Marissa Finklestein '24 MFA Dance

Dance has been a part of Marissa Finklestein’s life for almost as long as she can remember. After receiving a BA in Dance and Business from Muhlenberg College in Allentown, Pennsylvania, she worked as a choreographer, educator, and performer in Massachusetts, New Jersey, New York, and Pennsylvania. She held various positions with the New Jersey State Council on the Arts and Jacob’s Pillow in the Berkshires, and with New York City’s GlobalArts to Go as a teaching artist for schools and community-based organizations. 

And then she decided to jump back into school for a graduate degree in dance: 

 “I love the environment of studying dance movement and being in a place to do research and dance education. UNCG was not on my radar at all, but when I started checking out schools online, I realized that, compared to other MFA programs, this School of Dance offered so much in terms of curriculum and the diversity of the faculty movement styles.” 

 Finklestein says she wants to teach, whether it be at the elementary, middle, or high school level, or at a college or university: 

“One of the things that was so exciting to me—it’s been a real highlight of my UNCG experience—is how much graduate students get to teach. I have learned so much through teaching and connecting with undergraduate students, and that has been a very meaningful experience. 

 “This faculty has been so instrumental in my own education, but also helpful in learning how to be an educator. I’m getting my MFA and my K-12 Licensure too. There aren’t a lot of programs that offer both.” 

 Finklestein says it’s exciting to work with faculty whose methods are known and used in the field, beyond UNCG: 

“I feel like the faculty in the School of Dance really are experts in what they teach, whether it’s in a research methods class or a dance pedagogy class, or in all my technical classes too. I got to work closely with Professor B.J. Sullivan and got to learn about her safety release technique, a technique that is used widely, which she developed.”  

 Safety release is a postmodern dance technique with a heavy emphasis on floor work and breathing. This technique blends movement principles with somatic and release applications, combining health practicalities with artistic development:  

“It’s a balance between being grounded and releasing but also recognizing tension in your work,” explains Finklestein. It’s about moving safely in and out of the floor and a dance class and finding what it takes to find ease in our bodies when we move. In one of my student teaching placements, my first graders knew about safety release because their teacher was a UNCG alum. It’s amazing to see how much the professors in our School of Dance have had affected dance in North Carolina.” 

 While she has focused much of her time on K-12 student teaching, Finklestein chose a different demographic to work with on her MFA thesis: 

 “I explored an intergenerational choreographic approach with a project I did through Greensboro’s Creative Aging Network. I’ve taught a variety of ages in my career, but I was interested in bringing together dancers of different ages for a choreographic project. My thesis involved college students and dancers who were 55 years and older. 

 “UNCG has helped me realize I can do things that sometimes I thought I couldn’t. When I taught my first class in the School of Dance, I questioned whether I was qualified. But I’ve been given the resources and support to feel like I can do this.” 

Finklestein says she’s staying open to teaching opportunities in both higher Ed and K-12 and that ultimately, she’d like to bridge both by teaching future dance educators in a university setting: 

 “I’m leaving UNCG with so many options. Some students might feel that college is overwhelming because there’s much happening but it’s important to take advantage of all the opportunities—things like your classes and mentors and available studio space—and realize that you’re building some great connections for the future. I feel like I’ve formed a community—my professors, my classmates, and UNCG School of Dance alumni—that is a strong network.” 

Watch Marissa Finklestein’s MFA Thesis

Visit UNCG’s School of Dance

Story by Terri W Relos

Photo credit: Marissa Finklestein