Posts tagged “teaching

Vive la Resistance!

Posted on September 2, 2015


I’ve been sourcing photos both for an upcoming class and for my book and came across this gem: three female resisters patrolling a street in France during World War II. Although my class starts in two weeks, some eager students have reached out to me about extra reading materials (!!!). So far, I’ve steered them toward the Kristin Hannah’s The Nightingale , a recently released — and lovely — novel about two sisters and the choices they had to make during the Occupation. One student emailed me after she was done and said she could barely see the last chapter, she was crying so hard. So I recommended it to two other students, and am eagerly awaiting their reactions too.

(Rubs hands together in perverse delight).

Ronald Rosbottom’s When Paris Went Dark: The City of Light Under German Occupation, 1940-1944 is another recent(ish) release that I’ve been pushing on the curious hordes. What I liked most about this is Dr. Rosbottom’s depiction of how ordinary — and not-so-ordinary — Parisians coped with life under the Nazis. He uses a lot of rich detail here, from a wide range of sources, so I’m hoping folks make a point of diving into this too. It’s very well done.

I’ve also tossed out various memoirs written by French resisters, and other books based on my students’ area of interest from this period. I look forward to seeing what they bring up in class after diving into this extra work and anticipate that our time together will fly right by.

Any books (fiction or nonfiction) you might add to the mix about the French Resistance, Occupation of Paris or World War 2?  Let me know in comments.


Ballets Russes Program

Posted on October 23, 2014 has a new feature on its site that allows you to embed some of its digitized treasures on your blog, etc. I’ll be experimenting with ways to use that feature here from time to time. In the meantime, I found this neat old Ballets Russes program from 1920 that may be of interest to the folks who just took my Lost Generation class at LSU a few weeks ago. Take a peek and let me know what you think in comments.

Friday Interview: Julie Galle Baggenstoss, Flamenco Performer and Educator

Posted on April 11, 2014

Photo: Julie Galle Baggenstoss

Photo: Julie Galle Baggenstoss


Julie Galle Baggenstoss worked as a journalist before she took the plunge and followed her passion. Now she’s bringing flamenco to a wide variety of audiences in the United States. She has performed and choreographed Flamenco with the Atlanta Opera, Georgia State University’s School of Music, The Latin American Association, Coves Darden P.R.E., and at universities and museums from the Southeast to the Midwest. She also teaches flamenco for Emory University’s dance program and for organizations such as the American Association of Teachers of Spanish and Portuguese, the Foreign Language Association of Georgia, and Georgia Public Libraries. She spoke with me recently about her work, flamenco’s rich history and about following your passion. Here are excerpts from that conversation:

How do you explain flamenco – real flamenco – to a general audience?

I tell people that Flamenco is an improvised art form based on poetry that was most likely first composed extemporaneously during a gathering of family and friends during late-night hours.  That usually stops people in their tracks and gives them pause, because they normally envision a wild-haired woman in a low-cut, polka-dotted dress doing this animal-like dance with castanets.  The setting straight goes on from there with a quick history lesson about how immigrating Gypsies covered the old Spanish ‘romances’ (sung poems) to begin forming a musical expression in Andalucía that eventually gave way to Flamenco.  Along the way, the Gypsies as a group faced discrimination, prejudice, persecution, and this gave them much to sing about.  When their lifestyle was finally embraced during the period of romanticism in the 1800s, poets and impresarios brought Flamenco to the limelight to be celebrated in literate and on stages around the world.  What we have seen on stage since then is the expression of those same poems through song, music, and dance.  Sometimes the expression veers far from its original form, such as a line of topless men clicking their feet in unison.  Sometimes the expression is very much in line, when we see a solo singer, a solo guitarist, and a solo dancer conversing non-verbally while the people around them clap their hands rhythmically and shout cheers of encouragement.  That is the expression that brings the goose bumps, and that is when you know you are seeing the real thing.

In what ways has your background in journalism aided you in your ability to share flamenco’s story with a variety of audiences?

My journalism background helps in three ways.  First, I am fortunate to know how to conduct research, including interviews.  I primarily work as a teaching artist, meaning I use Flamenco as a vehicle to teach toward curriculum goals, such as Spanish language, geography, history, team building, problem solving, and communication.  My shows are based on literature and real people who became legends in Flamenco.  I routinely dig way beyond the stage to get information that reveals the Gypsy culture and Spanish history that makes Flamenco what it is and has been.

My role as television and Web producer gave me experience in coordinating live bodies, production equipment, managers and talent. The same rules apply to live theater production, except there are no live signals to route – yet!

