Berkeley County Native Writes Internationally Acclaimed Dance Book
Dancer and author Joshua Legg talks about his Berkeley County, West Virginia roots, and his passion for modern dance.
Photographed by Elizabeth Roth
The essence of humanity is the ability to communicate—whether that’s chatting with your best friend on the phone, waving at your neighbor from across the fence, or writing a letter to your aunt. Berkeley County native Joshua Legg’s favorite form of communication requires both artistic genius and intense physical training. “Dance technique adapts our facilities to levels of communication and emotion that perhaps few non-dancers ever experience. It trains us to feel and to express the deepest aspects of the self and of humanity,” Joshua writes in Introduction to Modern Dance Techniques, his 2011 Princeton Book Company published book for beginning dance students and their teachers.
When Joshua was a sophomore at Musselman High School, he began his dance training with Denna Smith at Inwood Performing Arts Company. “She gave us a sense of pedagogy—a deep immersion in dance,” he says. “I was really fortunate to begin my dance studies in West Virginia.” A year after beginning his dance training, Joshua took his first modern dance class at the West Virginia Dance Festival. “I had seen modern before, but it was a new experience for my body. It inspired me to take as many different kinds of dance as I could. The foundation for my book goes back to that experience.”
After completing nine years of college and dance training, Joshua graduated from Shenandoah Conservatory with his MFA in dance and began performing and choreographing across the country. In 2005, he moved to Boston and began teaching at Harvard University. “At Harvard I started looking at academic considerations in the art form and the discipline,” he says. After writing a series of articles about pedagogy and teaching methodologies for Dance Spirit magazine in 2006, Joshua realized it was time to write a book. “I spent a couple months coming up with ideas. Finally, I sent an annotated table of contents to the publishers. After seeing the Dance Spirit technique series in my proposal, they said, ‘That is your book. You’ve got the foundation for your book right there.’” Usually a book of this kind would take six years to research and write, but Joshua did it in two-and-a-half.
Introduction to Modern Dance Techniques is different from all other modern dance books on the market. Most books examine only one technique, but Joshua examines a variety of modern techniques and offers dancers exercises that can be used in the studio. “It’s really three books in one,” he says. “It looks at dance history, biographies of the progenitors, and is an instruction manual to be used in the studio.” Joshua strives to both tickle readers’ brains and inspire their bodies. While the book is a scholarly exploration of techniques and philosophies, it uses everyday language and a conversational tone to make modern dance personal to the reader. He even shares some of his own dancing and teaching experiences.
Since its release in 2011, Introduction to Modern Dance Techniques has been extremely successful. It is used by teachers at high schools and colleges both in the United States and around the world. The book was recommended by The Council of Ontario Drama and Dance Educators and is set to be released in French and Italian in early 2014. “All the reviews have been fantastic, both from teachers and advanced dancers,” Joshua says. “I’m really happy about my first book.”
Despite his successes and travels, Joshua never forgot his West Virginia roots. The Virginia resident lives just over-the-border from the Mountain State. In 2013, he partnered with the Berkeley County Library and the West Virginia University Extension Office to teach hip-hop workshops in Martinsburg, and his company performed at Goose Route Arts Collaborative’ s Shepherdstown On Site Dance Festival. Joshua is a resident modern dance teacher for Rhythm in Motion dance studio in Martinsburg, the only studio where he teaches regularly. He plans to stay involved in West Virginia and is in conversation with the Berkeley County Arts Council about producing future events in the county.
Introduction to Modern Dance Techniques is available at many online distributors including amazon.com and Barnes & Noble.joshualegg.com