Laying The Path To Your Best Work in Dance And Education


About a year ago, I was ready to leave dance.

I had had enough of trying to convince students, parents, and administrators that there is more to dance than precision and performance. I began to think, “if this is where dance is these days, if this is all that dancers want from it, I need to leave.” I was tired of the fight. I was tired of the struggle. I wanted out.

Many months later, I am back.

I left the environment I was in.

I left the aspect of the field I was living in, however, I didn’t really leave my work. Instead, I honed in on the aspects of my curriculum that still sparked interest and passion: creative process, personal connection, artistic transformation, art as social practice. This is now what I do, full-time, all the time, not in units of study.


I analyzed my work.

I looked at my work from the last decade and noted the processes for working with students (particularly at-risk) in which my strengths truly lived.



Exposing the connections of big ideas and delivering sophisticated content in digestible pieces.


I began to really consider the promise of movement as healing.

Everywhere I was looking, I was noticing students were stressed and pained. Sometimes this was masked in achievement and accomplishment, sometimes in poverty and challenging home lives, but the bottom line was the same.


As soon as I started looking for other ways in which to apply my strengths, interests, and knowledge, doors opened, new partnerships formed, and everyone in my house is happier.


dancing feet    reaching hands


I now offer Creative Self-Care and Project-Based Learning in Healthcare and K-12 settings. I am involved in a community of artists and business people committed to improving our city in real ways. I consult for people and organizations outside of my community and state. I write. I work with people I trust. I meet people who inspire. I am laying the path to do my best work.

One of my clients recently said to me, “When I stop trying to define things, I realize there is nothing to fear. It is when I impose perceptions and definitions that I get stuck.” This summarizes my career in dance and in education.

I was scared of what leaving public schools would mean for me as an educator. How would I be identified? How do I describe my work that doesn’t fit neatly under established labels and categories?

What I have found is that I am able to focus on my favorite aspects of the “work” and make change in my community in ways I only dreamed of doing. I also still work at times in public schools.



Dance career advice

A dad in Nebraska asked if I would share my journey with his daughter as she starts to plan her career goals and college education.

Here is an excerpt:

“If you are considering a life in dance, become a master of dance in all its forms- technique, performance, creative process and choreography, history and theory, production, pedagogy, and somatics.

When you do that, you can do anything you need to do in order to create a life in dance.

Approach dance with an open mind and an open heart. Your definition and relationship to dance will evolve. You will evolve.”


I concluded by mentioning Liz Lerman and the four questions she poses which have been instrumental in helping me arrive at my own truths and forging new paths:


How might these questions deepen the work you are doing?

Heather Vaughan-Southard
Heather Vaughan-Southward specializes in connection and community building. She offers project-based learning in K-12 and healthcare contexts, pedagogy consultation, and creative-self-care experiences. Heather formerly directed dance programs in Higher Education and K-12 settings and danced professionally in Chicago, NYC, Los Angeles, and through-out Michigan. She represents Dance for the Michigan Arts Education Instruction and Assessment project (MAEIA), serves as a columnist for Dance Advantage, authors the blog EducatingDancers, and was invited to the Editorial Board of the Journal of Dance Education. She is a national conference presenter in the fields of dance and movement pedagogy and is completing a comprehensive pilates certification through the McEntire School. Heather currently serves as Director of Health and Education Services for Happendance, Inc., a non-profit dance organization based in Michigan. Heather is married to author Scott D. Southard and has two children who seem to be in perpetual motion.
Heather Vaughan-Southard

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