By: Hannah Sundermeyer
Assistant professor of theatre recommends her students work hard and in increments to achieve change
Teaching some of the most sought-after classes at the University, Dr. Nicole Hodges Persley, an assistant professor of theatre, enriches students through a variety of courses focusing on dance, hip-hop and acting. A graduate of the University of Southern California, Hodges Persley is also accredited with being one of the founding program directors of Harvard’s Hip-Hop Archive.
Q: Can you describe an average day in your life?
A: My life is pretty exciting and daring, so if I describe it, well, I would reveal all of my secrets. Jokes aside, I work hard, spend time with my husband and daughter and I try to stay in shape so that I can keep up with my students. I am an artist and a scholar, so I have to have some creative physical activity to keep me active and inspired every day. I love dancing and yoga, so I usually work out with something in that zone everyday. I recently took the Rennie Harris Puremovement Master Class in the KU Dance Department and was happy to say that I kept up just fine. I set goals every day and work to obtain them. I also try to learn something new everyday, so I am always teaching myself something or reading something to keep me on my toes.
Q: If you had to pick a soundtrack for your own life, what songs would it include?
A: Can I pick artists? Josephine Baker, Billie Holiday, Jimi Hendrix, Duke Ellington, Stevie Wonder, Jay-Z, Carly Simon, Stevie Nicks, Carlos Santana, Marc Anthony, Lauryn Hill, Whitney Houston, the Diane Warren song book, Kirk Franklin, Run—D.M.C., Beastie Boys, Eminem, RATM, R.E.M., Kurt Cobain, Lenny Kravitz...and the inimitable Scott Weiland.
Q: Who are your top three favorite hip hop artists to date?
Lauryn Hill (with and without the Fugees), Jay-Z, RATM and Eminem are at a tie.
A: If your life was a television show, who would play you?
Lisa Bonet or no deal.
Q: What is your personal philosophy towards your work?
A: Dream big and live your dream one step at a time — every day. I've always dreamed really big and realized that many of the things that I want are accessible if I just work for them in increments. Change happens incrementally. I work hard everyday, and I leave it all out there on the floor. If I want to be a success, I have to make sure I am working hard to get there everyday. This is what I model to my students. If you ask them what I am doing, they say working hard because they know that this is what I expect from them and model for them. It's hard to be a working artist and a professor because it requires sacrifice, but I feel it's worth it because I get to do what I love.
I try to encourage my students to reach for the very highest dream that they have and to not limit themselves by what's in front of them. People and situations will show up to help you get where you're going, but the first thing you have to do it start and not be afraid to ask for help.
Q: Who has inspired you in your life, and why?
A: In my family, my mother and my aunts. They all had amazing circumstances to overcome in their lives, but they never gave up until they arrived at the place they wanted to be. Their father was a first generation immigrant from France and their mother an African American woman with only an elementary school education. They all went to college and made a way for their families despite the odds against them. Obtaining an education was very difficult for women of color during the time they grew up in the mid-20th century. I learned from them that it does not matter how long it takes to reach your goals as long as you reach them.
In entertainment, it's Cicely Tyson. She has inspired me as an actress and as professor she gives me great ideas about how to reach students. Her career has been so long and varied. She was a great risk taker, trendsetter and amazing innovator. When she won her first Tony at 79, she inspired me to keep reaching for the stars.
— Edited by Emily Brown