For Professor Loretta Livingston, mentoring students in their creative projects is a way to carry on the work of her own mentors, while helping to develop the next generation of professional dancers. As a vital part of her mentorship, she helps young choreographers examine their own senses of curiosity, creativity and experimentation to develop their own personal approach to their work. Through her guidance, Professor Livingston’s students gain confidence and a more focused dedication that will help them as they pursue their future careers. Professor Livingston was awarded the 2015 Chancellor's Award for Excellence in Fostering Undergraduate Research for the Claire Trevor School of the Arts in recognition of her dedication to fostering the creative projects of her students.

1. How did you develop an interest in mentoring undergraduate research or creative projects, and what type of projects have you directed?

The UCI Dance Department has a well-articulated BFA in Choreography program. When hired, I saw this as a natural area of contribution for me. I have a big appetite for inviting undergraduate dancers into new levels of questioning and investigating the greater field of dance through choreography. This is a worldview shift for undergraduate dancers. Prior to auditioning and enrolling in a pre-professional university dance program most dancers have had a childhood focused on physical skill mastery. Women typically start dance training at age five and men may start as early as eight or as late as eighteen. Our childhood dance training cultivates attentiveness, self-discipline, precision, a kind of obedience, and perhaps competition, but is often less focused on curiosity, personal creativity, and experimentation. A few of us, however, are naturally inclined from a young age toward using movement as way of learning, self-expression, and integration with the physical world. Such it was for me—which formed the basis of my early interest in choreography and my excitement in being trained and encouraged in that area when I was in a pre-professional university dance program. Guiding students in their own choreographic projects represents a way of giving back to my mentors and giving ahead to the future of professional dance.

2. What do you look for and what are your expectations of undergraduates you select to conduct research under your guidance?

I allow students to seek me out and select me as their mentor for their choreographic research. In a performing art in which innovation is expected, I believe this is a reasonable method. What the student will be cultivating is a very personal view of the world drawn from questions and points of departure for the creation of new dance. The student must select a mentor who can provide the space and guidance needed in a way that is harmonious with the student’s creative temperament. I am careful to do my best to see what the student is crafting and offer feedback as to what appears to be working and where additional or different choices may be needed. There is, in my opinion, a delicacy to mentoring in the arts, especially in the field of contemporary/modern dance, which is a performance dance genre in which innovation and change are valued and expected. If I were operating in a dance genre in which traditions were valued over innovations, I would be mentoring in very different ways.

3. Describe your level of engagement and style in mentoring undergraduates.

My style in mentoring is to create a palpable yet malleable container for the student’s creative process. I notice they thrive when they know I am there as a gentle, non-intrusive presence. I move closer as they need more direction, and give space when they need to experiment on their own. My level of engagement is like breathing: moving in and out, maintaining a healthy, nourishing rhythm.

4. In your experience, how have your students improved or benefited as a result of their undergraduate research experience?

I notice evidence of increased confidence and more engaged artistic curiosity when a dancer turns to the process of dance making rather than solely dance performance. There is a dimensional yield to the development of choreographic skill: the dancer sees dance with more knowledgeable eyes and from additional vantage points. I consider it a measure of our shared success—mentee and mentor—if a student choreographer’s work is robust, whole, well-developed, idiosyncratically styled, and gives evidence of an individual artistic view of the world. A strong merit of choreographic mentorship, in my opinion, is that it invites a student into a world of questioning and creating, which, in turn, moves the art of dance into new realms.

5. What have you learned or benefited from guiding undergraduate research or creative projects?

When I teach, I learn. When I guide, I am reminded of how I must guide myself. Watching a student’s creative work unfold provides a mirror for my own creative endeavors. We engage in a continually renewable cycle of mutual inspiration.

6. What recommendations and advice would you give students embarking on undergraduate research or creative projects?

Specific to contemporary dance choreography as research, I would invite the undergraduate dance artist to step back from the “doing” of dance that has been ingrained through the culture of childhood dance training, and begin spending time questioning and pondering the development of ideas within the artistic discipline of dance. In creating a space for contemplation and reflection about the possibilities of dance, the student begins to foster a mindset of an artist-researcher. It is within this space of curiosity and questioning that research and the resultant new knowledge can thrive.

Research Interests: As a professional choreographer who came up through the ranks of being a professional dancer, and who is currently situated in an academic/arts environment, I see my creative research as a way of thoughtfully questioning my field of American Modern Dance. As a practicing dance maker my questions include inquiry about the boundaries of dance: How far might I stretch what is accepted as “dance” movement and “dance” as performance? When does “movement-theater” begin or cease being “dance”? In what ways and when, if ever, does the “avant-garde” of dance move into the mainstream or the canon of contemporary/modern dance? How might I position movement-as-a-way-of-knowing in my role as artist-researcher? Where are the overlaps of experiencing daily embodiment, practicing movement as artistry, and engaging in movement as performance?

Additionally, for the past decade I have worked as a choreographer primarily in cultures not my own. I have made multiple and ongoing dances and performance projects in Korea, Singapore, and Turkey, using dancers native to those cultures. These cross-cultural situations offer more complexity to my initial research questions stated above by adding the requirement of cultural negotiations. Because I am foreign in these situations, I find my fundamental movement researcher’s stance to be within the beautifully varied domain of being human, making movement-as-art in a human body, while experiencing life on a planet with gravitational pull, weather, and atmosphere! The context is completely about this human life, in this human body, on our shared Earth.

Faculty Profile:


Past Faculty Mentors of the Month

Dec. '15 Barbara Sarnecka
Nov. '15 Sarah Pressman
Oct. '15 Elliot Botvinick
Sep. '15 Xiangmin Xu
Aug. '15 Belinda Campos
Jul. '15 Yama Akbari
Jun. '15 Loretta Livingston
May. '15 Mohammad Al Faruque
Apr. '15 Steven D. Allison
Mar. '15 Emily D. Grossman
Feb. '15 Munjal M. Acharya
Jan. '15 Marcelo A. Wood