To inspire and motivate her students and herself, Erika Randall often uses a mantra or catchphrase that she plucks from her fertile imagination.
Get Up Trinity is about getting up and doing it (As fans of The Matrix movie will recognize); Bring the Fury means don’t hold back; Take the Pretty Way is a reminder to enjoy the journey; and Get It is meant to goad students into reaching deep to uncover that which needs to be revealed.
“There’s something about the physicality and the corporal reality of dance that expresses a different dimension of human experience,” said Randall, associate professor and co-director of dance in the Department of Theatre and Dance. “It says what can’t be said, but that we all feel through movement. Particularly in a rehearsal space, when we’re here dancing together, sweating together and breathing together, there’s absolutely nothing like it.”
When Randall—teacher, dancer, writer, choreographer—strides in ready to teach, the quiet, empty dance studio is immediately filled with the energy, passion and artistic expression that she brings to her work.
With her evocative, go-for-broke dancing and choreography, Randall engages every one of her faculties. Her work is intellectually challenging, artistically stimulating and collaborative by nature, incorporating elements of performance art, floor work and improvisation.
Constantly in motion, Randall “doodles” with her body as she talks, the way some people scribble with pen and paper while they think.
Movement has been the foundation of her life. As a young girl growing up in Ohio, there was never a question as to whether she would be a dancer. At 5 years old Randall started dancing and at 7 performed in her first recital, dancing to the song Sunrise Sunset from Fiddler on the Roof.
“I remember all my classmates standing frozen on stage as I just stared, chin lifted, into the lights and waltzed,” she said. “The intensity of those stage lights in my eyes is indelibly imprinted upon my memory.”
The trajectory of her career path led her to receive a bachelor’s degree in dance from the University of Washington and a master’s degree in choreography from The Ohio State University.
Randall feels strongly about expressing her muse through dance and that the beauty and message of what she creates matters in a visceral way. Her understanding of dancing and its relationship to popular culture—the ability of dancing to initiate change—has been at the heart of her teaching and choreography since she joined the faculty in 2007.
“It’s been my true north,” she said. “Dance is my religion. Every day I go to the barre to work. It’s my altar and I go there every day to make offerings. As an artist, every day that changes. Sometimes it’s tears; sometimes it’s sweat; sometimes it’s laughter or bitterness. A dancer gives something up so that the form gives you something back. You make the offering and you trust.”
She has been doing self-revelatory journaling and blogging for a number of years and has begun writing a novel, carving out an hour or two to work on it before her baby wakes up.
“Writing has always been a means toward the choreographic process,” she said. “I love the poetry of words. When I teach dance, I always draw on poetry and fiction. It inspires my work. A day when I can write makes me a happier human.”
Randall co-wrote, choreographed, directed and produced the feature dance film, Leading Ladies, which has played at over 65 festivals worldwide since debuting in 2010. Since then, she and her husband have finished two film pieces of a dance trilogy –Self Defense and More. The third piece she is working on is called Less.
Being a dancer is challenging on many levels and Randall strives to instill in her students the skills that will help them be successful. Dance skills become life skills that translate to any endeavor. Students need to know how to collaborate, communicate, work hard and be disciplined.
“I hope for my students to be brave enough to follow their hearts on this path,” she said. “To trust they can make a living as an artist and that they can live artfully in other fields, even if art isn’t their primary career. I would like to be remembered as a professor who cared deeply about my students and offered them something of myself that would connect us in our passion for this thing called dance.”