Movement Connects

This week, I co-led MAEIA Re-Ignite!- a day-long Professional Learning event for the Michigan Arts Education and Instruction project (MAEIA). We used Simon Sinek‘s The Golden Circle as a lens to reconnect with ourselves, each other, and the arts-education community at large. Representatives from individual schools, school districts, local and state arts organizations, the Michigan Council for Arts and Cultural Affairs (MCACA), Creative Many Michigan, the State Policy Pilot Program (SP3) and the Michigan Department of Education were present. It was a moving day, one in which I felt reconnected to people and the ideas which have driven my work through the years.

There were a few important lessons which I needed to hear, and ironically, came out of my own mouth. Have you ever had that experience? For me, it is one of the motivations for presenting. I am often reminded that the answers to questions I am holding ARE in fact inside of me.

This time:

-Movement connects.

The purpose of my work is to reconnect people to themselves, to each other, and to the world-at-large. For a few years, I have been calling my community-driven, movement class Creative Self-Care. What we do, though, is process life in broad terms and for the invididual to apply the more narrow terms. Sometimes I get distracted by the what/how of what I am doing– worrying too much, perhaps, about the movement modality and less about the purpose.

-Go to the people.

This can be conceptually, but it can also be physically. I am currently without a base studio to work out of but have a list of community, arts, and academic venues. I am currently booking classes and workshops for the coming year which are taking me into interesting spaces with interesting intersections of people. (Let me know now if you’d like to book!)

-Operate from openness.

Anytime you plan a big event, propose to move people away from their standard operating positions, there is risk. Though I enjoy presenting and do this often, there is always vulnerability involved- bringing with it a vulnerability hangover (as coined by Dr. Brené Brown). But it is ALWAYS worth it.

-Communities make change.

We need each other. We rely on each other to hold us accountable, honest, and to drive the work further. Even when doing the internal work to improve ourselves, it is helpful to do this with a community of others to remind us the work is worth it, and so are we.

I am ever so grateful for the movement and education communities to which I belong for pushing me to dig deeper and be better. For reminding me I am not working in isolation, and for sharing vulernabilities, discoveries, experiences, and stories.

What have you been up to this week?

Living Life as an Experiment

Have you ever had that experience in which what you have been wishing for materializes and you can hardly catch your breath? You can hardly believe it is real. It is as if your mind has been read and you find yourself in a place where all the right things align? A place that you thought may only exist in your imagination but in fact is real and only an hour away. One that doesn’t hold perfection but does hold immense promise? And your eyes may or may not occasionally leak as a result.

You feel a little like Alice in your own version of a Wonderland- a place full of curiosity, provoking thought, happy people, and things to learn and see and do?

Yeah. That is me right now. See….

I love teaching dance in the public school system. I love it for its potential for students, its representation of the breadth of the field, its opportunity to develop dance advocates.

Dance in the K-12 setting allows me to teach everything I love about dance: technical theory, history, performance theory, and the creative process. Every lesson is experiential, whether it is challenging our definitions and applications of technique, understanding the legacy of dance in concert and social forms, or relating dance to other subject areas to simply make sense of life. (Okay, maybe not so simply but certainly profoundly.)

Teaching in the public schools has introduced me to a passion for teaching and understanding many layers of development (social, emotional, cognitive) that I didn’t realize I had when I was working exclusively in the world of dance.

Teaching in the public schools has introduced me to a desire to really connect with people and not merely communicate with them on a variety of levels. Teaching here has allowed me to put down my biases (artistic, social,….), be willing to truly be seen by the students among me. I have learned to truly see them. Students have taught me about what is most important in life. It may include battements and flatbacks, but it isn’t about them specifically.

Teaching in the public schools has introduced me to people that have made deep impressions on my life- in how I think, plan, structure, communicate, create,….. Some of these introductions have been in the classroom, or in the school itself. Others have been due to related work, such as assessment development at the state level. All have been professional and became personal.

Finally, I have met a community that shares my values and has put these values into practice. Our values are visible, tangible, sustainable.

  “Live life as an experiment”.

I have been doing this in the studio my whole life.
     
I have done that with my dance career.
  
I am doing that now with my career in education.
         