Finally, years in the newsroom taught me what matters to the media.  I know how to write a press release, because I know which ones I ignored when I was on the receiving end of them.  I know how to build a database of qualified contacts for public relations, publicity, promotion, and sales, and I know the difference between those roles.

Why did you make the leap from journalism to flamenco and what were the biggest challenges you faced in making that leap? How did you overcome those challenges?

I leapt at a time when work as a freelance writer was not fulfilling and the phone was ringing off the hook for a Flamenco dancer.  The jobs for Flamenco were exciting, and I began to work with interesting musicians. I thought I would cross the two pursuits. That eventually happened, but not as I expected.  And, that was frustrating at first.  I thought I would sell stories about the back roads of Spain or the unknown treasures of the big Spanish cities to which I traveled to study Flamenco.  At first it was a setback that I was not selling work this way.  But, later I realized that I could tell stories about Flamenco, Spain, and the wonderful real-life characters whom I encountered.  And, with this, I became a teaching artist going to work in schools, lecture halls, and universities.  I kept up the dance training to stay employed in the typical dance setting, as well.

A major challenge was figuring out the markets for Flamenco, because at the time that I began working, there was not much shape to Flamenco arts where I lived in Atlanta. There was not much precedent for programming, pricing, market segmentation, quality, etc., specific to Flamenco, because so few people had taken the path previously.  I received guidance from some professional musicians, dancers, and talent agents, and then applied the rules of their industries to Flamenco.  I shaped the market for myself and just didn’t look back.  I created a number of products to leverage Flamenco to serve markets, such as schools and social organizations, rather than the traditional American Flamenco employers, such as restaurants in need of live entertainment.

In what ways has your life as a flamenco teacher and performer changed since you first began?

I am now deeply interested in the history and cultural significance of Flamenco and how the past influences the present.  I came into Flamenco as a dancer, wanting to learn to move in a new form. Along the way, I took classes from a teacher who taught me about the music.  I discovered how  the dancers are musicians, right along with the guitarists and singers.  I traveled to Spain to study, where I met some of the icons, descendants of legends, authors whose work I had studied, artists whom I adored on stage.  Their support through friendship and teaching, led me to want to explain the human stories that created – and today sustain – Flamenco. So, that is part of the work that I do in education and performance.

Also, as a business owner, I have learned to be headstrong and well-prepared in pursuits that seem like unreachable dreams.  Business strategies aside, I have learned to look up, because that is direction of faith and success.

How have you built a community of people and groups that are as interested in and passionate about flamenco as you are?

I formed a grass-roots marketing company called jaleolé in 2004, with a partner and a team of very dedicated, passionate volunteers.  Now that I look back, I will boast that we shaped the Flamenco scene in Atlanta for nearly 10 years. The company promoted Flamenco events to Flamenco aficionados, as well as the general public.  We motivated some big players  to talk about and present Flamenco in Atlanta.  As a result, there are now teachers and performers in Atlanta working on the base that we put in place.  I lectured, wrote, published, produced,  placed performers in all kinds of performances from sidewalks to theater stages, and put students on stage annually as part of my role as co-founder of the company.  The energy of that work is still circulating, and the evidence is everywhere.

Since 2009, I have facilitated a ‘cuadro’ class that provides education and a weekly jam session for students of Flamenco guitar, singing, and dance.  Prior to this concept, Atlanta was a city of dancers without accompanists.  To know Flamenco is to know that dancers and guitarists exist in the art form to accompany the singing. So, a silo of dancers – without live music – was unfulfilling.  Five years after the first workshop, the students of the program are playing guitar and singing in classes and performances in groups across Atlanta. It is satisfying to know that Flamenco is taking shape in such a holistic way.

How have you engaged Spanish artists in your mission to build interest in flamenco? What have you learned from them in your efforts to teach, perform and lecture about the art?

The answer to this question is unending.

I have presented some of the top Flamenco artists in Spain in performance and education.  I have asked them to lecture and spend time in fiestas with local aficionados to break the wall of artist and fan.  These gracious artists  have created electricity, tears, inspiration, awe.  But the best moments have been when they have interacted one-on-one with local aficionados, in a casual manner, to shed light on what it means to be a Flamenco, rather than a super star.

I believe Flamenco is like coffee.  If you can get it in Spain, or from Spanish Flamenco artists, then it’s a shot of espresso.  Outside of that, it’s café au lait: tastes great, but it’s just coffee with chicory and steamed milk.  And, chicory as my grandfather used to tell me in New Orleans, is ersatz.  The audiences and the students know the difference.

