How to Wow Your College’s Next Guest Artist

December 23, 2021

When Robert Battle is setting No Longer Silent on your college class, or Mandy Moore is asking you to throw your body around with wild abandon in the studio, it’s hard not to feel a little starstruck. But making the most of visits from guest artists at your university can mold you into a more versatile dancer—and maybe even pave the way to a professional gig. 

Prep to Impress

The last thing you want to do is walk into a guest artist’s class with no idea about what you’re in for. Here are a few ways you can prepare to set yourself up for success: 

Know your learning style. Before there’s even a guest artist on the schedule, start reflecting on how you pick up choreography in your everyday technique classes, says Catherine Horta-Hayden, chair of the department of dance at Towson University. “You have to figure out early in your journey how you pick up information best, because that’s your go-to when you have something that is unfamiliar.” 

Research. Spend time perusing the artist’s website, their background and their current projects, and watch a few videos of their work online. This will help you get acquainted with their movement style, and come up with some smart questions if there’s a Q&A or even just some informal time to talk after class.

Take strategic classes. If you’ve never tried a guest’s movement style before, look for an instructor at your college or a nearby studio who teaches in a similar style, or search online for videos of the guest teaching, says Christopher­ Dolder, chair of dance at Southern Methodist University. 

Embrace the unknown. “Enjoy the ride,” says Horta-Hayden. “There’s beauty that comes out of being in a situation where you’re uncomfortable and then all of a sudden, your body starts moving, and you have these moments of excellence and these revelations.” Don’t be tentative—have the guts to take risks. 

Three narrow wooden benches are set in a row. A dancer lies beneath the downstage one, while a second does a handstand, partly supported with his shoulder on the bench. At each of the two upstage benches, a dancer kneels and embraces another, who is lying prone on the bench; the first presses their heads against the second's chest.
Southern Methodist University in Shapiro and Smith’s To Have and To Hold. Photo courtesy SMU

Don’t Be Intimidated

While it’s tempting to put guest artists on a pedestal considering they’ve usually got a laundry list of accolades, viewing them as just another creative human being can help you walk into the experience with assurance. “Have the confidence to communicate what you want and ideas you have,” SMU chair of dance Christopher Dolder says.

Follow-Up and Follow-Through

The best guest-artist experiences don’t end when the class is over. If they’re someone you might want to learn more from, or work with down the line, stay connected after the music stops.

1. Send a thank-you.
Don’t be afraid to ask for the artist’s email or Instagram handle to keep in touch. Then, shoot them a thank-you note the day after the master class to let them know how much you enjoyed the experience. Be specific about what you learned. 

2. Take another class.
Consider making a visit to their home studio or company to take a class. If you can’t swing a trip, take advantage of the rise of Zoom classes and reconnect with them virtually through an online master class, Horta-Hayden suggests. 

3. Share your work.
If you’ve reached out and they’re receptive to having a dialogue, keep it up by sending short clips of or links to your most recent projects, Dolder says. This keeps them up to date on your movement style, your growth and how you might fit into their work in the future.