Dancer and author Bill Evans teaches classes at the Madrona MindBody Institute at Fort Worden in Port Townsend. Evans’ book, “Teaching What You Want to Learn,” is both a memoir and a manual for teachers. (Diane Urbani de la Paz/For Peninsula Daily News)

Dancer and author Bill Evans teaches classes at the Madrona MindBody Institute at Fort Worden in Port Townsend. Evans’ book, “Teaching What You Want to Learn,” is both a memoir and a manual for teachers. (Diane Urbani de la Paz/For Peninsula Daily News)

Master dance teacher publishes book for educators

Bill Evans says the experience is better than choreography

PORT TOWNSEND — In his new book, under the heading “You always have something to offer,” Bill Evans writes about the time he got a letter from one of his dance students. It was the mid-1970s, and Evans’ career as a university professor was still fairly new.

The student proclaimed Evans was the “best teacher she had ever had.”

How could that be, he wondered. This was “before I had generated meaningful knowledge about anatomy, kinesiology, Laban/Bartenieff Movement Studies and pedagogy.”

Evans, now an internationally known teacher, choreographer and performer who lives in Port Townsend, did find the answer.

Back then, what he had to offer was a passionate curiosity about human movement and a love for interacting with dedicated people. Then there was his boundless energy.

Now Evans has written a book about life as a dance teacher. Both a memoir and a manual, it’s titled “Teaching What You Want to Learn.”

“I discovered early on that the best way for me to fully learn something is to teach it,” he writes.

“Each of us is shaped by the lives we lead,” Evans adds, so in the book he shares the backstory of how he arrived at his set of teaching values and strategies.

On the topic of learning alongside students, he offers: “When you don’t have the answer to a student’s question, you might say, ‘I’m not sure. Let’s figure it out together.”

Evans was an 8-year-old boy in Lehi, Utah, when he took his first dance class. It was 1948, and the start of a career that has ranged from ballet to tap to modern dance performance; professorships in Utah, New York, Indiana, Massachusetts and New Mexico, and lifetime achievement awards from several institutions across the country.

He holds an honorary doctorate from Cornish College of the Arts in Seattle and has received grants from the Guggenheim Foundation and the National Endowment for the Arts, among other entities.

As a freelance artist, he has traveled to 27 countries on five continents.

With the Bill Evans Dance Company, which he moved from Utah to Seattle in 1976, he traveled to 48 states around this country. During the eight years after the move, the company became the most-booked professional dance troupe in the nation.

In Port Townsend now, Evans is teaching two courses: the Somatic Dance Lab and a class called “Motion Is Lotion.”

Dance lab students, in their 30s on up to their 70s, come to the Madrona MindBody Institute at Fort Worden State Park or log on to Zoom sessions at home; either way, Evans, who will be 83 in April, serves as a guide in a great exploration.

In a soft voice, he invites his students to explore the joy of moving freely.

“Your muscles are mostly water,” he reminds them. No need to make yourself “stand up straight.” That old advice doesn’t work because, Evans said, “the spine is curve after curve.”

Trying to brace or immobilize one part of the body will inhibit the whole, he adds, inviting the dancers to try that idea on for themselves.

“Let your body be a body,” said Evans.

Breathe, walk, reach, swing.

After teaching a short pattern of steps, he reminded the students that it’s not the choreography that matters. It’s the experience you’re having.

Not that all of this is easy.

“When you leave your comfort zone,” Evans added, “you generate new knowledge.”

Near the end, the teacher asks each person what parts of the class resonated most.

“It’s important to notice what’s alive for you,” he says, “and explore more of that.”

In “Teaching What You Want to Learn,” Evans has compiled scores of short essays about movement, teaching philosophy, anatomy, class time management and other topics.

Titles range from “Students Don’t Need to Be Fixed” and “Learning from the Living Body” to “Plié Is So Much More than Bending the Knees.”

The author’s husband, Don Halquist, contributes eight essays under the heading “Teaching Dance through the Multiple Intelligences,” which include bodily-kinesthetic intelligence and musical-rhythmic intelligence.

In his “Investigations, Not Exercises” essay, Evans writes that he considers dancing to be not just a display of physical skill but an expression of the human spirit.

“I stopped calling what we do ‘exercises’ many years ago,” he writes, adding that students become more engaged when he offers “investigations,” “dances,” even “celebrations” instead.

For more about Evans’ book, see Information about Evans’ dance classes and workshops can be found at or by emailing

This summer, Evans will lead the ninth annual Somatic Dance Conference at Fort Worden; Clallam and Jefferson county residents are eligible for a discount. Details about the July 20-23 event can be found at

“Teaching What You Want to Learn” is dedicated to Halquist, a performer, dance educator and teacher of second grade at Salish Coast Elementary School.

At a recent dance lab session, Halquist provided demonstrations while Evans taught; he wore a T-shirt declaring “The World Is Your Dance Floor.”

Seated on the floor, smiling to his students, Evans gave more words of encouragement: If this was challenging, don’t worry. “There’s no rush. You have the rest of your life,” to explore movement and dance.


Diane Urbani de la Paz is a freelance writer and photographer living in Port Townsend.

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