University of Arizona

The Arts, Mindfulness and Embodied Knowing – Tammy Compton and Deanna Fitzgerald

Moderated by: Andy Belser*

Though Tamara (dance) and Deanna (lighting design) work in two different artistic mediums, their work overlaps in their uses of mindfulness techniques in their creative research and teaching.

Traditionally, dancers train within an atmosphere that stresses constant improvement. And while this drive to get better and do more is vital to a dancer’s survival, there is an inherent conflict between the pursuit of “perfection” and their mental well-being. Striving for unattainable perfection can break the spirit and is antithetical to artistic growth.

To combat this historical trend, Tamara integrates mindfulness in her classes to develop a more empathetic and supportive community among the students within her department. As a result, Tamara has seen her students develop better habits regarding how they take care of themselves and as a result improve their abilities as dancers.

Tamara uses three-minute meditations to help the students set intentions, get focused for class, be in the moment, and help them resist the pressure to multitask. Students also do somatic body scans to identify soreness, pain, or tension. The dancers use this information to set goals for that day’s class, resulting in fewer injuries and better goal-setting for the class outcomes. She has presented her research at multiple international conferences with her research partner, Christopher Compton.

Deanna’s research is associated with, but unlike, other forms of art in the performance world. Lighting design is a visual art form that focuses on how moments are revealed and how people will see things that a group has created. Her research focuses on how quieting the mind can contribute to the creative process.

Her research has its roots in the work she did while taking part in a program called “Semester at Sea.” There she met a world religion professor teaching meditation to deal with seasickness. Through this journey, she realized how surrendering to what is happening around you helps in coping with difficult situations. This realization made her consider how she moved through the world and later how a daily meditation practice began to affect her creative potency, resulting in her designs having a more profound impact.

Now as a professor in the theatre department, she introduces meditative practices and visualization exercises in her classes. In addition, she has her students go on “lighting walks,” which allows the them to experience light on a more visceral level to open new pathways to creativity by asking questions that made her students investigate light from the audience’s perspective and on their bodies and minds.

We learned from the work of these two artists and researchers that integrating practices that encourage and promote mindfulness and embodied knowing can lead to more meaningful, thoughtful, and robust student experiences. (Summary: Ted Kraus)

*In 2022 Andy Belser accepted a new position as dean of the Hixson-Lied College of Fine and Performing Arts at the University of Nebraska in Lincoln

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Tamara Dyke-Compton

School of Dance
Associate Professor, Dance
Associate Director, School of Dance

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Deanna Fitzgerald

Fine Arts Administration
Vice Dean, Fine Arts
Professor, School of Theatre, Film and Television