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?

Biting Your Own Teeth

According to Pinterest (I know, I know) Alan Watts said, “Trying to define yourself is like trying to bite your own teeth.”

I have written about defining and labeling at several points over the years on this blog as well as for Dance Advantage.

I am in the midst of change with my relationship to dance and the proportions of focus through which I see and do. I think I write that every summer.

In my graduate study, I explored a movement curriculum as a method to alleviate symptoms of PTSD. Over the years, my teaching has taken principles of that work and implemented it into the structure of my classes as I worked with at-risk youth and others. I am finding myself currently drawn back into that world as I embark on some projects this summer. More on that to come.

This year, Daria Halprin’s book The Expressive Body in Life, Art, and Therapy: Working with Movement, Metaphor, and Meaning has never been far out of reach.  It has been influential and it brought me to this (page 64) about dance therapy pioneer Mary Starks Whitehouse, “She first called her approach movement in-depth and later authentic movement. She remarked that a significant turning point was the day when she realized that rather than teaching dance, she was teaching people. More than theory or philosophy, the inner life of the mover was of primary interest to Whitehouse. For her, movement was a way of becoming conscious more than a way to “act out”.” And here I am.

I have many friends navigating the waters of change right now: people leaving classrooms, leaving traditions, leaving fields, leaving relationships, leaving countries.

Change equals movement.

Once upon a time, I wanted to use my teaching to produce dancers. Then it was to also produce thinkers. Now it is also to help guide people to the knowledge they already hold. Do you see it? It is and, and. Not either/or.

Movement changes what we think and how we think it. What we think changes how we move.

I am observing the consciousness surfacing through my own movements. I am curious about the consciousness of inner life for these friends of mine as they move. I am finding the more I drop the labels and definitions, defense and offense, I am able to honor more of who I am rather and what I offer. My inner life is more thoroughly realized. I wonder if they are feeling the same.

I have spent years, decades actually, defining.            I want to stop.

I think the challenge of change hasn’t been about the change itself- the tasks, the environment, the affiliations. It has been about the shift in definition. If I am this now, does it mean that I am no longer that? No. At least not in my situations. It is altering the proportions, gaining more dimension by accumulating “ands”.

How are you moving these days? What is surfacing? What are you accumulating?

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.

present and connected

This weekend I had the distinct honor of presenting at the McEntire Education Summit, hosted by Trent McEntire. Trent and I are old friends- the best kind, where you don’t speak nearly often enough but when you do, it is as if not a day has gone by. Trent is a force in the pilates world, a real icon and one that takes people and their potential seriously.

A couple months ago, Trent and I had a conversation about helping educators enhance their relationships, their connections, with their clients.

This, in tandem with research I have been conducting with a dear colleague and special education expert, Karen Hicks, has launched a new line of professional development presentations for me.

We address the presence and application of movement in academic classrooms, how to conceive and implement authentic arts integration. As a dance educator in a dance-specific setting, I present alternatives to the traditional and often shaming methods of teaching dance. Here is another way to describe it:

What is it?

Empathy-based pedagogy, emotionally-intelligent teaching

What is the application?

Acknowledgement of people first, then organizing movement systems to help them reach toward and beyond their potential. Get the most out of your time, get the most out of your experiences.

What is the result?

Happiness by way of growth, service, and satisfaction. By way of relationships, communication, and support.

Why? (Although I have always known the why, Trent has continually pushed me to find the words).

I believe movement connects. (Bodies to ourselves, our minds, our ideas, our potential)

I believe connections save lives. (Connections of people, ideas, dots, movements, mantras, communities, you name it…….)

But the longer why is that it has taken me years to put down my “dance-traumas” as a friend has described them. The wounds and complications experienced in training my body and mind to master and compete. For what?

In working with the students I see on a regular basis, life is already full of challenge, condescension, and competition. Pitting students against each other, yelling corrections, and delivering nasty looks doesn’t produce anything productive. Even subtle “judgements” set up obstacles over solutions. I am not against competition altogether, but there is healthy competition and unhealthy. I realized that many of the negative messages I received from teachers (of all subjects- NOT just dance!!!) were probably not even intended, they may simply have been received. So my goal is to help people understand those messages and build intention in what they are sending and what they are choosing to receive.

Want to know more?