The more I learn about the art of Flamenco, the less I want to teach, perform, or lecture about it.  Instead, I just want to put the Spanish artists out there to do it.  I am continually humbled by the people whom I meet through research and study.  They are incredible artists, but that’s not what stops me.  It is that their families created this, and they carry with them the spirits of the generations before them, a cultural legacy that includes oppression, perseverance, pride, creativity, innovation, controversy, and misunderstandings of all sorts.  The more I know, the more I want to tell these stories, accurately.

What’s a typical day for you like?

My schedule is completely random. At the moment, it looks a little like a jack-o-lantern. Three days a week, I rehearse in the mornings before heading to teach at Emory University, where I instruct students who are earning credit for their dance degrees or to fulfill an elective requirement.  Right after class, I crack my latest Flamenco read for about an hour.  Then, I am off to class where I am a student of Spanish culture and literature, a base for a graduate degree down the road.  I pick up my kids from school; we tackle their homework; we play a game or craft a bit; we cook and eat dinner; I run out the door. Evening classes or rehearsals last about 2 hours in a dance studio, and then it is home for some creative time: a novel, a favorite blog, on a rare occasion a movie.  On the other two days (of a 5-day workweek), I am in the studio for 4-6 hours working on technique and repertoire, and I take about 2 hours to handle the “business of Flamenco” for myself.  I update my website. order flyers, book shows, write contracts, follow-up with potential clients, apologize for late responses, and of course put out dramatic  fires of all kinds.  Saturdays and Sundays often turn into workdays, as well, depending on bookings.  Several times a month, this schedule is interrupted by arts-in-education performances.  I leave home for those at 6:30 a.m., after loading my car with sound and stage equipment.  I drive for 30-90 minutes to a school, and then I set up my show.  I perform for 1-2 hours, break down, and then return to my neighborhood just in time to pick up my lovely children from school. More than once, I have walked through my children’s after-school scene in full Flamenco regalia because my commute butted up against carpool.  My kids just are not aware of it anymore.  It’s always a juggling act with the schedule.

I remember one time, I had to do a performance during the last 30 minutes of one of those Spanish culture classes at the university, where I attend class as a student.  I walked into the class with all of the stage make-up, hair in a bun, huge earrings, and a ruffled shirt.  When the moment struck, I stood up and walked out of the class in the middle of the lecture.  I closed the door, and in the hallway swapped my street skirt for my performance skirt.  I glided down the stairwell and got into a waiting car outside of the building. The driver took me around the corner while I changed into my Flamenco dance shoes.  I got on stage 15 minutes later inside the ballroom at the Georgia Aquarium and performed for a dazzling (I hope) 5 minutes.

Unfortunately, I spend a lot less time on my art that I would like, and I am working the phone and e-mail a lot more than I would like!

What sort of plans do you have for 2014?

I am reaching into markets outside of Atlanta.  I am taking my arts-in-ed on the road in Louisiana, Florida, and Alabama.  I hope to also perform for adult audiences in those markets, with strong Spanish and U.S.-based Flamenco artists on stage with me.

I am forming participants of my cuadro class into a semi-professional performing group.  There’s a very dedicated and talented core of aficionados who are playing guitar, singing, and dancing well.  They are ready to go on stage in excellent, very exciting venues.

I will spend more time researching a few interesting characters in Flamenco, including a dancer who caught the eye of Thomas Edison, a homeless man-turned Grammy winner, and the neighborhood of Triana in Seville.

As someone who has pursued her passion for one of the most passionate dance forms there is, what advice do you have for people grappling with whether to pursue their own passions?

A life built on passion is much different than a life built on someone else’s passion.  Living for your passion can lead to funny decisions.  To that end, I advise the following.  Get a good business plan and revise it often.  Get a network of honest critics from a variety of backgrounds, and remember that your loved ones should not be part of that because they will always only be positive.  Hire an accountant, and realize that $30 in the bank is not $0 or -$30 in the bank. Balance your worlds: work, personal, ambition, family, romance, health.   Balance is important.  It is difficult to be the navigator and the pilot in the giant ship of entrepreneurship.  One feels like everything has to be done now.  To address that, create a project management plan, phase product releases, and schedule time for breaks.  Take a walk to solve a problem.  Have a beer at lunch.  Take a day off! Most of all, you must believe always in what you are doing.  If you lose your mojo, then you are done.