I have gained so much in teaching dance in a K-8 program for the last few years. But I have come to decide that I do my best work with secondary students- middle school, high school, and college. I like the K-12 setting for the inclusion of all aspects of dance rather than segregating concepts into classes and styles (modern, jazz, history, composition,….).

Now, I return to the high school level but this time in a district very different from the one I have known. I am directing a serious program of serious dancers with beautiful training. I lead a community of people committed to making dance and arts education a priority. I am already professionally challenged and supported.

I am grateful for all the lessons and the people that have led me here. And now, I am grateful for the opportunity for change and for growth. I know it won’t all be easy but it will be positive and it will be valuable. It will be professional and become personal.

Just as “a world-class education”- a Wonderland- should be.

David Howard

When I was living in NYC, David Howard’s ballet class saved my soul. In a city where most dance classes felt like an audition, taught by people who didn’t really understand how to warm up a body or just really loved deep plié in second position, with the body folded over- David Howard’s ballet class kept me grounded.  Well, David Howard’s, Alexandra Beller’s, and a few others.

These were the classes that reminded me of who I was, why I love dance, and that I didn’t have to buy into the hype that can come with trying to “make it” as a dancer.

I was not a rich dancer (oxymoron, I know) and had to be decisive with my time and my money- whose class I could take, why, and how it fit into my life. It was challenging. I was often torn between those with working choreographers who often cast their next show from their classes and so the mentality was that you had to be a regular, and those that fed me in movement and artistry where I wanted to be a regular.

Most of the time, I didn’t have enough money to be a regular but I had even less interest in the former. Yet, I felt pressured. I wanted a job but I hated thinking that I could out teach them, hated watching the dancers in class with a myriad of technical issues not even being acknowledged but being led on, and hated deep plié in second position with the body folded over.

I discovered, however, that David Howard was teaching a mid-day class at Broadway Dance Center. I had been introduced to him as an undergrad and knew this would be well worth my money and my time. It was a basic level class, maybe intermediate or something, that I at first felt ashamed to take given that I had come to believe I was an advanced dancer, needing an advanced class and needing to compete with other advanced dancers (not so much in ballet, for my modern/jazz body and movement ethic, but still the mentality persisted). Then I took the class.

It was filled with “advanced” dancers not necessarily in terms of their technical ability but their commitment, their age (in dance years), and the eloquence in their bodies. Many, I think, had been amateurs that had been dancing for years and acquired beauty in the process. Others were former professional dancers, looking for a place to maintain their craft for themselves. I was the youngest, at 23 or 24. I loved it.

I ended up rearranging my work schedule, splitting my shift in retail merchandising, so that I could take this class. It couldn’t happen all the time, but I kept up with his guest teaching schedule as best I could and would make the arrangements when he was in town. It complicated my life but it was worth it. Necessary, even.

I observed how David Howard spoke to these dancers. How he challenged their bodies but nurtured them, too. How spirits lifted, legs lifted, and it was all done safely in spirit as well as physicality. Soon, I didn’t feel like an outsider observing through motion but an insider, accepted by the group. I felt them take care of me. It was a community and it was powerful.

As a dance educator, I have been reflecting on how this experience has shaped much of my current philosophy and practice. I learned a lot in NYC, often by watching hours and hours of classes at BDC, Steps, and DanceSpace (now DNA) from doorways and through windows, when I couldn’t afford to take class. It was a profound education.

I may not be a ballerina but I am so proud of how David Howard has inspired and informed my work- building a community, taking care of people, and finding joy in movement.  I will always be thankful.

 

Mind the Gap(s)

Over the last few years I have realized that my role in dance is that of a mediator. This summer, however, I am realizing just how many realms in which this is true. In this, though, I am also more aware of my own biases and working on letting some of those go.

Here is a sample:

Academic – Studio Dance There seems to be a natural rift between those that have trained within the concert dance philosophy and those those training in the studio dance philosophy. Even as I type that I realize another- those that have trained and those currently training and perhaps that is part of the friction in academic and studio dance relationships. The process of evolution is different within those two worlds.

As I see it right now, dance academics have evolved away from their commercial or recreational dance roots and have forgotten how -or forgotten their interest- in connecting with the tan-tight, sequined, or booty shorted youth newly entering their space. Likewise, the evolution of the studio dancer seems to depend on the athleticism and current movement trends. It is an evolution of the body that sometimes excludes the mind and spirit other than adrenaline and satisfaction that comes with performance and all that comes with that- positive and negative.

