‘Dance can be a way of understanding the world’: New dance professor Leah Cox seeks to engage nondancers

Grace Barnes

When UT’s job announcement for a new dance professor came across Leah Cox’s desk, she wasn’t necessarily looking for a job, but after reading the description, she knew UT was where she wanted to be.

This spring, the College of Fine Arts welcomed Leah Cox, a widely recognized dancer and arts administrator, to its faculty in the Department of Theatre and Dance.

The Daily Texan spoke with Leah Cox about coming to UT and what she hopes to accomplish during her time here.

The Daily Texan: What inspired you to teach dance?

Leah Cox: I was inspired to teach by my teachers because they made dance exciting, and they painted it as a way of existing in the world, not just something we do, not even as a way of life. It’s almost like a lens that you can use. What I love about dance is precisely that -— that it can be a way of understanding the world and understanding human existence. All the tools that we gain through dancing, you can apply to everything.

DT: What do you love about teaching dance?

LC: The classroom for dance is always alive. I mean that in the sense that dancers always take class. It’s not like you graduate from it. Dance in particular, as a form, has continued to see how class is a site of immense possibility. There’s a lot of research and discovery that goes on in class. It’s also a place where I’m learning what matters to young people today that are coming up through the form. How do I then have to adapt and discover new material to help them do the kinds of things they want to do? I mean, 10 years ago, even social justice as an area of concern was nowhere near the level of importance that is today. Now, we have to fold that into dance.

DT: Dance, and performing arts in general, is a hard field to break into. What would you say to students who would like to study dance, but who are unsure about their professional future in the field?

LC: One, I believe in them. Two, I truly believe that dance is important. I think it needs to be more present in the world. And I think we need to find pathways for dancers and dance majors to understand what dance contains in terms of its potential for everyday people, everyday life — not just on the stage.

DT: How will you help launch students into their professional careers?

LC: (Dancers) are always doing things together, and we know how to collaborate. The world is becoming very afraid of human interaction and very suspicious of collaboration, and we know how to do that. We also know how to show up every day in a classroom where we’re not going to know half of what’s going on. People make up new material every day so dancers encounter the unknown every day. … How do we get beyond wanting to just dance in professional companies? How do we figure out how dance can be more widely applicable? Our skills can be shared with more of the general population, and if we can figure out how, then I’ve given them multiple ways to not only maintain a job but to be truly excited to do all the different things that might be possible with a degree in dance. That is essential for dance to survive.