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Missy Pfohl Smith

  • Director, Program of Dance and Movement

MFA, Sarah Lawrence College, 2002



Missy Pfohl Smith is a choreographer, performer, and collaborative artist who directs the Program of Dance and Movement and the Institute for the Performing Arts at the University of Rochester. She founded and serves as artistic director for the contemporary repertory company, BIODANCE, based in Rochester, NY. The "Gorgeous...astonishing...exceptional" BIODANCE plays to sold out houses regionally and internationally. As an enthusiastic collaborator, Smith enjoys creating site-specific, multi-disciplinary work and her socially conscious choreography, performance, and teaching has spanned across the US and internationally in nine countries—most recently in Greece, Germany, Finland, and Scotland. She sold out both of her shows in the 2017 Edinburgh Fringe with her violist partner Bridget Kinneary (ESM ’15), and has shared her collaborative work to over 15,000 local audience members in every Rochester Fringe Festival since its inception in 2012. Since 2010, Missy has been volunteering to teach limited mobility dance classes for elders at Community Place of Greater Rochester, where BIODANCE also offers gratis performances each year.

As Director of Dance at the Institute for the Performing Arts, Missy has been instrumental in securing grant funding and bringing in a number of guest artists to the University of Rochester to create and/or present their work, teach workshops, and provide lectures. The roster of guest artists has included Meredith Monk, Tony Kushner, Kinetic Light/Alice Sheppard, E. Moncell Durden, Jane Comfort & Company, Heidi Latsky Dance, Daystar Rosalie Jones, MBDance, Rebeca Tomas and A Palo Seco, Doug Elkins, Kate Weare & Company, Illstyle and Peace Productions, and many more. She has organized an annual inspireDANCE Festival on campus since its inception in 2010, initiated in collaboration with KEY student Arielle Friedlander ‘10, and an annual inspireJAM bboy/bgirl or all-styles battle since it’s inception in 2012 initiated in collaboration with student (now medical doctor) Smon Cheewapansri ‘12. Under her leadership, the Program of Dance and Movement has developed two BA’s in dance, a dance minor, and a movement studies minor, as well as developing new academic clusters, new interdisciplinary collaborations across campus including at the Medical Center, the Warner School and the Eastman School, various community-engaged courses, and more.

Missy currently keeps an active choreographic, performative, and collaborative practice creating new work for BIODANCE as well as performing with choreographers including Bill Evans, Rose Pasquarello Beauchamp, and Natalia Lisina. A repertory company, BIODANCE has licensed and performed works by artists such as Heidi Latsky, D. Chase Angier, Randy James, Katherine Kramer, Jeanne Schickler Compisi, and Ivy Baldwin. For over a decade, she has built an ongoing collaborative relationship with digital media artist W. Michelle Harris (Rochester Institute for Technology) with whom she has created several evening-length shows at the Rochester Museum and Science Center’s Strasenburgh Planetarium and at the Lyric Theatre. They have also created other surprising and unusual site-specific works. Smith and BIODANCE have also collaborated with multiple artists including soprano Kearstin Piper Brown, Dave Rivello Ensemble, Eastman Percussion Ensemble, sculptor Allen Topolski, Eastman Wind Ensemble, Rochester Oratorio Society, and more. Smith has also been commissioned to create work at the Memorial Art Gallery in Rochester and the Everson Art Museum in Syracuse, NY. As an educator, Missy specializes in contemporary modern dance, dance and social justice, somatics, composition, and performance studies, and has earned her certification in Bill Evans Somatically-based Pedagogy. She recently developed a course called Dance and Interdependent Community which engages with elders and with women in addiction recovery in the Rochester community. She serves at Posse Mentor at University of Rochester for 10 amazing scholars from Washington, DC who have earned merit-based leadership scholarships. She has also been active in filmmaking, both in collaborations with her own choreography as well as performances in documentaries and experimental films.

Missy grew up in Buffalo and received her BS in Dance from the College at Brockport. Before returning to Rochester in 2004, Missy was based in New York City for 12 years and performed and taught internationally. While there, she studied and worked as an apprentice for the Erick Hawkins Dance Company. At the same time, Smith became a founding company member and later the assistant rehearsal director of Randy James Dance Works, with whom she toured nationally and internationally from 1993-2003. She also performed nationally with Paul Mosley from 1997-2004 and with various independent artists including Philippa Kaye, Anne Burnidge, Sarah McCormick, Courtney World, and Cadence Whittier. In 2002, she received her MFA in Choreography and Performance from Sarah Lawrence College and founded BIODANCE.

Missy serves on the Board for the Rochester Fringe Festival, a festival for which she has also created critically acclaimed shows since its inception, including a collaboration with headliner Grounded Aerial in which BIODANCE danced on the outdoor sculpture Tribute to Man. She has received Individual Artist and Company grants for her choreography and for BIODANCE events and educational dance residencies from the New York State Council on the Arts and the New York State Legislature, administered by Livingston Arts and the Arts and Cultural Council of Greater Rochester, Ames Amzalak Memorial Trust, Rochester Area Community Foundation, The Max and Marian Farash Foundation, Gouvernet Arts Fund, the Willmott Foundation, Westchester Arts Council, the HWS Center for Teaching and Learning, United University Professions, Career Transitions for Dancers, and more.