Theater and dance lecturer Victoria Koenig is one of Pomona College’s most prolific and effervescent professors. Her ongoing career has involved founding multiple ballet companies and schools, teaching, dancing professionally in several countries and, most recently, studying as a New Resources Student at Pitzer College.
Her passion for dance began before she can remember.
“I just danced around — that was kind of something I just did as a little girl,” she said.
She started lessons around age seven, taught by a woman in her neighborhood.
“Around age 10, [my teacher] said, ‘Vicky has talent, but I’ve taken her as far as I can, and she really needs more formal training,’” Koenig said.
As her skill blossomed, she instinctively knew her goals.
The most important thing to me is reaching those people and helping them feel good about their dancing. Sometimes [students have] had more negative experiences with dance, which is why they’ve turned away from it.
“It is something that you’re just driven to do,” she said. “You don’t want to do anything else — that’s just where you want to be. I’m the only person in my family that did not go to college, because I wanted to pursue a career. And now, I’m at Pitzer as a New Resources student, and it’s very exciting to be coming back to school.”
As her career began, Koenig often traveled to perform and work with various companies. After growing up in the Los Angeles area, she spent time in New York and eventually took a job in Honolulu.
“There was a very interesting ballet company there that was started by the mayor,” she said. “It was an actual civil service job; he started a ballet company with the city based on a European model. I got to pioneer ballet in Hawaii. We flew on little airplanes to all of the islands and danced in sugar cane fields with a symphony. Those kinds of experiences you could never expect.”
Alongside her own education and career in dance, she has always taught. Originally, it was her way to support herself and live on her own at 16. Now, she said confidently, she loves to teach just as much as she loves to dance.
Koenig has taught in many ballet academies throughout her life, alongside teaching at independent schools in Los Angeles. Eventually, she made her way to California State University, Long Beach, where she learned and taught under mentor Rebecca Wright. She founded the Los Angeles Chamber Ballet, and later the Inland Pacific Ballet and the National Institute of the Arts in Taipei.
Now, she has returned to school through Pitzer’s New Resources Program, which welcomes students who are 23 or older and “have not received a Bachelor’s degree or followed the path of a traditional four year college student.”
“When I decided to pursue a professional career as a dancer, [I said] I could always go to school — I had to dance when I could dance. I would go to school when I was 60,” Koenig said. “And my joke is that I just missed my target by 10 years.”
To reconcile this goal with her busy schedule, she had to let go of running her company and her dance school herself. She knew that to return to her own education with energy, she could no longer also tend to every detail of a company.
“That freed up time for me to focus on teaching at Pomona and then taking on my academics,” she said. “I couldn’t be happier. It’s a thrill. [Going back to school is] a goal. It’s been a goal my whole life.”
Despite her extensive resume, Koenig says her favorite class to teach at Pomona is the Beginner Ballet class, where she appreciates the high energy and excitement. She finds joy in teaching both new students and those with prior experience.
“The most important thing to me is reaching those people and helping them feel good about their dancing,” she said. “Sometimes [students have] had more negative experiences with dance, which is why they’ve turned away from it. Wherever the student is in their mental space, I like to try to reach that and then provide them with an experience that’s going to be valuable.”
She also noted that the dance field can be a competitive and often harmful environment for dancers, especially as it impacts them growing up.
“It’s such a shame because people lose that initial joy,” Koenig said. “Then the atmosphere is heavy … because it is such a competitive field, it becomes a competitive atmosphere. That’s the part I hate.”
Therefore, she dedicates herself to a positive and forward-thinking approach in her own teaching.
“Incidentally, that’s the part that is the hardest to try to weed out of an organization that you’re running,” she said. “I so much wanted to cultivate positivity and celebration of people wherever they are.”
Her first ballet teacher cultivated a “cult-like environment,” according to Koenig.
“That was kind of a scarring experience,” she said. “… [Students] need to be in an environment that’s promoting well-being and mental health.”
However, many dancers have not been so lucky.
“I call them the walking wounded,” she said. “I see them immediately when they walk in the door at Pomona. It’s so wonderful to be able to after a couple of weeks, them starting to trust and realize that they’re in a different space.”
Koenig is always learning, even beyond her new classes, to be a better teacher. A friend of hers once told her, “I think you could teach anybody how to dance.”
“Because it’s a challenge, and it’s an exciting challenge — to give somebody that empowerment kind of in their bodies, that they can actually not be weighted and just kind of stuck,” Koenig replied.