I think some of the hesitation of getting theoretical with teen dancers has been an issue of wanting to engage through entertainment (keeping up with the Joneses) and not expecting them to be capable of thinking through big ideas.

It isn’t true.Even early elementary kids are capable if their educational guide is patient and most importantly, willing.

I think our best strategy would be to stop setting expectations and simply start from wherever we are- as people, dancers, citizens, thinkers, doers, beings.

Recently, I had the realization that most of what we view as being in poor taste is really just an inheritance of limited information. Take studio dance fashion, for instance, and the comparison to what is worn in an academic dance setting. Both are wearing “booty” shorts these days but because one might have some sequined detailing or tan tights underneath, the “evolved” feel the discomfort of the depth of conversations that have NOT been had with that student and the tendency is to joke. I am so guilty.

In reality, though, the wardrobe is just an extension of the intention of training and a reflection of the evolution to be expected. In my day, it was French-cut leotards. With a belt run under the leg holes in back and on the outside in front. Classy. But I was serious. I was committed. I evolved into a deep thinking dancer concerned about Dance as an art form, a way of being and knowing, a method to finding embodied learning and able to talk shop with the best of them.

Some of the other gaps:

Dance as Entertainment – Dance as an Intellectual Pursuit This one is particularly painful for me, I admit. I have been surprised at how often in recent years, I have had to defend why I teach dance the way I do. I have been met with great supporters but also a segment of families/students that don’t know why I “refuse” to use pop music, moves found in music videos, and so on.

Artists – Educators In some ways, this is the inspiration for my blog. This site started as a means to communicate with fellow “underdogs” and share my real world experiences as new graduates (or old) entered their own journeys. I was continually frustrated with artists not explaining their struggles experienced when they first started their professional paths.

Think about it- most biographies go from the family, upbringing, and early training of an artist- touch on their artistically formative years (beyond training)- and suddenly jump in to the history of their tours or projects. Little discussion is offered about the obstacles of becoming dance-makers and thinkers. We jump to when they were recognized as brilliant. Or so it seems to me. And the same seemed to happen when I was able to ask artists about this.

So, my mission became to chronicle one dancer’s journey- tangential and all- within and around the field of dance. Along the way, this has turned into a site that explores teaching experiences more than life experiences. Though, like everything else, those two things can’t be separated. I just choose to talk less about my children than my classroom- maintaining somewhat of a gap based on comfort level and respect for my home. 😉

There are more gaps than this but I will stop here for today.

Moral of the story: We are all just doing the best we can with what we have. My job is to meet people where they are and hope they have an interest in moving further along their path. If not, maybe we can have a good time moving.

Which gaps are you mindful of these days?

Letting It Be: Renewed Intent

Friends are the best.

I tend to get ahead of myself in most ways, worrying about things that are important but likely to ebb and flow as we move through life. This is true of my professional life and my personal life. I spend a lot of energy putting things into action that sometimes I need reminding that I just need to “let it be”. There are two particular people in my life that do this for me.

Be aware. Sometimes observing is enough.

Be patient. It will come or it will shift.

Be present. Focus on the now.

I am so fortunate to have married my best friend but also for a group of friends that continue to inspire me, encourage me, challenge me, entertain me and remind me. Some I have had for a long time. Whenever we talk, even though it isn’t as often as we’d like, we seem to never skip a beat. Others are the best “bonus” of marrying my husband. (And he thought it was his music collection.)

IMAGEgrannysquareIMAGE
Photo by Heather Vaughan-Southard

In celebration of these loved ones, here is a small glimpse of what I’ve spent time working on over the summer months.

It is a peek of our daughter, H,  and a project I am working on for some dear friends getting married next spring. In broader terms,  an image of family and friends, time shared in person or in spirit, and energy spent making (although a knitter, I learned to crochet specifically for this project).

When I started this blog, my intent was to share my experiences in the dance world in the hopes that future (or current) dancers might feel it is useful to their own lives.

Over the last few years, one focus of my dance experience has been the balance of dance and life. I have shared the dance part, certainly from a personal point of view, but I am thinking of being a bit more balanced in how I manage this topic on this blog.

