October 23, 2017

Alicia Graf Mack joins Webster as visiting professor of dance

Professional dancer Alicia Graf Mack has performed with the likes of Beyonce and John Legend, but she said those were not the highlights of her career.

“It’s different because when you’re a concert dancer, your work is seen at the forefront but when you perform with somebody like Beyonce or John Legend, you’re not the featured person, you’re the prop,” Mack said.

Mack returned to Webster this semester as a visiting professor of dance. She said the dance department is one of the strongest in the region and is happy to be back.

Teaching dance again is not the only major change in Mack’s life recently. Her daughter Laila Elisabeth Mack was born on Oct. 24.

Mack said her role as a professor at Webster is to expose dancers to the technical aspects of dance that will allow them to be free as artists.

“I hope to inspire them to pursue whatever dreams that they have and even if I don’t have a connection to the type of genre or something that they want to work in,” Mack said.

Senior dance student Camaron Ballard assisted Mack in modern dance by helping to show the motions during the final months of her pregnancy.

“My job is to do whatever it is that she can’t because she’s still an able body and it kind of amazes me sometimes this pregnant woman still does so much,” Ballard said.

Ballard said assisting Mack helps him as far as refining his own teaching tools.

“She puts in perspective that dance is an art form that requires the real person in it so the movement doesn’t just come from your body, it takes your mind [and] your spirit,” Ballard said.

Mack performed until about the third month of her pregnancy, when she started to show. She said it was not important for her to perform pregnant because she is in a different stage of her life.

Mack is trained in classical ballet and different techniques in modern dance.

Mack said the highlights of her career was getting to perform with world renowned companies that travel all over the world.

Mack and her sister, who is also a professional dancer, started D(n)A Arts Collective with the mission of inspiring dancers and empowering them to pursue their professional roles. They started a master class series where they brought in their mentors to inspire their students.

“We realized there was a gap between a training dancer and the professional world and not a lot of mentors to help the students bridge that gap,” Mack said.

Mack teaches in a way that takes the educational part out of it and look at more of the performance aspect of dance.

During the master class, Mack said the students participated in a mock audition where they practiced the skill of auditioning.

“We try to give them practical experience, not just taking classes,” Mack said.

Ballard said it is helpful having Mack as a professor because she teaches in a way that is very useful without going too slow.

“She really requires that you take it to the professional level and you don’t think of yourself as a student which I think is very useful at this stage because at the college level, you should be thinking about the next step immediately and I think she really helps with that,” Ballard said.

Aside from dance, Mack has written for several dance publications after injuries forced her to step away from dance for a while. One of her mentors suggested Mack to write articles reviewing the shows at Lincoln Center in New York for Point Magazine, a print and digital magazine of philosophical writing.

“After that I got some experience and then I guess different magazines learned that I enjoyed writing so whenever they wanted a dancer as a guest, to write from a dancer’s perspective, I got the opportunity to do that,” Mack said.

Being a professional dancer, Mack said it is important to get enough sleep and plan out the day of what to eat.

The moment Mack wakes up, she said she is always thinking about what she is going to eat to fuel herself for that day in order to stay focused.

“Throughout the day, all the things you have to do to stay focused because it’s highly competitive so you have to be on your game all day long,” Mack said.

Mack said once you learn to appreciate that hard work, it becomes second nature to become a better dancer every day.

“I think the hardest thing for me is that being a professional dancer isn’t just a job, it’s a lifestyle,” Mack said. “You’re always a dancer.”

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