Rika Okamoto and Alexander Brady, co-directors of CA’s dance program.
Rika Okamoto and Alexander Brady support CA students every step of the way
Amy Spencer and Richard Colton P’13, longtime CA dance program co-directors.
In their second year co-directing dance at Concord Academy, Rika Okamoto and Alexander Brady are building on a strong foundation—a program shaped over three decades by Amy Spencer and Richard Colton P’13. Like their predecessors, Okamoto and Brady are married creative partners; also like them, both danced professionally with Twyla Tharp. Here they share with CA Magazine editor Heidi Koelz their vision for dance at CA.
Is the way you teach dance a departure for CA students?
Rika Okamoto: We’re not changing the program dramatically.
Alexander Brady: They had 30 years to figure it out, and we have trust in that.
RO: But teaching itself changes, and the pandemic was so hard for young people. We’re more aware of equity, diversity, and inclusion now. I truly believe the dancers are the dance, the dancers are the choreography. When we’re making an original piece, they’re themselves, creating community—without talking, they bond and cultivate confidence
How do you choreograph for students?
AB: We think about who is dancing, then that informs the movement. We start in the studio, recording movements. Then we rearrange these video snippets into a timeline. We’ll come up with the steps, then assemble them and help get the group going. We collaborate on everything, including the overall vision and selecting music, but we leave space for the students to add something of their own.
RO: It’s very different from an old school approach where dancers are supposed to fall in line and look and move the same—that doesn’t benefit choreographers.
AB: When you get into the world of elite dance, it’s very technical. Individuality gets filtered out. In contrast, working with student dancers at CA is great. There’s no filter. They’ll be dancing together, but you really see every individual.
What’s your impression of CA students?
AB: The dancers are 100% giving their all. They’re fearless. It’s amazing.
RO: CA dancers just go for it. We give them an instruction to fall, and they do it together but differently. We love that and want to celebrate it. Not everyone starts there, though. Academic environments can breed a perfectionist mindset. There are so many things you can learn from dance, and there’s no right or wrong. Often something seems like a mistake, but then from that comes something good.
What are your goals for the program?
RO: For us, everyone’s a dancer. We want to ease students in. We invite them just to come and dance with us. It’s less intimidating.
AB: And within that, we can build technique and discipline.
RO: Students see the benefit of practice. Doing something every day seems repetitive, but you get better.
AB: There’s a thrill, too. Your body feels good. At my 8:50 a.m. Dance 1 class, they drag in, tired. But 20 minutes in, they’re getting warm, their bodies start to hum, and they’re smiling.
RO: I have a license to teach Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction, and I want to expand on that, to offer a holistic approach to movement, being in the body. That’s my goal.
AB: Another goal is for them to learn about composition, how to make things.
RO: CA students are so creative. Last year my Dance 2 class started experimenting with compositional choreography. I was blown away by them. We want to encourage students to create more dance, and we’re very interested in interdisciplinary collaboration—with theater, music, academics. Dance is so fluid.
AB: During the pandemic, I started messing around with the Fibonacci sequence, assigning a move to a particular number. It was fun to see the possibilities. You can find inspiration in anything.
How did you each come to dance?
AB: I grew up in the ballet world. It was very structured and disciplined—and it was good for me, because I was all over the place. As an adult, I started working for modern choreographers, though at the beginning I found it difficult to improvise.
RO: My path has not been normal. I’ve always been a bit of a rebel! I wanted to dance when I was younger, but in my family art wasn’t valued. When I did start, in high school, my teacher showed me my potential and gave me a little push to grow. There’s benefit to learning technique and discipline, but a good teacher doesn’t put you into a mold. They show you how to use your body as your instrument, how to tune it up, and they let you grow into your own creativity.
Are you continuing to work as professional artists?
AB: Yes, the split position affords us that time. On the weekends we can choreograph.
RO: And we’re still connected to the New York dance community. It’s a good example for students. The way we watch dance has also changed. We want to be current—we’re always thinking, “What’s new? What’s coming? What can we bring back to CA?”