No, I won’t be sharing family secrets but I will offer more insight as to what the life of a dance educator can be like,…the questions, the demands, the joys, the rewards, the process,….peppered with what makes me, well, me….my aesthetic, my family, my hobbies,…

It is what makes me return repeatedly to the blogs that I tend to follow. Maybe you’ll like it, too.

I’m Not Sure I’m Ready for My Close-up, Mr. DeMille

Sometimes I see more clearly through a lens.

When I feel like I start admiring the productivity, perspective, or accomplishments of others I think about how I have spent my time and I choose a lens. Sometimes it is the actual lens of a camera through which I capture the happy faces of my children, my knitting projects in progress, the nuances of the space we call home.Image

I haven’t yet started photographing the meals  that fill me with contentment most Sundays when we eat off of my husband’s grandparents’ plates and I think about the past, the present, and the future.

I am not a real photographer.

I spend a lot of time admiring the photographic talents of others. Their ability to capture a simple scene that I can stare at for hours or to which I emotionally connect in some way.

It is why I spend so much time on Pinterest. I can sift through images that inspire me, encourage me, organize me, and teach me. It reminds me of the hours I spent as a kid, absorbing the images in my mother’s Life Magazines. It is a comfortable place to be.

I am on constant search for beauty.

It has been a long time since I have captured movement, in my body or otherwise. I have essentially taken the summer “off” from most anything dance related. This decision was mostly intentional but it has been a bit more expansive than I’d originally thought.

And it has me thinking about the movement I would like to capture, the meaning behind it, and the context it fits within the dance and education fields.

  • What, within dance,  is important to me right now?
  • What is important for my students to learn and at what stage of development?
  • How does dance as a creative outlet fit into my life when the choreography I produce for my job does not satisfy my needs as a choreographer?
  • How do I carve time to nurture my own relationship to dance separate from my role as an educator?

This year I am faced with courses to renew my teaching certificate, year two of new curriculum development for K-8, and mothering two young children.

At this point, I am deciding the points that will demand a zoom lens, better light, or mere orientation. We’ll see how it goes.

I strive to continue posting about the images I discover throughout the year.

But for now, I am curious. What is your point of view for the upcoming dance season?

You Can Do Anything But Not Everything 1.0

Recently, Dance/USA produced a series of articles about professional choreographers who have turned to working in higher education as a means to keep creating choreography within concert dance and earn a living. Most of the artists interviewed are of notable stature (David Dorfman, Joe Goode,…) and discuss the balancing act required of working in two demanding aspects of the field- choreography and higher education- simultaneously.

I don’t doubt for a moment that their balancing acts are difficult.

I don’t doubt for a moment that they have valuable information and experiences to offer students.

I don’t doubt for a moment that they are qualified to teach.

But I do feel resentment rising in my chest each time I think about the articles.

As someone who has been passed over for others with “better” resumes and not necessarily “better” skills, this touches a nerve.

 Let me be clear, I don’t mean to diminish the depth of artists and the many hats that artists wear as creators, facilitators, curators, teachers, leaders, thinkers, and so on.

However, I start thinking of the underdogs.

  • What about the people that want to teach in higher education because their priority is to teach? 
  • What about the people that are great without having great resumes, and by that I mean as performers or choreographers? 
  • What about the people dedicated to teaching but choose to balance this with having a family and not a full-blown second career?

Underdogs: The people that shape the field of dance in more ways than the stage and the studio.

  • What about the people that guide the critical thought process in the act of creating art in addition to developing ideas, perspectives, and missions leading to non-performance based careers or jobs?
  • What about people that develop critical writing?
  • What about people that explicitly teach dance history and other frames of reference for what and how we communicate in dance and society?
  • What about people that help students translate their experiences from the abstract to the practical foundations that launch them into many types of careers?
  • What about the people that teach the general education classes that can directly impact the support or lack thereof for dance in the local community and into the world beyond college?
  • What about the people that teach the artists to talk about what and how they are creating so they get the jobs the underdogs are seeking?

The problem I see is cyclical.

In the end, the notion of choreographers finding a way to create and earn a living in higher education is a symptom of a larger problem.

Not enough people understand and support dance.

Artists alone don’t seem to be enough to teach the masses about how and why the arts, specifically dance, are important. That is not a comment on the quality or volume of their discussion, simply that we need more people educating about dance than just the practicing artists.

