Spring 2020

Body language

Rahila Coats performing in the University Dance Theatre concert in December

What’s in Rahila Coats’ backpack? “A small hand towel,” says the dancer, who works up a sweat during daily workouts and rehearsals.

Coats, ’20 B.F.A., began dancing as a child and today enjoys the full spectrum of styles, from ballet to jazz and contemporary. “Our bodies hold the most memory, kinesthetically, and it’s a medium we all have,” she says. 

An accomplished teacher, Coats enjoys working with children and young dancers at the St. Paul Ballet. This year, she also choreographed a musical for a local high school. “I love seeing what sparks joy in younger kids,” she says. “If one wants to think about having a crown on top of their head when they’re balancing, or a sun above their head to align with, we go toward that.”

Choreographing the University’s spring dance concert, which took place in February, gave her the opportunity to work with visiting artists and develop a piece to bring to a regional dance conference that was supposed to happen in March. But her most significant accomplishment at the University, she says, has been engaging with peers and professors  about a variety of topics, including politics in today’s world.  

The Beth Rubinger Suran Scholarship and the Harriet Stoll Memorial Scholarship provided critical support for Coats, who came to the U of M as a transfer student. It allowed her to achieve one of the highlights of her academic career: being able to study in the Middle East and West Africa. 

“Support for collaborating in movement across barriers—international, racial, gender, even just across state lines—has helped me practice compassion through dance,” she says.