Dana Lawton Finds "Home" At Saint Mary's

Dana Lawton Performing in Home

Dana Lawton has been a member of the Saint Mary’s dance community for almost 20 years. First hired by Director of Dance, CatherineMarie Davalos, to teach ballet, Lawton became a tenured professor in 2012. Courses Lawton teaches at Saint Mary’s include Modern Dance, Yoga, and Dance Pedagogy. And since July 2014, Lawton also serves as the chair of the Performing Arts Department.

Teaching at Saint Mary’s, a Catholic liberal arts institution rooted in the life and work of Saint John Baptist de La Salle, means professors engage with students who are encouraged to be as well-rounded as possible. “Our students aren’t asked only to dance. They have to take English, Math, Seminar, and other core curriculum courses. They might travel, they might pursue a dual degree,” said Lawton. “I get to work with multifaceted human beings who are connected to the world outside of dance which feeds their art, which in turns feeds my art form.”

“As a dance teacher and choreographer at Saint Mary’s, I have to be vulnerable and my students have to know where I am. That is something that is intrinsically Lasallian, having a deep connectivity to others and to the world that feeds the art,” said Lawton. “I get to know where people are in their hearts, in their lives; their whole being.”

Lawton’s connection to Saint Mary’s doesn’t end when she leaves campus. Her company, Dana Lawton Dances, which she started in 2006, features many SMC alumni, like performing arts graduates Leah Hendrix-Smith '13, Jerry Lin '12, and Vera Schwegler '10. Michael Armstrong '96 recieved his MA in Health Services at SMC and Jennifer Smith '96, MFA in Dance program coordinator, got her MA in Kinesiology from the college as well.

In addition to having multiple SMC alumni in her company, Lawton regularly collaborates with dance professors Rogelio Lopez, for set and costume design, Linda Baumgardner for lighting, and Jia Wu for video. Lawton and Wu along with Rosana Barragán, director of the M.F.A. in Dance Creative Practice program, and CatherineMarie Davalos all collaborated on Who Is She?, which premiered at the San Francisco International Arts Festival in 2010.

Besides showcasing works throughout the Bay Area, Lawton and her company have traveled throughout California and abroad. Her most recent show, Home, was presented in Belfast, Ireland this past summer and in Santa Barbara in the fall. Lawton began developing Home two years ago when she says she was “feeling at home in both my artistic life and my physical life.” Lawton asked her dancers questions such as, Is home a person? Does it not matter where I live as long as I am with the people I love? Or, is home a sense of place in a person’s bodies? How do we trust our bodies? How do we find home with our bodies??

Because Dana Lawton Dances is a multigenerational dance company with dancers ranging in age from 23 to 68, the conversations of “home” for the dancers of different backgrounds and ages were "incredibly vibrant." Lawton used the discussions to develop an evening-long piece. In fact, the decision to take the show to Ireland was influenced by one of her dancers who was originally from Belfast. He left Ireland when he was 15 and hadn’t been back since. Returning to the states, Lawton brought Home to her hometown of Santa Barbara this past October with two days of sold-out performances.

For more about Dana Lawton, check out Reveling in Dance: Dana Lawton

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