We need people to be promoting the myriad of what dance has to offer in addition to technique and performance. As such, we need to be producing more specialists in more categories under the umbrella of dance- such as arts integrators, theorists, critics, writers, dance scientists, etc.

Higher education is competitive enough.

I also start wondering about the departments that employ the big names from the performance world. I understand the desire to market these people and draw potentially more students.

However, with the teaching loads described in the articles and what I understand from other sources, how often are students truly being mentored by these artists?  Is it ethical?

Other questions arise as I ponder the big name hires:

  • How many programs treat choreography produced in-house as research?
  • What is the culture of the department like?
  • How is the faculty morale as the lesser-knowns may be picking up the less satisfying classes?

Personally, the first thing I would prefer to stop teaching would be straight technique but if a big-name choreographer were hired in my department, I bet that is exactly what I would be saddled with as they chose composition, improvisation, and perhaps theory courses.

  • What does this mean for guest residencies?

Aren’t residencies a better solution in offering students insight to how various artists think and act?  Aren’t residencies more cost effective for colleges and still a means for choreographers to earn a living? Isn’t variety the spice of life?

  • How are the faculty balancing a families expected to compete?

This touches on a separate but related topic of if and how having a family and surviving in academia is a real possibility. In my view, departments that allow for the “how” of that over the “if” are becoming more and more rare.

It is the number one reason that I choose to remain in K-12, where I have plenty of stimulating arts and education problems to solve but can be home at a reasonable hour, leave my work at school (for the most part), and can pace my extra-curricular activities at a digestible rate rather than always operating under the “publish or perish” time frame dictated in the university system.

And on that note, nap-time is over…..more soon.

Playing Superhero: The Dark Side of Discipline

Discipline in the arts is usually one of the major “gains” in training and one of the reasons many parents choose to enroll their child.

Discipline in pre-professional dance, for me, was what separated those that wanted to succeed and those that did.

Discipline in professional dance takes on a different perspective in response to the nature of one’s success. For those with company success, discipline may still be dedication to their craft, daily technique class and the commitment involved. For those without consistent work it can mean carving out the time and money to maintain one’s technique and conditioning and challenging one’s self to stay engaged at the fullest level.

But when all is said and done, discipline can have a dark side. The cape donned in the thrill of physical prowess and being at the top of one’s game can lead, in other scenarios, to a mask of re-hashing and obsession over improvement with less healthy side effects.

This is where I sometimes find myself now. I have come to the opinion that, in teaching as well as other aspects of life, reflection is what separates those that want to be successful and those that are. But there is a precipice where success can fall into obsession the longer one dwells. From the outside things may still look very successful, and they are, but the inside graphs another story.

I have mentioned before that the last twelve months have been challenging. For all the positives, I tend to focus extensively on the areas in need of work. There is my challenge.

Here’s an example: rather than simply rejoicing in the fact we have a 9 month old baby, a bright and active 4 year old boy, a nice home, seemingly stable jobs, a challenging new teaching environment, new and interesting problems to solve, satisfying side projects, and opportunities on the horizon,…

…I find myself dwelling on whether or not my baby has as much of my attention as my son did at her age and what I can do about it, if my son is in the right learning environment and what the arrangements should be made for him next year (whether he starts school or not and where), the dust and the cleaning that is so sub-par based on my pre-children standards and the related shame whenever anyone comes over, the overwhelming awareness of judgement (positive or negative) when working in a new place, with new people, new students, and new curriculum, how to balance what is artistically satisfying with what I do and how I have to do it, what I need to do to maintain my artistic, educational, online, friendly, and familial reputations, and so on.

Instead of material goods, the Joneses that I am trying to keep up with are the top of their fields no matter where they are working: at home, in the classroom, in academia or online. In my mind, I find myself competing with the moms that stay home focusing most exclusively on the family and the home, the teachers that dedicate themselves and many extra hours/days to supporting their curriculum, to the professors that balance teaching and publishing and presenting, and the internet gurus who seem to be able to seamlessly document their lives or their creations (I visit a lot of craft-based lifestyle blogs).

Has my profession taught me to always feel I can’t quite measure up and there is always more work to be done?

Has the sheer number of times as dancers we’ve been told, “there is always a replacement” elicited a feeling that you can’t possibly be less than super-human if you still want to be good at what you do? In all that you do?

