Professor and Chair of Dance at LMU, Damon Rago not only teaches students fancy footwork, but instills a sense of self and creative flair that launches them to great career heights. Originally from Sacramento, California, Rago has been sharing all the right moves with students since 2000, and finds the bluff to be the perfect place to hone one’s artistry.
“LMU’s location gives students unique access to both the theatre and dance worlds,” Rago said. “LA is a hotbed for dance – we can expose students to exciting professionals and opportunities in a very immediate way.”
A lauded professional dancer in his own right, Rago received his MFA in Modern Dance from the University of Utah and is three-time Lester Horton Award winner for Outstanding Achievement in Performance. Prior to teaching at LMU, Rago was a member of the esteemed Ririe-Woodbury Dance Company and later the groundbreaking LA dance company TONGUE.
Rago says he was first charmed by LMU while rehearsing with his company on campus. He soon caught the attention of the then College of Communication and Fine Arts Dance Chair, who encouraged him to consider teaching. As luck would would have it, a teaching position soon opened on the bluff and Rago jumped at the opportunity.
“I just remember being really taken with the life that existed here,” Rago said. “It felt real homey and down to earth, and I was eager to share my talents and have a positive impact on young people in the same way some of my professors had on me. LMU students are incredibly driven, compassionate and smart.”
Rago’s courses include “Fundamentals of Dance Composition,” “Orientation to Dance” and “Senior Thesis,” among others, and he describes his teaching pedagogy as an attempt to demystify choreography while approaching dance in a methodical way that doesn’t diminish creativity.
“Pursuing a career in dance requires you to put yourself out there again and again,” Rago said. “One needs to have a strong sense of self, as there is more rejection than rejoicing.”
He adds that LMU also offers a strong dance minor for those that want to continue developing their skills while pursuing another major track.
Recent graduates of LMU’s dance program have danced their way to such heights as the famed Batsheva Dance Company, the bright lights of Broadway, and some have even launched their own dance troupes, including the LA-based Hexagon Dance Collective.
Looking to the future, Rago says that next year, students will have the exciting opportunity to attend lectures by legendary dancer and choreographer Bill T. Jones and work with award-winning choreographer Victor Quijada.
As for what advice he has for future Lions?
“Be comfortable with the shifting sands under your feet – stability will come,” Rago said. “Lean on professors and mentors, and never be too proud to ask for help.”