Teaching artist Stephan Reynolds has toured the world as a dancer, teacher and choreographer, performing with Celine Dion, Michael Jackson, and Cirque du Soleil, to name a few.
A two-time cancer survivor with a B.F.A. in dance and a master’s degree in education, Stephan is currently finishing his master’s degree in mental health counseling and pursuing his PhD in expressive therapies with a focus on dance/movement therapy and clinical psychology.
We sat down with Stephan to talk about his drive for overcoming obstacles, his dedication to lifelong learning, and his passion for healing and giving back through dance.
How were you first introduced to dance?
I’ve been dancing all my life. As a child I was always that little kid dancing around. I started taking classes formally when I was about 12 years old — my foster mom won classes to a studio in a raffle. In high school, my 10th grade honors English teacher, Miss Carlson, saw my talents were strong and recommended that I go to the performing arts high school. She got the fees taken care of for me, and I auditioned and was accepted.
Why did you keep dancing, to the point of pursuing dance as a career?
I have a phrase, “Dance has been my way of dealing with the world around me in the sinking sands.”
Dance has saved my life. Without dance I don’t know where I’d be. I lost my parents when I was young. I was a ward of the state, in foster care and boys shelters, and was adopted. I attempted suicide three times as a child and survived two bouts with cancer. Much of that happened before I was engulfed in dance formally, but after being introduced to dance, it became my understanding, my constant, that solid rock that was always there whether things were bad or things were great.
My mom died of sickle cell, so when I was little I decided I wanted to find a cure for that disease. In college, at first I tried to double major in both dance and chemistry. The workload for both tracks was so heavy, I ended up giving up dance. But after one semester, it felt like something was missing in my life. So I switched to dance and decided to go back later to get the science degree.
Dance is that communication that’s needed, that second communication. When all else fails, as long as I’m able to dance, the world is better. My life is better.
You’ve found tremendous success professionally as a dancer and choreographer. What made you decide to expand into the field of dance therapy at the PhD level?
I’m a consummate learner. I’m always a student and seeking higher education. After a certain amount of years I always felt a need to go back to school. I was not finding a way to marry the academic and the artistic sides of my brain.
Everything I’ve ever done — my work in the inner cities, traveling the world as a choreographer and teacher — has involved or contained the idea of using dance as healing. So I researched ways to use dance for healing and found dance/movement therapy. I stopped immediately and knew this is what I needed to do.
So here I am. Even though it’s a lot of work and late, late, late nights, the knowledge I’m learning is so worth it. It’s a task that I feel is needed and is rewarding in the end.
How do your dance/movement therapy studies impact you as a teaching artist?
I think the great thing about dance/movement therapy is that it has given me a different way of looking at things. I look at the emotions attached to behaviors to find a different means of understanding. So if we have one student who is struggling or has a different ablement, it allows me to find a way to reach them. I’ve always known you need to teach in a multifaceted way, but being in this realm has helped me develop and be more resourceful in using those tools.
Other dance teachers ask me about students they may think are autistic students or are affected by attention deficit disorder, for example, and I’m able to assess and say to them, “Let’s try XYZ…” to help the student. It’s given me a different eye or lens. I’m able to put on these different hats at any given moment and be more useful in the classroom.
Why do you teach?
I teach because someone reached out to me and said, “Show me the way.” And others did the same for me, so it behooves me not to do the same in return.
I know what dance does, because I’m a living testimony to what it does. If I can be that vessel to encourage and inspire and help someone else find their love, happiness and understanding — even just one — I’m happy. I’m blessed that in my lifespan I’ve been able to touch many lives, but all I seek for is one.
What has been your proudest moment as a teacher?
I just recently finished a show in Vegas at a summer camp I started 10 years ago at the West Las Vegas Arts Center called Showing Your Colors When Your World is Gray. I choreographed for the show but was not there for the duration of the camp.
They sent me the DVD of the final show, and I literally wept. I wept because all the leads in the show were all young folk I taught. Even the director, I taught him when he was a kid. I had taught everyone, from the dancers and producers to the musicians. They had returned to give back to their peers in the camp. To watch this cycle of amazement, to see I gave back and now they’re giving back. It’s similar to Moving in the Spirit when the alumni come back. I was able to realize the fruit of the labor.
Before I started teaching there, the young African American kids would not be accepted at the city’s performing arts high school. Now the young African American kids are being accepted, being sought after, because they see they’re getting training in the inner city.
To see how wonderful these young people are and know that I had a small part in shaping who they are — I just watched in amazement and joy.
What is the best piece of advice you’ve ever been given?
My deceased mother used to always say, “People are depending on you, don’t you let them down.” I’ve lived by that all my life. But I took it even further to mean that people expect me to be great, to do whatever it is with excellence. Whatever I do, I’m going to do it to the best of my ability — you asked for me, so me is what I give you.
Stephan teaches Baby Steps, Mini Steps, Boys in Motion, and Men in Motion classes at Moving in the Spirit. Learn more about his professional career in dance in his bio.