A Teaching Blizzard
The emails began flying about 1:30 a.m. I was still awake. I had spent the previous couple of months fine-tuning a speech I was asked to give at the Mormon Arts Center Teaching Conference at the University of Utah in January. Unfortunately, I misread the invitation and didn’t realize that I was also supposed to give an entirely separate speech, and I had not a clue what I should say. Meanwhile, a blizzard was swirling outside, the first big snow of Winter. And I had come down with a killer cold that left my brain impenetrably foggy.
Richard’s emails were questions about the snow. Should we cancel? The conference was an invite-only affair—all of the professors in Northern Utah universities who teach in the arts—literature, painting, theater, dance, film, music—and we had about 125 RSVPs. The conference was to be held at the historic Fort Douglas buildings on the hills above Salt Lake City. My vote was not to cancel. Utahs know how to drive in snow, I said.
At 3:10 Richard wrote back that he had spoken to the Fort Douglas folks, and they had already cleared parking space for us. And sure enough, by morning, the Utah roads were practically clear. I still don’t know how they did it. Utah must have a fleet of snow removal people at the ready. Somebody told me that before a big storm like that one, they spray the roads with saline of some kind, and then the plows almost squeegee it away.
The conference itself was amazing. 85 intrepid academics arrived, and we spent the day listening to presentations on ways we can teach our Mormon Arts more effectively and introduce our culture alongside standard university curricula.
At one point in the day, we broke into groups by artistic discipline. I decided to hang out with the dancers. That was a smart choice. Dancers are fun people. The nine of us holed up near a fireplace and talked about the significant challenges that dance faces in LDS culture, how it is difficult to preserve and study it, how the messages we send to women and girls regarding the body is problematic, how there needs to be a gathering of resources and information to cobble together our own choreographic history, how we need to identify a canon of great works and a bibliography of writings on the subject. It was almost overwhelming, but also exhilarating. And I met wonderful young dancer-choreographers and wonderful veterans.
It was so amazing to be in that snowbound space, high above the valley, so still and quiet outside with its untouched whiteness, and bustling with energy and excitement inside.