Artist spotlight: Lily Knowles ’23

Dancer, choreographer and educator Lily Knowles shares her boundary-pushing artistic journey so far

photo courtesy of Lily Knowles '23

Dance major Lily Knowles ‘23 will be graduating Muhlenberg in just a few weeks, taking with her years of rich experiences in performance, education and choreography that she’s ready to share with her community.

Knowles started dancing between the ages of eight and nine years old, predominantly using her talent for musical theatre. So when it came time to seek out college programs, she auditioned for Bachelor of Fine Arts. “I didn’t know going to school for dance was really an option.” Knowles said. Not finding a fit, she decided to try Muhlenberg for its flexibility and Bachelor of Arts program. “I think I probably knew deep down theatre might not be my designated path, which ended up being true.”

Taking on the “classic combo” of a theatre and dance double major with a minor in music, Knowles started her college career taking Dance Technique and Performance in her first year. “That course alone changed the trajectory of college for me entirely.” Knowles said, and with that, she decided to focus her studies entirely on dance.

Since then, Knowles has been constantly pushing past her own expectations and limitations in dance. From tackling dance over Zoom during COVID to working with chance operations for a piece in Dance Emerge this past weekend, Knowles’ performances at the College have been truly innovative and groundbreaking. Those that she is most proud of, however, are works of dance activism, including the story-based piece “Channels” for “In Motion” ’23 and the first staging of guest artist Earl Mosley’s piece “UNCONQUERED” last spring, which excited Knowles for its combination of multiple forms of art, like her personal interest in poetry.

Knowles has recently become a choreographic artist on this campus, which she was initially hesitant to tackle because of her focus on performance. She admired seniors who choreographed works but didn’t see it as something for her until she took Dance Composition in her junior year, which aimed to help students discover their “choreographic voice.” “It wasn’t something I was super super comfortable in,” Knowles admitted. “but I knew I wanted to keep pushing because it was something I knew I’d be proud of myself for doing.”

“There’s awesome opportunities here. Take all of them. Make art. Be in art. Talk with people about art.”

-Lily Knowles ’23

Last fall, she continued choreographing through Advanced Dance Composition, where it was recommended that she submit an idea for “Reset: New Dances.” She had danced in the show in its first iteration, where the premise was a “reset” after COVID. So, she decided to take a different approach in conceiving her piece: “I ended up taking the idea of new beginnings and fresh starts super literally and I decided to do a piece about sleep.”

Knowles’ piece “Snooze” was accepted and performed at “Reset” in Fall 2022 with a cast of four, including Izabella Paz ‘23, Allie Gleeson ‘23, Emily Bassett ‘22 and Maddi Miller ‘23. “My cast was phenomenal,” Knowles beamed. “Being a choreographer and having that sense of authority is difficult, especially when you’re with your friends, but I had a great group…work and play were pretty balanced.”

Through taking more classes at Muhlenberg, Knowles realized she also had a passion for dance education. She has been taking Community Dance and Practice, which is an initiative through the Dance Department and the Office of Community Engagement that seeks to ensure Muhlenberg Elementary students have access to dance classes. Through the program, Knowles has been teaching creative dance to 2nd and 3rd grade students for the past two years. She also recently started teaching at the Muhlenberg Community Dance Center, where she assistant taught adult ballet classes and currently teaches a Ballet I class for 7-9 year olds.

These experiences made it clear to Knowles that her focus after college should be dance education, and she already has plans to choreograph her middle school’s production of “Singin’ in the Rain” and teach at her home dance studio, bringing her journey full-circle. “I feel ready to teach, I’m confident in my abilities as a teacher,” Knowles said. “I’ve been lucky to have lots of faculty members who know what they’re doing, are fantastic educators, and have been really great role models, such as Natalie Gotter, Heidi Cruz-Austin—#namedrop—and so I’m really excited to be utilizing my teaching skills.” Knowles noted that so many people often don’t get the opportunity to use their degree so fast, so she feels incredibly lucky that so many people trust in her and her talents.

“I think I probably knew deep down theatre might not be my designated path, which ended up being true.”

-Lily Knowles ’23

Knowles also plans to travel to Philadelphia on occasion, where she can take dance classes, audition, network and see what the Philly dance scene has to offer. “I do wanna end up there,” Knowles said, “whether it be auditioning for companies to utilize my performance concentration or teaching in the city.” Knowles has thought of going to graduate school for dance education as well, and she’s excited for what her current future holds.

If you missed Lily in “Dance Emerge” or want to see the many other artistic talents she has to offer, she will be giving her final performance with the long-form musical improv group To Be Determined on May 4 at 11 p.m. and singing her senior song with acapella group Noteworthy on May 7 at 7:30 p.m. Or you can catch her barista talents on display at Java Joe. “I think being able to do other things besides dance helps to find more beauty in dance.” Knowles said. “There’s awesome opportunities here. Take all of them. Make art. Be in art. Talk with people about art. And really get the most that you can out of this because there’s really no other time you’re gonna get the education you are [getting] here.”

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