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The original version of this article contained an error and has been changed. See the bottom of the article for more information.
World arts and culture/dance professor David Delgado Shorter said that throughout his time as an adviser, he’s often encountered graduate students who aren’t firm with their goals and expectations – he never had that problem with Alessandra Williams.
“A lot of times it’s just a guessing game, and hoping that what we’re doing is useful for them,” Shorter said. “Because of that direct honesty (of wanting to be a better teacher), on her behalf telling me she has that interest, I was able to hire her multiple times as TAs for my classes so we can continue that conversation.”
In her current capacity as a teaching assistant for Arts and Architecture 10: Arts Encounters, Williams said she is faced with a task of carrying out her duties as an educator from a different perspective. While Williams herself has pursued the art of dance for several years, she said that many of her students taking this introductory art course are attempting to tackle the topic at a fledgling level.
“For this course in particular, we have so many students from everywhere across campus, from so many different types of departments,” Williams said. “For me it became a reflection on how can I engage students in this complex thing called art if they don’t consider themselves to be an artists.”
Williams’ own experience with art traces back to St. Paul, Minn., during her time as an undergraduate student at Macalester College. It was then that Williams joined a hip-hop dance group and minored in dance.
After listening to choreographer Ananya Chatterjea as a guest lecturer in class, Williams decided to audition for Chatterjea’s dance company, Ananya Dance Theater, in Minneapolis. Chatterjea’s choreography is rooted in three Indian aesthetic forms: Odissi – a traditional Indian dance – yoga and Chhau, an Indian martial art. The dance movements that Chatterjea choreographs relate back to issues of social justice around the world, through the use of stories of local and global communities of color.
“Part of our choreographic training happens through a lot of discussion that we hold together, that’s how I know her analytical skills and theoretical skills,” Chatterjea said. “While I have seen (Williams) teach only technique, I’m quite confident about her ability as a researcher, scholar and a thinker, which is ultimately what she’s going to need to do in discussion.”
At UCLA, Williams has based part of her doctoral dissertation on the works of Chatterjea with whom Williams said she relates to as a fellow woman of color in the world of dance. She juxtaposes that half with the works of Euro American and African American cultural aesthetics of choreographer, David Roussève.
“Having participated in (Chatterjea’s) work and feeling a history of the work of David Roussève and his focus on a grandmother who was a sharecropper – my own grandmother was a sharecropper – having that type of relationship to the choreographies is really important for my writing,” Williams said.
Since she first started working as a TA in 2011, Williams has progressed to the role of a teaching fellow. She’s allowed to teach and create her own syllabi, having already done so with a class on indigenous worldviews over the summer.
When spring quarter comes around, Williams will once again be teaching a class of her own, one that focuses on a topic that traces back to her time at Ananya Dance Theater, but that has also trailed her in her current life as a UCLA student: yoga.
“Teaching yoga for me is connected to everything that I do. It’s connected to my writing,” Williams said. “I think that yoga helps me to understand relationships between people because yoga is all about consciousness and how we expand our consciousness through our own breath.”
Correction: Williams has a doctoral dissertation, not a post doctoral dissertation.