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International MFA dance student reimagines the audience experience through creative practices

Editor's note: This story is part of a series of profiles of notable spring 2022 graduates.

Kathy Luo's applied project, “Out of the Blue,” explored immersive dance and challenged the traditional view of spectators. Dancers moved fluidly between and around the audience members, who were placed on stage with the dancers in chairs.

Kathy Luo started her dance journey at the age of 4. 

“It made me feel like my life was colorful,” Luo said. 

As she got older, her parents continued to support her pursuit of dance as a profession. 

“Dancing made me feel happy and passionate about my life,” said Luo. “That was the only time I felt like I could be creative and be myself.”

Luo came to Arizona State University from Beijing looking for cultural experiences and opportunities to expand her creative practice. She graduates this May with an MFA in dance from the School of Music, Dance and Theatre.

“I wanted to have a new life experience and see what it’s like to experience a different culture and surround myself with different people,” she said. “I felt that could give me a lot of inspiration in my artistic creation. It helps me be a better person — a better human being.”

As part of her application to the MFA program, Luo submitted choreography samples, movement practice videos and a personal statement. Then she participated in a virtual interview. 

“Based on everything, I envisioned myself here at ASU, so I went for it,” said Luo. “If I really want to do something, I will do it.”

While in the MFA program, Luo sought out opportunities to collaborate with students and colleagues outside the program. Luo participated in three dance-film collaborations during the pandemic: "A Little Boy and the Moon" and "Rise” with the music program and “Unbreakable” with the contemporary dance company Kraken Still and Film. Her applied project, “Out of the Blue,” explored immersive dance and challenged the traditional view of spectators. Dancers moved fluidly between and around the audience members, who were placed on stage with the dancers in chairs. 

“The ethos of my creative research centers on the integration of dance and theater by creating immersive dance theater,” said Luo. “In the future, I hope to deepen my research into the ways that dance serves as an embodiment of social responsibility.”

After graduation, Luo wants to stay in the United States. She hopes to enter academia and recently interviewed for an adjunct faculty position at a university.

“I think it went well,” she said. “But we’ll see!”

Question: What’s something you learned while at ASU — in the classroom or otherwise — that surprised you or changed your perspective

Answer: No. 1 is the community. The art-making community at ASU is really vibrant and positive. I feel like I am included in our artistic community. We are really connected with each other, between different departments and different disciplines. We support each other. 

No. 2 is the number of opportunities for students to explore themselves. Our program provides a lot of student concerts and guest artists. Students can perform and collaborate with professionals.

No. 3 is the resources. The public resources, the facilities, the gym, the library.

Q: Why did you choose ASU?

A: The program had the sense of diversity I was looking for. I can feel the diversity is growing at ASU in the dance program. I can really engage myself in different cultures. The faculty members are really supportive. They support any kind of ideas and projects. They’re really approachable and kind. The program really focuses on creativity. It gave me more flexibility and confidence to pursue my passions.

Q: Which professor taught you the most important lesson while at ASU?

A: My committee adviser Eileen Standley. I miss her so much. She is the person who has been supporting my creative ideas and helping me get through any setbacks. She gave me a lot of advice on how to approach my creative ideas with a project. She’s helped me not only to be a good artist, but she’s also very warm and encouraged me to be brave and try out the things I want. All of her support is whole-hearted. She helped me be proud of myself as an emerging artist.

(Assistant Director of dance and Associate Professor) Keith Thompson is my mentor teacher. He helped me to know how to be a good teacher and how to design my courses and how to build a good relationship with students. He really pushed me to be a good educator. That makes me feel like I can be a good artist as well as a good educator. I can do things I never imagined before! 

Q: What’s the best piece of advice you’d give to those still in school?

A: My first suggestion would be just get started! Be brave because it’s really hard that first semester. Grad school has a lot of writing and reading assignments. At first as a dance MFA, that seems surprising. But no, we definitely have to write and read a lot. Push yourself and push your boundaries. Jump out of your comfort zone. You have to push through the whole process.

And be clear about your research. Generate clear ideas about what you’re interested in. Have a general vision of what you want to do in your graduate research. Do a lot of collaboration work. Increase your chance of connecting with other people and reach out to different people. 

Q: What was your favorite spot on campus, whether for studying, meeting friends or just thinking about life? 

A: There are a lot of spots that I really like. My favorite is Hayden Library, because every time I’m in the library, it just feels good. I feel calm and productive.

Q: If someone gave you $40 million to solve one problem on our planet, what would you tackle?

A: I want to help people. Right now a lot of people are suffering from mental health problems. We are paying a lot of attention to our physical health, but not to our mental health. I want to help people live a happy life.

lhalm@asu.edu