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Faculty Spotlight: Paige Cunningham

By Jon Graef (MA ’12)
September 20, 2011

Since 2007, when she first joined the Columbia College faculty, Paige Cunningham has been through many times of change. This fall and winter, however, will be exceptionally transitional for her.

In September, the associate professor for The Dance Center of Columbia College became associate chair of the department, where she is taking on administrative and advocacy responsibilities.

“It’s my biggest challenge yet,” Cunningham said of her new job. “It’s exciting. We have a new chair [Onye Ozuzu, appointed in May]. We have a lot of new coming in right now.”

In order to address those responsibilities, Cunningham will make another transition. This month, Cunningham will leave her longtime contemporary dance company, The Seldoms. She also performed with the group, both at The Other Dance Festival in Chicago, and the National Contemporary Dance Invitational in Richmond, Virginia

Finally, the Merce Cunningham Dance Company, for whom Cunningham set several pieces as part of her first work as a Columbia teaching artist, will be giving one of its final performances at the school in November. The company will end in January 2012, more than two years after the death of its legendary founder.

Though Paige Cunningham (no relation to Merce) describes this development as bittersweet, she also says change for her is a consistent at Columbia.

When she first arrived at Columbia, Cunningham says the school’s generous admissions policy initially befuddled her. She had previously worked with more experienced students at Julliard and University of Illinois at Champaign-Urbana. However, she grew to embrace the school’s admissions policy.

“Before I got here, I thought, how can you have [open] admissions in dance?” Cunningham said. “Just because it’s so hard—at 18, how do you change your life like that [and start dancing for the first time at an advanced age]? When I got here, my mind changed completely. I love the fact that it’s generous admission. The kids who come in with no training take nothing for granted.”

Additionally, Cunningham says teaching introductory classes has helped her connect more with students.

“[I was] teaching myself how to teach,” Cunningham said. “Columbia has taught me how to articulate more of what I want [from students]. Columbia has taught me to articulate and slow down.”

For Cunningham, challenges like connecting with beginner students and transitions like becoming associate chair are to be embraced thoroughly.

“I don’t like to say no. I want to take advantage of every opportunity,” Cunningham said.