Maggie Anderson begins every class she teaches with a mantra. To start one day, she told the students in her class, “choose love instead.”
Since that class, Jordan Dobson, a junior musical theater major and acting major, said he’s tried to follow Anderson’s principle every day.
“That’s one of the biggest things I’ve been saying to myself instead of feeding into negativity,” he said.
Anderson is a musical theater and movement professor, a choreographer and the director of movement in the School of Theater, Film and Media Arts. She is also a certified health and wellness coach.
She said she takes a holistic approach to teaching, meaning she thinks that students’ mental, physical and emotional well-being affects their performance or overall health.
Anderson said she combines her two passions — theater and fitness — in the classroom. She hopes to develop a course called “Wellness for the Performer,” which would officially integrate physical and emotional self-care into TFMA’s curriculum by next year.
“We can’t just separate who we are from what we do, especially as an artist,” Anderson said. “They are intertwined.”
Anderson said she discusses healthy eating habits during class to promote physical health, but never takes a “one-size-fits-all” approach for dieting or encourages students to look like a certain body type.
“One man’s medicine can be another man’s poison,” she said. “I believe in bio-individuality. … Your system is unlike someone else’s system.”
Anderson has participated in theater since she was 9 years old, and she said she saw the stress of business negatively affect her peers’ body image and self-confidence. That inspired her to learn more about promoting wellness and to serve others through education.
She often asks students during class about how they have nourished themselves that day — and she’s worried the least about what they’ve eaten so far, she said. Instead, she wants students to reflect on the relationships and people they’re surrounded by and how they affect them.
Peter Reynolds, the head of musical theater at TFMA, said Anderson’s teaching style prepares students to deal with the real-life experience of theater: a “brutal” business.
“She provides really meaningful information and guidelines and tips and personal attention when students ask for it from her,” Reynolds said. “She’s really generous.”
In class, she discusses techniques that increase mindfulness for students, like meditation. Outside the classroom, she spends most of her office hours talking to students about their personal problems.
Dobson said Anderson’s stress relief practices and personal support help him cope with the stress of being an aspiring professional performer.
“It’s a field of rejection,” Dobson added. “Constantly going out to auditions and giving all of the emotion you have and just having people behind the table judge you and say, ‘No, thank you. You’re not what we want.’ It hurts.”
Besides the practices taught in Anderson’s classes, Dobson said the familial relationships he has with professors and peers is a source of strength and wellness within TFMA.
Freshman year, Dobson confided in Reynolds about his confusion about his sexuality and he said he often talks to Anderson about his personal problems.
“They’ve always created an environment where I and several other students are comfortable talking about not only academics, but our personal lives,” he said. “Because that’s a big part of college, like finding out who you are. I think of them not only as professors, but as mentors and friends as well.”
Emotional connection among students and professors is a given within the theater community, Anderson said. Through expression, dancing and acting, students and performers are constantly putting themselves in each other’s shoes and attempting to understand their experiences, which fosters compassion.
Her main goal, she said, is to eradicate the archetype of a “suffering artist.”
“I actually want people to get in touch with the source of joy and well-being,” she added. “When people are debilitated by anxiety, depression, poor nutrition and different things, they can’t do the work.”
Grace Shallow can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter @grace_shallow.