By Mary McLean, Staff Writer
Published in print Sept.17, 2014
Larry Lavender is the sort of person who walks to the beat of his own drum. Even if you’ve never taken a class with the lanky, silver haired professor, you’ve probably heard your friends talking about his open-ended, mind-bending assignments, or maybe even seen him performing a piece around campus.
He teaches within the dance department, but there is a lot more to both his teaching style and his personal outlook than leaps, plies or turns.
“I have been here at UNCG for twelve years,” said Lavender. “I didn’t start dancing until college. I sort of found it as an amazing combination between athleticism and sports that I was really interested in, and music, because I came from a musical family.” He came to UNCG as head of the dance department in 2002.
“I served one four year term as department head and then decided that thirteen years of that kind of job was enough, and so I stepped down to the faculty position and have been teaching happily ever since.”
Not content to simply sit back and teach a few classes in the standard format, Lavender has taken his interests and applied them in new ways, resulting in some of the university’s most unique course offerings.
“I became interested in performance art when I was a doctoral student at NYU in the late 80’s and early 90’s,” explained Lavender. And so along with “a couple of choreography classes, and graduate level courses in dance criticism and pedagogy,” he also teaches “one that studies the performing body, another that is creativity based, and another one that is probably my favorite right now called animals and ourselves, which studies the body, intelligence, being, in relation to the human versus the animal.”
When was the last time you took a course that sounded like that?
Not only is the course material unusual, but so is Lavender’s pedagogical approach.
“I try not to make grading such a stressful thing. I feel like the way a lot of students are used to learning is being told all the ways that they can get in trouble, and I don’t like to do that. I think that trying to accomplish things is important, but loosening the reins can do a lot” This can present a challenge to students that aren’t used to alternate approaches, especially freshman.
“One of the things that is hard about teaching here is that many students have not heard of this kind of work in the past, so its very new, because its not very much like traditional theater and its not very much like traditional dance. Some of it is sort of visceral and raw, and a lot of it is critical commentary on our culture, and not every student has been exposed to that,” said Lavender.
“I’ve done some pieces before that involve the dance starting over in the EUC and then walking over to HHP for the first hour of the concert, arriving at the lobby during intermission and then going onto the stage. So that was this idea of migration and having a piece that exists not only when the audience can see it, but for an hour beforehand.”
But students aren’t the only ones who are confused about Lavender’s classwork.
“One time [the class] wanted to perform laughing, so we all laid down in the EUC atrium outside the bookstore and started fake laughing. But then it became actually funny and we all were really laughing.
That was when the EUC security approached us and asked up to leave, because we might be in the way or a fire hazard,” he explained. “That is partially what these pieces are about, just being asked to vacate a public space because you’re not using it in a way that the public normally does.”
Ultimately, Lavender has had a major impact on many students here, both within the dance department and outside of it.
“I would just encourage students to explore the university as fully as possible, try out classes that might seem strange or outside their area of interest.”