by Kushi Patel
Amidst a pandemic, most Americans can agree that their day-to-day schedule has been altered in some way. Most events are postponed and some remarkable days have even been cancelled. Last week, I had the pleasure and opportunity to interview Phillip “Phil” Simmons, an Eastern Michigan University dance teacher, performer, actor, dancer, and many more established roles. I asked Phil a series of questions that relate to how his dance profession has become altered due to the COVID-19 pandemic. As talented as he is, COVID-19 did not stop him from finding unique ways to continue his passion for teaching dance.
The only way that I was able to understand Simmons’ talent was by first asking him how he developed his passion and interest for dance. Simmons spent 15 years in New York City as a working actor, where he specialized in Musical Theatre. Since there was not an MFA in Musical Theatre, he decided to take dance classes to earn a degree while getting an MFA in Acting. During his schooling experience, he also was a former dance captain in numerous Broadway touring productions. Hearing his background story made me ponder where or not Simmons along with many other dancers across the world would be able to experience the same impact dance has on some. Simmons describes what dance means to him by confidently saying: “Dance is a way to tell a story and a way to physically express your personality or the character that you’re playing; the same way you could do with a monologue or a song.” This depicts how connected many different realms of the fine arts and entertainment are uniquely intertwined.
During a time where most people are feeling unmotivated and exhausted from the work around them, I asked Simmons what he did to ensure that his students did not feel this way. Simmons excitedly expressed how he uses words of encouragement to empower his students to never give up and continue putting in the hard work. Simmons also shared a personal sentiment about what COVID-19 has taught him. First of all, he definitely went through the technology learning curve that he now feels better equipped to deal with. Simmons says “I am able to now critique my own alignment and technique” because on Zoom, he has to record himself. As most of us can say, COVID-19 has revealed unique things about ourselves.
As our world is forever changed and continuously changing, we must remind ourselves that this too shall pass and we can still find safe ways to do the things we once enjoyed. Phil Simmons’ story and his care for his students is evident through this interview. Dance is not just an activity, it’s a passion.
Khushi Patel is a member of the CCC Editorial Team