A Conversation with College Partner Students

A group of people hold signs that say "Watch FREE Dance", "Enjoy FREE Dance", and "See Dance Here" designed in black and yellow. They are all standing in front of a wood building.
Former College Partner student and current Jacob’s Pillow staff member Emma Garber (farthest left) stands with the Marketing Team

The Jacob’s Pillow College Partnership Program exists to support dance as a means of research, discourse, and artistic expression for faculty, artists, scholars, and students – virtually and on the Jacob’s Pillow campus. Each year, college partners come together for the Annual College Partner Convening, where educators, students, and staff spend a day on the Pillow’s retreat-like campus to engage with colleagues and share ideas, challenges, and community. 

Partnership benefits include consultations with archivists for faculty on research and curriculum design, the opportunity to apply for College Partnership Program Faculty Research Fellowship, and priority notification of Pillow opportunities including Jacob’s Pillow Intern and Administrative Fellowship Program positions, The School at Jacob’s Pillow professional advancement programs, and special workshops and classes year-round. Learn more about this program and its benefits here.

Lifelong relationships are kindled by experiences within the College Partner Program. Some students go on to become part of the staff at the Pillow. We sat down with two of our college partner students who were on staff for Festival 2022. Here’s what they have to say about their experiences:

What college did/do you attend? What did/do you study there?

Emma Garber: I graduated from the University of Massachusetts Amherst in May 2022. I graduated with dual degrees in Dance and Journalism, as well as a certificate in Arts Management.

Em Lawrence: I currently attend Smith College, where I will be a junior. I am a double major in American Studies and Dance, hoping to pursue the Journalism Concentration.

Public Relations Intern Em Lawrence (second from left) with family near the Henry J. Leir Stage

How did you become involved in the College Partner program?

Emma Garber: I first attended the College Partner Convening at Williams College in the fall of 2018 after one of my professors encouraged my class to attend. That day I got to see the Dance We Must exhibit and discuss it with leaders in the dance field. It was such an eye-opening experience. In the following few years, my classes attended workshops with the Dance Education Laboratory at Jacob’s Pillow where I got to put my Dance Education courses into practice. Following each workshop I would get to attend a showing in the Pillow Lab and get to see artists presenting their choreography in progress. It was always really special getting to visit the Pillow and feel at the center of the dance world. 

Em Lawrence: I attended the Indigenous Enterprise Pillow Lab showing with fellow Smith College dancers in fall of 2021. I was in an Intermediate Dance Composition class at the time, and we were working with the Liz Lerman Critical Response Process. After the showing, a facilitator led us through Lerman’s process to engage with the performers. Indigenous Enterprise were about to have their Joyce Theater debut, and looking for audience insights and feedback! It was really cool to feel like a valuable part of their process here, even as an audience member. Also while on campus, our professors, one of whom had once performed in the Doris Duke Theatre and the other who had performed on the Henry J. Leir stage, showed us the outdoor stage and the Archives, where we spoke with the team and explored the digital resources. I remember a very surreal feeling of – yes, this place that lives in most dancers’ imaginations is actually real and tangible, and I can interact with it.


Do you have a favorite memory from your participation in the College Partner program?

A group of people pose for a photo with Kyle Abraham.
College Partners at Kyle Abraham’s 2018 Pillow Lab Showing

Emma Garber: My favorite memory for sure was getting to see Kyle Abraham in the Pillow Lab in the winter of 2018. That day Kyle was presenting what would later become An Untitled Love. That was the first time I got to see an artist of Kyle’s recognition so up close and personal. I was absolutely blown away. I remember after the showing getting to take a photo with Kyle and feeling so starstruck. 

Em Lawrence: A favorite memory was that after the show, a friend and I exchanged Instagram handles with some of the performers. In that way I was able to stay connected with them and watch their journey over this last year. I also was so inspired by curator Melanie George and her grace as a facilitator, and I was also struck by Jacob’s Pillow as a resource purely intended to support dance, holding space for companies like this. I never realized how close the Pillow was to my school, and it was validating to know, having moved across the country from New Mexico to Western Massachusetts to pursue dance, that I wasn’t alone. 


What was your role at the Pillow this summer?

A person in an orange dress dances among a crowd of people.
Emma Garber at the 2022 Gala

Emma Garber: I joined the staff this summer as the Digital Marketing Associate. I worked on the Digital Marketing team, overseeing email campaigns, maintaining the website, writing copy, and tracking social media advertising.

Em Lawrence: This summer, I was one of two Public Relations interns at the Pillow. We collaborate with Marketing to produce programs for all the shows, press releases about summer programming, and resources like photo selects for press when they write about the Festival.

What was it like joining the Pillow staff?

Emma Garber: Surreal! It really felt like I was joining this historical lineage that was so much bigger than any one individual. The first few weeks on campus are quiet because the festival hasn’t started yet, but as soon as it does it’s a whirlwind. Each week I’ve gotten to walk by or share meals with artists I spent the last four years reading about in my dance textbooks. Working a festival as large as the Pillow definitely takes a lot of hard work, but it’s those little moments that make it worth it. 

Em Lawrence: Overwhelming for sure, and the reality of it has just barely begun to set in on week ten. The experience started with our cohort of interns bringing forth and engaging in important conversations with leadership and each other about how the organization represents its complicated history. These conversations really shaped the way I experienced the Pillow the summer, and allowed me to consider the positionality of the Pillow in the dance field at large. This felt important to my job in Public Relations, and also to my own personal values. The internship is quite immersive and strenuous, but after the adjustment period I developed friendships here that I think will last a lifetime.

Digital Media/Marketing Intern Lourdes Del Mar Santiago Lebrón (left) with Public Relations Intern Em Lawrence (right)

What were some of the highlights of your summer?

Emma Garber: During Week 4 of the festival A.I.M. by Kyle Abraham performed An Untitled Love, which I was lucky to see. It was a really special, full circle moment for me. The first time I visited the Pillow campus was when I saw Kyle in the Pillow Lab and now, four years later, I finally got to see that work debut while on staff. Besides that, getting to end each work day by watching a performance at the outdoor Henry J. Leir is a treat. I’ve also gotten to work amongst the most inspiring group of individuals and learn so much from their work ethic and dedication.

Martell Ruffin in “An Untitled Love” during Festival 2022

Em Lawrence: One of my favorite moments was a late night improvisation jam sesh in the Perles Family studio with fellow summer staffers; despite having just taken several weeks of Orientation modules together, this moment was when I really started to know, understand, and become close to everyone. Other highlights were creating the program for the Indigenous Enterprise performance on the Henry J. Leir stage, and watching Liz Lerman’s PillowTalk about her recent work, Wicked Bodies. And of course, the shows, community workshops, and morning classes. Feeling connected to my own artistry while in as generative a space as Jacob’s Pillow was a powerful experience. 

The cast of Liz Lerman laying on a stool with their bodies stretched out resembling flight.
Liz Lerman’s “Wicked Bodies”

What are you doing next?

Emma Garber: I will be staying on staff as the Digital Marketing Coordinator! I am looking forward to continuing working on this talented team and working throughout the year to see the next festival through from the very start of the planning process. 

Em Lawrence: I will be heading back to Smith to get that degree! I’m excited to wind down from such a fast-paced schedule, process and reflect upon the dance I’ve engaged with this summer, and get back into the studio myself. I have no doubt that my work from now on will be informed by all I’ve learned and witnessed here at Jacob’s Pillow.

Edited by Gillian Ebersole, Emma Garber, and Emma (Em) Lawrence. Published September 2022.