A Spring Update

Posted on April 2, 2014

I just finished teaching a six-week class about the French for LSU’s Continuing Education. As a lifelong introvert, I knew it would be challenging (and exhausting) for me to stand in front of a group of people for a couple of hours each week, even though I’d be telling them stories about a topic that I’ve loved for as long as I can remember. But as I’ve said before, I really wanted to get better and less fearful about speaking to groups this year, no matter how bumpy and ugly that road to “better and less fearful” was. And I can honestly say that I couldn’t have asked for a better and kinder group of people a. to teach and b. to learn from as I figured out how to get my sea legs in a classroom setting. Two weeks into the class, I seriously considered bidding teaching adieu after this class was done. Now, I know I’ll give it another shot in the fall. I am pretty excited about that and will be submitting a new class description to the curriculum committee in the coming weeks.

What does all of that have to do with a picture of green beans and a trellis? Well, I had to plant the seed in my head that teaching was something I could do, in whatever imperfect way. Now that I have done that, and haven’t managed to kill anything (or, heaven forbid, anyone) the next step is to encourage this little plant to go forth and prosper in whatever way it knows how. Right now, my teaching and writing seem to cross-pollinate each other nicely, so I don’t want to mess with what seems to be a good thing.

Knock wood.

After my last class on Monday morning, I finished revising a major project, before turning my attention to the vegetable garden I started a month and a half ago. That’s where you can find the above haricots verts, as well as some potatoes and kale, eggplant, wild garlic, asparagus, Vidalia onions, radishes, carrots, tomatoes, lettuce and strawberries, among other things. We’ve had to fence off the space so Murray the rapidly growing office dog doesn’t dig it all up. And as I got to thinking about it, I started hatching some evil plans to add some fruit bushes and other things along the inside of the fence to maximize my gardening haul. My friend Karen told me recently that gardening is such a hopeful activity. I had never really looked at it that way due to my long history of killing plants. But now that I’ve had a couple of years of successes with a vegetable plot of some sort (not to mention some successes in other areas of my life), I suppose I’m willing to see how, yes, it is hopeful, and I am hopeful too. I have good reason to be.

So I’ll be sharing news and views from my garden in the coming weeks, as well as pictures of what I do with this stuff once it’s picked.

But tomorrow? I’ll put a decadent twist on a popular French snack cake.

Questions? Comments? Story suggestions? Don’t hesitate to let me know what’s on your mind in comments, or by shooting me a message on my contact page.





On Faith and Writing

Posted on February 4, 2014

A couple of weeks ago I spoke to a third grade class about writing. My talk was about 50 minutes long and as I spoke I realized that I wasn’t really talking about writing, per se, but about following your heart, never giving up and being eager to learn from everyone you meet, both inside and out of the classroom.

I originally told them that I became a writer because I was a bad math student, and, come to think of it, a pretty bad science student and economics student too. But then I noticed I wound up writing stories that involved budgets, or scientific research, or economic trends, and so I had to learn how to ask all the questions I was too timid to ask in third grade and beyond so that I could understand these subjects in a way that would allow me to write well and convincingly about them.

This admission brought me to a story about a very confusing interview that I did with a nanoscientist. No one in the class knew what nanoscience was, and I told them I didn’t either, especially as the interview with this man progressed. So I found the nicest and most professional way of asking this very smart man to explain his work to me the way he might explain it to his five-year-old niece. He did, I finally understood the very cool work he was doing, and I wrote a story about it, and then several other stories about nanoscience, which I was convinced was a very cool thing that people needed to know about.

After having relayed that to the class, I told them that I began to understand that I really became a writer because it gave me the opportunity to learn something new all the time and to share that knowledge and those stories with readers.

Near the end of my talk, I told them about Charles Garnier, architect of the Paris Opera House. I’ve spent some time researching his life and reading about his times, in hopes of writing a book about him. The kids were engaged with the Phantom of the Opera tie-in (Garnier’s opera is the backdrop for Phantom) and had a lot of questions about whether there were ghosts in the opera, for real. I told them there weren’t. But it did take everything I had not to tell them that I’ve been somewhat haunted (for lack of a better word) by Garnier’s rags-to-riches story and interested in the way it provides a different look at a Paris that was undergoing massive physical, political and social change. I told that Garnier was a cool guy who didn’t let his background or insecurities get in the way of building one of Europe’s most beautiful buildings.

And that should serve as an inspiration to them to beat the fourth grade in their reading challenge…or not be shy about any other pursuit that fills their heart.

One of the kids came up to me after the talk and asked what you do if you write something sort of personal and then turn it in and no one likes it, or gets mad, or you realize that you’ve written something totally embarrassing and you wish you’d never turned it in. I sat there knowing that I had a book proposal on Garnier out on submission that was fairly personal to me and that rejections could be trickling in as I was standing there. I told her that people who pour their hearts out realize the risks they’re taking when they write and understand that not everyone will like what they do all the time.

But that’s never any reason to quit.

