Erika Randall, professor of dance, has worked at CU Boulder since 2007. She is now associate dean for student success in the College of Arts and Sciences and dedicated to helping students achieve their goals through academic support and student-based services. In January, she launched her podcast The Ampersand, which focuses on people who eschew specialization and instead use their many interests to spur creativity and fulfillment.
After 16 years, what keeps you at CU Boulder?
It’s so interesting to land in a dance program in the middle of the country. But those who are making art here are truly exceptional. I knew if I came to a Tier 1 university, I would have mentors. I met the team and I thought, ‘These are badass artists. These are the kinds of humans I want to keep challenging and inspiring me.’ With most of my colleagues, we take each others’ classes. We sit in for each other. We co-teach. We lecture. We watch each other’s work. We are deep in conversation. It makes you better.
What has been your favorite class to teach at CU over the years?
I really love teaching ballet. I’ve been doing ballet since I was 5, and I just choreographed my first ballet because I didn’t trust that I could give proper trouble to the form until now. Even though ballet can be problematic, there’s something about its structure and its training. When I teach that class here, I get to blow open people’s ideas about ballet or themselves in ballet. We close the mirrors, we swear sometimes. The class is usually about half non-dance majors who grew up dancing — science majors, engineers. They come to ballet carrying with them some baggage and leave feeling liberated and like this form was returned to them in a way that they can dance for the rest of their lives.
What keeps you dancing?
Certainly not my knees and hips now. But I have an insatiable appetite for moving. I talk about the litany of things, and mine would read ‘dancer first.’ It’s the physics of motion and the relationship to bodies and music. The connection between falling and flying. If I’m not spinning off balance, I don’t know how to be. I’m always dancing — in every room, which means I am definitely a kitchen dancer. The happiest moments in my life have been dancing. It’s been a passport to my world experience. I’ve met my people because of dance. I got so lucky in this lifetime to be a dancer.
How do you think dance can influence big change?
Difficult conversations on things like race or gender or sexuality feel more manageable when you can sweat in a cypher with someone. Our students here are working on transformation and challenging systems. What is it like to learn through your body? In dance you mess up, but we are trying to get comfortable in failure. We need a dancer in every room where important decisions are made about bodies and time and space.
Tell us about your new podcast, The Ampersand.
The podcast is about this made-up concept of ‘anding.’ Anding is taking the conjunction and making it a verb. Anding can be about cooking and mothering and evolutionary biology and race car driving — all of these things create the uniquenesses that are us.
When I got to [the College of] Arts and Sciences, I realized everyone was very active and working across all these different disciplines. I went to [marketing’s] Tim Grassley, who is now the producer, and asked him what he thought about doing a podcast on this idea. It’s since been such a creative spark for us.
What’s been your reaction to the stories you’ve shared so far?
We’ve been surprised at how moved people are after listening. It’s been inspiring to students who haven’t been encouraged to study what they want — or a first-generation student who has a very specified path laid out for them. The alchemy of anding starts to create your weird, I say. It’s exciting for students, faculty and staff. And nobody can be mad at it because everyone gets to make it up for themselves, so it’s inclusive by nature.
What have you seen change at CU Boulder over the years that you love?
My colleagues Michelle Ellsworth and Markas Henry have been absolutely amazing. They are artists in the world who inspire me with their imagination, capacity and mentorship. I’m lucky to have them as best friends. And the students: I love watching the humans who are going to save the planet with and for us. They are just so creative. They put together their curiosities with such acuity that even if I don’t know what they are talking about, I feel lit and I feel hope.
What else do you do outside of this university?
I mom hard. Which means I spend a lot of time at skateparks. I love the sound of wheels on concrete, because that’s the sound of my son at peace and happy. I write every day, either letters to myself from ‘older Erika’ or a poem to my partner. I am a filmmaker — I’m finishing a documentary short about dance, percussion and song called Hambone Griot. I’ve been working on that film for 10 years, featuring the indomitable Rennie Harris. I like to read, kayak, watch baseball — things that slow me down. I like anything water-based.
I really like to talk to people every day, especially the humans I dearly love. I’m committed to reading poetry before email. And I go to yoga five days a week.