my audition–my interview–and I was brought on January 9. I didn’t have an ID number or anything, they couldn’t get the syllabi to me beforehand. But everyone just jumped on board and helped me through the whole thing. Faculty members, staff, everybody, and I got a feeling for that even in my interview. I had a feeling that was going to be the way even though I’m part-time faculty, even though I’m a non-major faculty member as opposed to a major faculty member, it didn’t make any difference.

The second thing is that every single time a Kaufman BFA passes me in the hallway, or up the stairs, they look me in the eye (and they don’t know who I am because I’ve only taught some of them until now). Acknowledgement, from the very get-go. And I mentioned that to Vice Dean Gates a couple weeks ago, and I told her “you don’t get that very often.” That impressed me.

Do you have advice for someone who wants to try dance or take your class?

GF: Be brave. Give it a try. I think no matter what your major is, a dance class can change your perspective. It makes you look at your own major in a different way. I have a lot of engineering students in my 183a class and I’m able to talk mechanics to them. I know I’m probably not using their terminology exactly, but hopefully it’s getting them to look at the physical world and their own bodies a little differently. I would just say for the general USC community, give a dance class a try. And if you’ve had dance in your past and you’re not a dance major, keep dancing. Don’t stop, find a way to keep it up. I know there’s a lot of kids out there that took dance in their childhood and they’re busy with their major now, but find a way to get a class in. I have some really great kids in my ballet 183b class that have been dancing at a  studio their whole lives and they’re very good. You hate to see people spend so much time practicing dance in their youth and then losing it. And there’s an opportunity here in these gorgeous studios.

Read more about DANC 183a and DANC 183b on the USC Schedule of Classes.