For all those who may not feel like your work is for them, there will be those who love it. Have faith in your story and yourself and your agent and your work will find its way into the right, loving hands.

The French

Posted on January 17, 2014

Pictured above: A framed franc note from 1944. I got it in the mail yesterday from my mother, who sent it to me as a belated birthday present. Now it’s among the really French-y stuff that surrounds me in my office as I write or work on the very first class I’ll teach in a couple of weeks.

Yes: teaching. I’ll be teaching a class called “The French” for LSU Continuing Education. The class begins February 17 and it will explore French history through the lives of the people who shaped it and were shaped by it. As a profile writer, this is an ideal way for me to approach it because each class will have a theme (i.e. Saints and Saviors) and consist of a series of related profiles about prominent French people from all walks of life.

Getting this class down on paper has been one thing. The ideas have been flowing. Things have been fitting together like perfect little puzzle pieces. It’s all making sense and (most importantly) feeling like it’s going to be a lot of fun.

Delivering the class to a crowd may be something else. Last week, I wrote about my need to work on my public speaking skills. I did that, knowing that I would be speaking this morning to a room full of potential students, and, after that, presumably a class full of people I’d convince to listen to me speak for six more weeks. I’ve been getting a little whipped up about this and when I got my first class list earlier this week, I have to say I was a little nervous to see those first names there.

I got some good redirection from people who suggested I view this not as public speaking, but as talking about something I like and being myself when I do it.

So that’s what I did this morning. I behaved like myself, which is a very dangerous thing, indeed. Why? Because after explaining what the class was be about, I told a packed house that there would be no better way to spend Monday mornings than with a weird magazine writer lady who talks about French people behind their backs. A friend of mine quipped: “With lines like that, you could go into marketing.”

By next week, I should have an updated class list that indicates just how effective this more Paige-like approach was. In the meantime, the morning was good fun and for once I felt at ease speaking in front of a large group. Perhaps there’s hope for me yet. We shall see. All I know is that I met some wonderful people this morning and can’t wait to captivate them with stories about a country and people who have so thoroughly captivated me!

In Defense of Writing

Posted on October 4, 2012

I heard something I didn’t like this week.

Kids — especially grade school kids — don’t like to write.

Howwwww is this possssibbbblllllle???? I loved to write when I was a little kid!!!!

Apparently, loving writing makes me weird. Math is more fun for children because they’re solving puzzles and playing with little plastic sets of ten and sometimes even Gummi Bears, if they’re lucky. Writing involves too much memorization (i.e. spelling words) and rules, and requires just too much work in general.

In kidspeak, writing is what they call borrring.

This revelation emerged as a general aside during a parent-teacher conference I had this week. It had nothing to do with my own kid. Although I do know that good writing requires work, as a writer I’ve never perceived that my job is boring. I love what I do and am prepared to beat someone up after school (you heard me) in the interests of defending my craft. So, filled with more than a hint of righteous indignation, I asked the teacher if there was any way I could help her show kids why writing is a good thing, an important thing, and even . . . (wait for it) a fun thing. Although I’m not sure if she’ll take me up on it, she said yes, she’d like me to come in after the first of the year. The good thing about this is that it gives me plenty of time to construct some pro-writing propaganda about how writing is the best thing in the world, ever, so there. I’m in this to win hearts and minds, after all.

Rebecca Wallace-Seagall wrote an impassioned defense of creative writing classes in schools, drawing from her experience as executive director of New York City’s Writopia Lab, a nonprofit that runs writing workshops for children aged 8 to 18.  Wallace-Seagall’s piece is part of The Atlantic’s education series “Why American Students Can’t Write”. Over the next two years, public school students in 46 of 50 states will have a writing curriculum that favors clarity over self-expression and Wallace-Seagall believes that good writing in any genre requires logic and precision. She writes:

If young people are not learning to write while exploring personal narratives and short fiction, it is because we as educators need more training — or the specifics of the curriculum need more development. It is not because those forms of writing in themselves are of no use . . . Human beings yearn to share, reflect and understand each other, and they use these reflections to improve the state of things, both personal and public. If we want our students to have this kind of impact, we have to teach them how to express themselves with both precision and passion . . . where would we be as a nation if we graduate a nation of people who can write an academic paper on the Civil War but have no power to convey the human experience? If Frederick Douglass had stopped writing his narrative on slavery because he felt he could not be at once a lucid communicator and an expressive, emotional being, where would this world be?

Indeed, where would it be? I’m hoping I can do my part, in whatever little way, to help another generation care about words — how they feel on your tongue, how they look on the page and how they sound to your ears and heart when a little symphony spills from your pen.