Today@Sam Article

MFA Dance Student Graduates With Eight Awards

June 10, 2020
SHSU Media Contact: Jackie Swan

danceWritten by: Jackie Swan

Evelyn Toh is no stranger to achievement. While completing 60 credit hours over a period of three years to receive her MFA, she served as a graduate teaching assistant for the SHSU Department of Dance. Originally from Singapore, she danced professionally there and throughout the United States for multiple companies, in addition to obtaining her BFA in Dance from The Boston Conservatory. One may wonder what brought an already seasoned performer to return to higher education.

“I had come to a place in my career where I found myself wanting to transition into leadership positions within the dance community,” Toh said. “I felt that an MFA in Dance from Sam Houston State would give me the qualification and confidence to obtain and succeed in such roles.”

During her journey, she most recently received the Outstanding Teaching Assistant Award from the Department of Dance. She has earned awards recognizing her skills in: Professional Standard Dance Leadership, Dance Performance, Research and Scholarly Achievement, and Choreography.

Now, after completing the MFA program, Toh shares her take on the experience with Today@Sam.

Evelyn Toh_HeadshotT@S: Which aspects of the SHSU MFA in Dance program did you like?

ET: I appreciate that the program has an equal emphasis on choreography, pedagogy and performance. Programs at other schools may emphasize one component over the other, but what attracted me to SHSU was that we are challenged to grow in all three areas. This was important to me because I wanted more experience in choreography and pedagogy, but I also wanted an opportunity to continue maturing as a performing artist. What I've learned over these three years is that my growth in one area feeds and informs the others, so I find that I experienced a holistic progression in this program. In relation to this, I've also found that this program has a nice balance between practical and theoretical work. I've enjoyed diving into the scholarly realm of dance, but I appreciate that there is still a strong emphasis on physical practice, which enhanced my overall experience. Another aspect I enjoyed greatly was the tremendous support I experienced from the Department and the College. Throughout my time in the program, I was provided with opportunities on and off campus that elevated my educational experience. On top of that, the SHSU Dance Department is a community that feels like an extended family. I made strong connections with my fellow graduate and undergraduate dancers, which is a support system that carries on outside of SHSU. I also experienced great individualized mentorship from all the faculty. I felt that each one acknowledged and cared about my goals as an artist and teacher, providing me with the guidance and opportunities to grow in that direction.

T@S: Which aspects did you find challenging? 

ET: What I found challenging at times was having to wear multiple hats within one workday. On an average day, I would teach classes, attend my courses, participate in dance rehearsals, then finally run my rehearsal, which meant I was consistently navigating between the role of teacher, student, dancer and choreographer. Utilizing the full experience of the program also meant dedicating time. Each semester I was on campus Monday to Friday with my longest days lasting from 8 a.m. to 10 p.m. This schedule required a lot of physical and mental energy to fulfill, so it took determination. I did, however, want this kind of experience, and I recognized that I was busy because I was participating in opportunities that enhanced my educational experience. Grad school was not easy, but I am lucky because I had the privilege to focus on a subject that I am passionate about, so nothing ever felt like "work."

T@S: Is there anyone else who directly impacted your experience?

ET: Many people impacted my overall experience. To begin with, the entire Dance Department, I've gained so much from this program because of the experiences they provided. My cohort turned best friend, Colette Kerwick. Having a classmate like her made my experience special because she was someone who challenged me to do my best, but at the same time, support me in all my endeavors. My husband, who always understood and supported what I was working towards. He often picked up my responsibilities at home so that I could focus on my work, and he still came to every show (he is also my most trusted critic). Finally, I am thankful to have a family who has always encouraged and supported my career in dance. Coming from a Singapore, a career in the arts is uncommon, so I am grateful my parents have always been able to see the value of my career path and were even the ones who planted the seeds to obtaining an MFA in Dance.

T@S: What's next?

ET: Starting in June, I'll be working in NobleMotion Dance as a dance artist and the assistant director of programming. I entered the program looking to expand my career, so I am excited to utilize the skills I have gained at SHSU. In addition, my passion for pedagogy has grown stronger while at Sam, so I'm hoping to go more into teaching. I hope to find success as a teacher so that I may impactfully guide the next generation of dancers.

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