Has the emphasis placed on cross-training and generalist approaches to dance academics seasoned me for eXtreme multi-tasking and over-achieving  and thinking it is”normal”?

Or is it all personal?

Which aspect of my personality does this reflect most- the artist or the perfectionist? Can they be separated? Or which came first? Is one a product of the other or the inspiration?

Often, people seek my advice in teaching, or balancing professional and personal lives, or both. But now, perhaps it is me that needs the advice.

In truth, I do rejoice in our kids and family life, love my job and my opportunities, and all that go with it. Yet….

What do you do when you can’t find anything to let go of……  When life demands that you have your hat in many rings and your personality and/or your conditioning doesn’t allow you to be second rate in any of them….

Or am I the only one?

Four Confessions and a Concern

Recently, dance educator Sheena Jeffers wrote the blog post, “Teaching Dancers: Non-serious v. Serious” to which I contributed a few brief thoughts as did our highly esteemed friends, Nichelle at Dance Advantage and Dance_Reader. Sheena is an inspired teacher with a clear perspective and serious motivation. Her post was started as a conversation on Twitter that has had my wheels turning for some time. Here’s where I am right now.

Confession Number 1

I don’t think we necessarily need a million more professional dancers but we do need smarter people and an arts literate culture. Dance can do both.

Dance training takes on many different looks and often there is a primary focus: to produce professional dancers.  Anyone else encountered on the road is met with polite interest and tolerance if they manage to hold their own. If they don’t, or they decide to follow a different path, then they simply didn’t have “what it takes”. In this sense, the objective becomes subjective; the business becomes personal. The person that left is dismissed; the one that remained is lauded.

The hierarchy in dance education somehow remains- those that “do” are often more valued than those that “practiced” as if somehow those that watch, fund, discuss, teach, and advocate are lesser than those that perform and create.

Confession Number 2

Once upon a time, that was my view. I felt my “success” was mainly due not necessarily to talent or skill, but desire and passion. I suppose I still do, but in very different terms than when I started teaching.

When I was a student in a college dance pedagogy course, we were instructed to write a paper “teaching” something that we felt we did better than others- something that we felt set us apart from the rest. Expecting turns, leaps, or petite allegro, I suspect my professor was taken aback when I submitted my paper topic as “passion”. After a brief conversation, she directed to another professor (the grand lioness of the department) to talk over my point of view.

We eventually agreed that passion could be inspired but not taught.

That said, I still felt if one was majoring in dance, or pursuing a life as a professional dancer, one needed to “put up or shut up”, “go big or go home”, “go balls to the walls” …you get the idea.  When it came to being cast in a piece or dancing in technique class, it wasn’t that I was competitive with my peers. I was competitive with myself.

But I imagined the life of a dancer to be one of privilege due to sacrifice. I didn’t feel everyone deserved to be a dancer simply because they wanted to be, but because they earned the right to be. I suppose I still do, but in very different terms than when I started teaching.

When I set out to finally accomplish what I’d been dreaming about for years, I was stunned to find it wasn’t my dance experiences that shaped my happiness- it was the rest of me that had gone unacknowledged, unnoticed, undeveloped in the years I focused so sharply on preparing for professional dance. I remembered that I liked to read books, write, spend time with friends, watch movies, take walks in parks, learn, teach, laugh,…..  And it didn’t all have to be connected to dance in order for me to still be a dancer (even professional), and for me to be serious about my craft.

It took years, but I finally understand that I am not a lesser dancer. I am a better person.

These experiences have made me a better teacher. Teaching has made me a better parent and vice versa.

Confession Number 3

Here’s the thing: I hope there comes a time, a turning point in a dancer/dance educator’s life, when that view changes- not just intellectually, but sincerely. When it shifts from being something that we acknowledge could be true (in a very politically correct way) to something we believe. When we truly and honestly push forward with an understanding that each of us wears many different hats, and we each have a role to play in the enhancement of our aesthetics and our communities. When we put aside what separates us from them as a category and instead use it as a tool to push dialogue, boundaries, and forge collaboration.

Confession Number 4

I used to think I wanted to only teach “serious” dancers. For me, this meant dancers that were as dedicated and committed as I was. This meant dancers that saw themselves dancing professionally and would not stop until they “made it”.

Now, I want to teach.

I used to think that I needed to bring students to my level of commitment, understanding, and eventually mastery.

