Moving through life like a dance—or dance as a metaphor for life—is central to the teaching philosophy that choreographer Louie Marin-Howard brings to his classes.
With an impressive background in modern dance theatre, Louie, who served as choreographer for last summer’s WORKING, will be teaching a fusion of modern dance and jazz to a class of beginner level adults this winter at the CTC called “Movement with Louie!”
“My goal is to offer a platform for a beginner adult to connect with the space around them and others, to explore movement and space in relation to others,” he said. “I want to train adults to feel more confident and comfortable to audition for more CTC musical shows and to feel more comfortable with movement in general.”
Louie is the Director of Dance at Normal Park Upper School and has taught both dance and Pilates for over 15 years. Originally from California, he grew up in San Jose. His passion for dance was sparked when he was 16 after seeing the dance troupe perform their annual spring show at school.
“I was really fortunate to go to a public school that had both phenomenal dance and wonderful performing arts programs,” Louie said. While watching that spring show, he said he was inspired by what he saw on stage.
“I was inspired by other dancers, young dancers. I’m learning this now as a teacher in the performing arts community that what happened to me, what was really most inspiring was looking around and seeing that this is my school and I could do this too,” he said. “That is what allowed me to really step forward.”
Though he had never taken a dance class, he auditioned for the school dance company and was accepted. He said, “I felt so lucky to get in without any experience, and it was such a good training ground.”
Louie said so few schools, including those in Chattanooga, have dance programs or offer dance classes. This unfortunately often means “dance is something you can only do if can afford to go to a studio,” he said. But because it was available to him through his school, his passion for dance grew and flourished.
He explained, “It was such a great experience just being in school embraced by the theatre community and loving it. I always say that dance saved my life, because the trajectory of my life could have been completely different if I hadn’t found dance. I grew up in a very poor neighborhood and the room for error was very large. I look back at that time and I think that’s what the extracurriculars and these passions did. I had dance to keep me distracted from that and keep me focused.”
Louie earned a full scholarship to attend the University of Florida New World School of the Arts and graduated with honors in 2005. He then moved to New York City, where he worked for many years as a dancer, choreographer, and dance teacher with Carolyn Dorfman Dance and taught Pilates classes.
During this time, he met his husband, Michael Marin-Howard, who is also a performer and teaches voice, theatre, and piano. Michael grew up in Red Bank. About four years ago while living in New York, Louie said, “We both wanted a transition. It just happened very naturally for us to shift here. I started teaching Pilates here at first. When I first moved here, I thought I wanted a break from dance because I had been doing it for so long, but I soon ventured back into teaching more dance.”
Since then, he has taught from beginner to advanced levels of dance at Chattanooga Dance Theatre, Ballet Esprit in St. Elmo, Chattanooga Center for Creative Arts, and Baylor School.
In 2019, the CTC invited Louie to choregraph for the 2019-2020 season’s closing show, MAMMA MIA. Sadly, the show was cancelled due to the pandemic. In the summer of 2021, the CTC was ready to safely present another musical, WORKING. Louie said, “The CTC asked me to choreograph, which was wonderful. I got to work with Executive Director Rodney Van Valkenburg, who directed the show, and my husband, Michael, who was the musical director. The three of us really put on a great show, and it was such a great experience.”
Though Louie has choregraphed dance performances and shows many times, this was his first experience choregraphing a theatre show. In recent years, he has mostly taught dance to youth, so it was different working with adults again.
“My goal is always for everyone to have a safe environment and have fun and also, at the end of the day, we’re putting on a show that has to look good,” said Louie. He said much of the WORKING cast was beginning dancers.
“It helped us and me to translate what I wanted to do with them in a way that allowed the movement to come from them,” he said. “I think the first step when you’re trying to engage a beginner or a young dancer is giving them the opportunity to know they’re making it their own.” He said he wants those he teaches to feel, “It’s from you and about you.”
Louie explained, “Sometimes when we get into people’s perception of what a dance class can be, they think ‘Oh, I’m going to have to go into a class where I’m going to have to be following and knowing the combinations,’ and that can intimidate people, especially if you’re a beginner.”
He said the idea for teaching a dance class to beginner adults at the CTC came to him while working with those in the WORKING cast who were newer to dance. He approached Rodney and CTC Director of Education and Innovation Chuck Tuttle with it saying, “I feel like this is something that this community needs.”
Louie said, “I saw the cast of Working, who were an incredibly talented group of actors, singers, and dancers, and I was just feeding off this energy from them and wanted more. Seeing how wonderfully they blossomed with just a little bit more technique work. I tend to disguise that technique work with a lot of fun, so you’re actually really learning the how, not just the what. That’s sort of how the evolution of this class came about.”
Louie hopes the class will appeal to the everyday person off the street who would like to learn dance. He said, “I get so many people tell me that they get nervous in a class, but really they are naturally movers.”
The class, which meets each Monday from February 7 through March 18, is designed to recruit and engage beginner adults.
“We’ll focus on body and spatial awareness,” Louie said. “Certainly, I will be tying in my Pilates background, so I will always implement correct body alignment and restorative movement. We train in three ways. We train the mind, that thinking, creative artist inside; the body, which is our instrument as dancers, we have to get the body flexible and build stamina; and the sense of community. Training as a community is so important right now as we’re trying to come back together. Because we don’t exist in this world alone, we exist in relation to one another.”
Louie emphasizes the importance of this, saying, “I think at the end of the day, for any dancer, whether beginner or advanced, having a sense of oneself in relation to one another in a class is key to any sort of life challenge. For me, dance is a metaphor for life, and that’s what we’ll be doing in this class.”
To register for the class, call 423.267.8534 or visit TheatreCentre.com/Learn.
By Tammy Knotts | Writer & CTC Parent Volunteer
Posted January 21, 2022