Elizabeth Bergmann

Liz Bergmann knows how to get her creative juices flowing—she literally wrote the book on inspiration, Connecting to Creativity: Ten Keys to Unlocking Your Creative Potential. The book emerged out of a collaboration with a fellow professor, Liz Colton, during her stint at Shenandoah University.  

But that was written in the sunny, drawling South. Now, the story is somewhat more complicated.

“I find life is hard here,” Liz Bergmann says, nestled in a chair in her Agassiz Hall office as darkness begins to fall at three o’clock. “It’s hard to live in the Northeast... I’m still a newbie—I’ve been here four years but I’m still considered very new here.”

Bergmann, Harvard’s Director of Dance, has worked with Martha Graham and Jose Limon, taught Madonna her moves at the University of Michigan, and led eclectic university dance departments in California, Florida and Virginia.

While Bergmann claims that she has “never met kids like this,” and “would never go teach anywhere else,” she is less than rapturous about Harvard’s artistic scene, particularly for dancers. She feels that in the visual arts department, “there’s an artistic vitality. I get a little complacent because I’m not stimulated by that being around us everyday.”

The lack of space in Cambridge is another hindrance to her inspiration. “I find that I haven’t done as much here because one of the things I mind here, quite frankly, is that we don’t have a real theatre,” she says. “We have a studio theatre, but the Loeb, which is the only real theatre on campus, is not accessible to me.”

But she remains determined, to paraphrase Jack London, to go after inspiration with a club. Two years ago, Bergmann began her first course in poetry, at Radcliffe. “At first it was really intimidating, because this has got to be the poetry center of the world—every writer has gotta live in Cambridge,” she says.

The road to artistic creation has not been a smooth one for Bergmann.

“I don’t feel that I am around a lot of stimulating people that would drive me,” she says. “I don’t mean that the kids aren’t stimulating, but people who are struggling with the kind of things I’m struggling with as an artist. I haven’t found those people yet to sort of be driving me forward to make me work at that kind of level.”

Despite Harvard’s shortcomings, Bergmann is creating something that affects the lives of like-minded students—she has begun two new for-credit dance classes.

Katherine F. O’Brien, who took her choreography class in the fall, says Bergmann’s strength lies in “teaching other people to make choices that are unexpected yet intuitive to an audience.”

Bergmann muses that, “I think that one of my gifts is that I start things in places where they need more dance or more art. I feel really appreciated here, I feel that the dance scene has really changed and grown and that’s exciting for me.”