Now, I meet them where they are.

I used to think my favorite students would be the “best”. That probably meant technically/artistically/behaviorally.

Now, they are sometimes the ones that learned the most, those that make me laugh the most, or those that I’ve spent the most time with (which may include detention!). They are always the ones that trust me enough- or will risk enough- to share a meaningful moment, idea, or laugh.

A Concern

I hope this post doesn’t seem critical of the views Sheena and others shared in her original post. My intention is quite the opposite- to highlight that teaching is just as much of a journey as learning. We each have our individual styles, needs, motivations, and goals.

The important thing is that there is thought, care, and a willingness to discuss. Thanks to Sheena, Nichelle, Dance_Readers and others for these three things and so many more.

Unsung Heroes: Taking on Community Dance

Is there anything as inviting and intimidating as a blank page or an empty studio.

I am sorry for my negligence in writing….it has been a very full fall.

My pages have been filling of notes on the differences/observations/musings about teaching dance in the K-8 setting instead of high school and college. And I have recently been in studios that don’t seem to stay empty long but fill with many ideas, discussions, reflections, oh and bodies in movement, of course.

I began the season preparing a piece to be included in ArtPrize, an enormous installation of visual art throughout the downtown area of Grand Rapids, MI. As the name suggests, it is a competition with a large sum of money awarded to a winner, smaller sums to subsequent winners, and moderate controversy over quality, artistry, motivation, and exploitation on behalf of some artists, some hosts, and the ArtPrize organization.

I created a work titled Process/Progress that was designed to illustrate the creative journey in making dance. We were to begin with a 2 hour open rehearsal followed by performances over the span of three weeks that changed in order of content, music selection, and presentation based on when the performance fell within the 3 week journey. Therefore, it would never appear the same way twice and the process would continue to progress.

Well, the vendor that agreed to serve as host for this performance (and other live performing arts works) presented these works on an outdoor stage in the parking lot of the establishment, which also hosted the work of other artists. The establishment also entered their own “art” presented next to the stage. Their piece (basically a boxcar that opened to serve alcohol with go-go dancers on the roof) required large club music which the owner would turn off while we were “performing” but not during our two-hour rehearsal. They didn’t seem to understand, nor care once it was explained to them, that the two-hour rehearsal (which was only scheduled to occur once within the 3 week span) was part of the performance. So. After careful thought, I pulled the piece.

I was fortunate to have had premeried the piece, in draft form, in an event produced by local artists committed to raising the community aesthetic of dance and art. This event, Salmagundi produced by Dance in the Annex, Wealthy Theatre, and Art Peers, featured performances in dance, theatre, music, and film and I enjoyed it the most of many “local” performances I have seen for a very long time. A very, very long time. I enjoyed it more than some events I attended when living in NYC and Chicago. The whole evening- the performances, the audience, and the conversations I had with varying people afterwards made me think.

I found myself comparing this to other community arts events and trying to put my finger on the difference. What I was able to place, was my frustration with the typical local arts (perhaps it would be more fitting to specify dance, here) scene.

I am so bone-tired of people applauding bad dance/art just because it is “local”.  This may be really really snobby, but I am tired of bad taste being put up for all to see/hear/watch.  As consumers, why do our expectations drop because the artists live among us. Why are some artists that present work locally celebrated as pillars of our community yet create under-conceptualized, under-developed, under-reflected work. Why do we allow this? What can we do about it? Who cares?

Read this by Meagan Bruskewiscz. I love this article and know I will read it a few dozen more times.

In Michigan, I think Amy Wilson (Dance in the Annex), Erin Wilson (Wealthy Theatre), and company are on the right track. They have put their money where their mouths are and have identified ways to make a positive change in their community. There are others, too, in other parts of the state although I think they are working a little less comprehensively. Anyway, thanks to these artists and more for daring to hold artists and audiences accountable.

I’d like to propose a toast to the unsung heroes of local art.

To those that strive to change the mentality of “since it is local it must be inferior”.

To those that commit to quality and mastery and teaching the people around us the difference between good and bad art.

To those that invite a dialogue and an honest exchange of ideas and know we aren’t too old to learn or experiment or play.

To those that make the sacrifices- giving up shifts, distracting children, pausing “normal” life to be involved in a process that usually results in a product that could inspire further discussion and enlightenment.

THANKS.