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Cynthia Oliver’s proverbial plate is piled high. In no particular order, she’s a mother, professor, poet (with her body and on paper), dancer, an artist, choreographer…the list seems endless and demanding — yet she always appears calm and collected. On her website, a quote she wrote reads, “In my work I want to get dirty, acknowledge demons, hail the angels, tell secrets and celebrate conflicted, complicated, glorious lives fully lived.” And oh — does she ever.

On that note, Smile Politely brings you Cynthia Oliver.

Consumed by: My passion for art, making it, performing in it, seeing it and talking about it.

Age: 47 (as of July 19!)

Hometown: Christiansted, US Virgin Islands.

Occupation: Choreographer, writer and scholar.

When was your first dance class?: At the age of 5.

Where can you find a quiet space in Champaign-Urbana?: In my house. At Carle Park in Urbana. Walking the streets of my neighborhood.

How do you stay creative?: It is built into my life. I have created commitments for myself that require my creativity. I am married to a creative person. I have friends who are very creative and my conversations with them keep me on my toes. I read a lot, listen to music, go to cultural events, try to expose myself to new things.

How do you try to motivate your students?: I try to understand the world they live in and connect what I am teaching to that world. To what is important to them and discover for myself and for them how it is all connected.

Best place to take the little one on a rainy day?: The Urbana Free Library. He and his dad have this as their own special ritual. When I am on watch it is often running around a dance studio with exercise balls.

What do you think of the public school system?: I think it is a system that is fundamentally good, with both committed and engaged professionals as well as dead wood, like any institution. It needs constant attention. And I believe we should all be invested in it. It is a key component of our social contract.

What is unique to the dance program at the UIUC? The number of working professionals on faculty and in connection with faculty.

Champaign-Urbana needs to reinvent their…: You mean “our,” no? I would say that our town is in constant reinvention as folks come to town leave their mark and pass through to other locales.

Champaign-Urbana needs to remain the same with…: Champaign-Urbana is great. I am happy to be here. There is always stuff to work on in a community. It is not unlike any other in that regard. But this is a place of lots of potential and good people.

Cynthia Oliver will be performing with the Bebe Miller Company and the Company will be coming to Krannert Center in November with their performance of “Necessary Beauty.” Oliver will be on tour this fall and next year.

Photo by Julieta Cervantes and courtesy of the Bebe Miller Company.