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A Conversation with 2022-24 Babbott Chairs Mandy Stallings and Alicia White

Every two years, Packer recognizes excellence in teaching in Literature or the Arts by appointing instructors to the Frank L. Babbott Chair. The two-year appointment typically includes two lectures/performances, one in each academic year. Dance teachers Mandy Stallings and Alicia White were awarded the Babbott Chair in the spring of 2022 and recently completed the two-year appointment. In April 2023 the team created four performances entitled “The Ties that Unbind: How Limitations Support Creative Expression.” Each of the joyous cross-divisional performances featured Packer dance students from Pre-K to 12th grade. During their second year, Mandy and Alicia delighted the Packer community by hosting a visit from ballerina and acclaimed author Misty Copeland, who read to Preschool and Lower School students from her book Firebird and participated in a Q&A panel for older students led by Upper School dancers.

Tell me a little bit about what brought you both to dance, and what made you decide to teach?

Alicia: I've been dancing since I can remember. I started at a very small studio in rural Virginia, began apprenticing at my studio when I was 14, and I just fell in love with it. My mom was a teacher for 30 years so it was just in my blood. 

Mandy: I started dancing really young and growing up thought I wanted to be on Broadway… But I don't sing, and I didn't realize what an issue that would be. I went to conservatory for college and got into modern dance and composition. I never thought I would be a teacher. I thought I was going to be a performer. I moved to New York at age 21, and it wasn't until a friend who worked for an after school arts program asked me if I would be interested in teaching a kindergarten dance class. And I was like, “Oh, I like this.”

Almost two years ago, you two were awarded the Babbott Chair. How did that feel and what did it mean to you? 

Alicia: I was shocked. Even though we've been here for a really long time, it was nice to feel honored and to be able to share it. We're the first two to ever be honored together. I think that just shows what a team we are. We started full time at Packer at the same time, so we really talked about the curriculum a lot about and how we wanted to see the program grow. I think we've achieved those things over the last 11 years and really grown not only the curriculum within the day, but also after school, enrollment and performance opportunities for the kids. So [the Babbott] felt like a way of honoring and valuing the work that we do everyday. 

Can you share a bit about the concepts behind your Babbott performances and how they went? 

Mandy: We are really interested in engaging the full community through dance. Before Alicia came in to teach Preschool, there was no dance in PreK, Third or Fourth Grade. So, we really wanted opportunities for everyone to dance, from the youngest kids to the big guys. We thought, for the Babbott, we wanted to reflect that as our mission and make sure that the Preschool, Lower, Middle and Upper School kids were involved in some way, not only as performers, but also as spectators. 

Alicia: Right. I see my Preschool and Lower School kids only one time cycle, which is not enough. So there are a lot of limitations on what we can do. And we kept thinking, what do all teachers run up against? It’s time, limitations, constraints. So we tried to show how those limitations don’t need to just hinder things, they can also help things flourish. Look at how we had to do May Day this year, without the Garden. There were so many creative solutions that people had to find. I think in the arts, that's what we want kids to learn is how to do, to problem solve. So that was how we landed on that theme. 

What is the most common instruction you give your dance students? 

Alicia: Find how you move. The drive is really to take that prompt and do it the way that only you can do it.

Mandy: In the Upper School, we focus on identifying your own artistic voice… What's your point of view and how are you getting that across? Not just doing what other people have done before you, but what is your take as an artist?

Tell me about Misty Copeland’s visit.

Alicia: We got this opportunity through a wonderful Packer parent who was able to help us bring in Misty. Again, it was important to us for her to be able to speak to all of our students and inspire them. We worked with all our kids to collect questions and try to make sure that every grade was represented. Both students who were really into dance and ones who were not got a chance to curate the questions for her. 

Mandy: And empowering our Upper School dancers to actually interview her on stage. They were so nervous, but they really stepped up. And what a great memory to have, right? 


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