Dr. Margo Apostol examines a dancer

Taking the Leap

Taking the Leap

Dr. Margo Apostolos is the co-director and co-founder of the Cedars-Sinai/USC Glorya Kaufman Dance Medicine Center, as well as an Associate Professor of Dance at the University of Southern California Kaufman School of Dance. I know her better as Miss Margo, my professor-turned-angel during my first semester of college. In addition to her work with USC Kaufman, Dr. Margo teaches the General Education Seminar (GESM) known as Health and Fitness through Dance. Little did I know that my mandatory freshman GESM would introduce me to such an invaluable role model! To give you an idea of what the Dance for Sport education consists of, here is an excerpt of the class’s course description: 

“In this interdisciplinary overview of art and science, students will study the science of dance movements and applications of the science into the artistry of dance. Through substantive analysis of course readings and practical movement analysis, students will advance critical reading, writing and analytic skills. Students will examine dance within a range of contexts, including anatomy, exercise physiology, kinesiology, biomechanics, technology, dance medicine and other fields. Applications of kinesiology, biomechanics, and physics are explored through dance movements. The class is formatted with student participation in dance movement analysis as application of the learning experience.” 

Dr. Margo has quite the decorated resumé, and I found myself wondering how exactly she structured her successful career. To give you all the big picture: 

She earned her PhD from Stanford University, her MA in Dance at Northwestern University, and a BS from Southern Illinois University. She has served as a Visiting Professor in the Department of Psychology at Princeton University and has taught at Stanford University, Cal Poly-SLO, and Southern Illinois University.

The list does not end there, though, folks. She not only has worked with NASA as a research scientist in the field of space telerobotics at the Jet Propulsion Laboratory/CalTech but also is a recipient of the prestigious NASA/ASEE Faculty Fellowship. Dr. Apostolos has authored and presented several journals on her pioneering research in robot choreography, the development of dance medicine, and dance for sports. Her impressive research is included in her book Dance for Sport and has been presented to the International Olympic Committee at the Sydney, Athens Olympic Games and at Cambridge University in preparation for the London Olympic Games. A great deal of professional and Olympic athletes have trained with her and transferred their dance skills from the studio to the field. 

I had the pleasure of interviewing Dr. Apostolos last spring, which served as my all-access opportunity to grill her about how she wound up teaching at USC, amongst her other shining accolades. She prefaced by saying, “while I may appear adventurous and risky, I plan my risks with a safety net.” Looking back at her impressive curriculum vitae, it might seem like Dr. Apostolos had one overarching game plan that guided her from point A to B (and beyond), but she informed me that she found her way as she went, whilst–critically–mitigating risk everywhere possible. 

Dr. Margo Apostolos

After graduating from Southern Illinois University, Dr. Margo Apostolos worked as both a high school dance teacher and a tennis and gymnastics coach. After attaining her masters degree from Northwestern University, she was ready to quit her job. She did not, however, set her Chicago exit plan into action until locking in a teaching position at Cal Poly, San Luis Obispo, where she taught

tennis and dance as well as coached fencing and gymnastics. After three years at Cal Poly, she pursued her PhD at Stanford University, on full scholarship with a teacher’s assistant position. Her dissertation in robot choreography was published and completed in December 1984. She stayed at Stanford performing a postdoc in robotics while she applied for what she calls her dream job–working at USC. The position she first applied for was director of dance in the Department of Physical Education which was in the College of Letters, Arts and Sciences (prior to it being known as USC Dornsife). True to her risk-averse character, she applied for other jobs and got other offers, but ultimately landed her dream job and arrived in Los Angeles in July of 1986. 

Her biggest piece of professional advice? 

“Always fly with a safety net. Especially as a woman.” 

By her own choice, a single woman for life, she acknowledges that her work has always been her foremost passion, and that she sees her students as her “children.” She continues, 

“When you’re a woman on her own, you can have great adventures, but you want to have a little bit of a plan. Not to mention, we are intelligent women! We don’t want to be left hanging out there if we leap without anything beneath to catch us. That even goes to other risks, be they professional or social: know what is at stake.” 

As for her takeaways from Dance for Sport, she elaborated that her whole life, she identified as a dancer and an athlete; she always did both [dance and sport], never really seeing them as separate. Both were equal parts of who she was. Dance made her a better athlete; sport made her a better dancer. Most pertinently, the greatest lesson I have learned from Dr. Margo is why we all should dance. 

“Dance is about movement. And life is movement, whether we’re old, young, whether we’re healthy, or injured. If we are alive, we are moving in some way. So, everyone dances, really. At what level, that’s what varies. Putting both dance and sport together, you really get a healthy and versatile human being. And, movement (dance) is fundamental. It’s fun! FUN-damental.”