  • I will be teaching a pedagogy-based movement experience for Dance in the Annex this August (dates to come) in Grand Rapids, MI.
  • Karen Hicks and I will be presenting a professional development session for STEAM teachers at the Mt. Hope STEAM school in Lansing in August.
  • AND we will be presenting at the National Dance Education Organization Conference in Chicago this November (Saturday 11:30).
  • Or I/we can come to you…..

This is the work that has nurtured some of the best relationships of my life. You deserve the same.

 

When the Body Answers Back

We know our stories are trapped in our bodies. We know we use our bodies to express personal perspectives within our stories. But what about when the body needs to do the speaking?

When I was living in NYC, one of my favorite classes was that of Alexandra Beller. She started each class with us laying on our backs, talking us through our bodies, giving us permission to let go of whatever we had been trudging through prior to class and to simply be before she invited us to move.

It never failed, each and every time I would get a lump in my throat, tears would stream from my eyes, and it seemed to come from nowhere. As I described in my post about David Howard’s class, here I was accepted as a person and then supported as a dancer. It was empowering, complex, surprising, and thought-provoking. Over ten years later, I am still thinking about it.

Over the years, I have had students go through similar experiences in my own class. This summer, I have finally had that feeling again in my practice of Bikram yoga.

Interestingly, this topic keeps coming up as I communicate with people from all over the dance map.

It makes me think the conversation needs to be opened.

In grad school, one area of my research was how organized movement curricula can help alleviate symptoms of Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD). This, for me, was a brief and shallow advance into the world of research but the topic keeps cropping up in everything else I research and in all facets of my teaching- embodied learning for at-risk students, learning styles and methods for delivering information in a dance classroom, and more.

Without going into too much personal detail, I have experienced many traumas (death of a parent, being in NYC on 9/11, several robberies,….) and I have been conscious of how my body has felt and how my dancing has been impacted as a result of events. Things have helped and hindered along the way but nothing has had the profound effect for me as I have encountered this summer.

Through movement and possibly related to certain environmental conditions, I have felt the ‘baggage’ I have been carrying for years shift and eventually be left behind. Not all of it, but a substantial amount.

I have acknowledged the unevenness of sides of my body- in feeling like I am laying on an incline while in reality laying on flat ground, in sensing complete relaxation on the left side of my body while the right side is tense literally from the top of my head to the toes, even in wanting to cry but only on the right side of my face.

My head has flooded with thoughts that I have not allowed myself to entertain and in the next posture those thoughts flooded out.

I have felt the front of my body roar like a lion and I have cried, and cried, and cried- not in sadness but in release.

My body, mind, and spirit feel stronger than…..well, maybe ever.

In the reading I have done in recent weeks, I am suspecting that this breakthrough is, naturally, because I am ready. However, the environmental conditions of the yoga experience might also be important in my case. Namely, the heat.

Bikram as I understand, is the original hot yoga and all of this- the heat, the focus on my own practice and not that of my students, and the dedicated time to myself-  has returned me to when I was dancing intensely, in hot studios, sweating immensely, and so on. For me, living in NYC and dancing my way through the summer, all of this is relevant to conditions not directly relating to trauma but surrounding the trauma. It has taken me back to the time and not the event. And dance, the technical practice and focus on my progress and process, has been consistent in the time of all other traumas.

None of this has been easy, but it has been necessary. Due to the conversations I have had with others over the last few weeks, I feel prompted to share this in the spirit of “you are not alone”.

My experiences have been dependent upon my interactions with Alexandra Beller, Trent McEntire, and the instructors of Bikram Yoga Capital Area, as well as everyone else that has shaped my life’s path in movement and stillness.

For all those that have had similar experiences or may in the future- keep moving. May you find your own guides, maybe even in the most unexpected of people or situations. At any rate, I hope you find your release.

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?

Renewal: Controlling the Minutiae

Each summer seems to have a theme, beyond that of our television viewing. (See For the Love of the TARDIS)

“Dr. Who Summer” continues in all gloriousness. I sobbed over David Tennant but am warming up to Matt Smith.

Past years have included “the summer of awakenings”, “the summer of reflection”. This year? The summer of renewal.

  • I am back “in” my body.
  • My body is back in contact with my mind and my spirit.
  • Some old relationships feel rekindled.
  • I am back into the guest teaching and project planning that was common for me pre-kids or at least pre- 2 kids.

I am clearer on who I am, what my strengths are, where I would like to see myself in the next 5 years and I am starting to take the steps to get there.

The last 5 years have been full of learning and loving; taking in new teaching situations, content, environment, professional expectations, and methods for delivering information. I have learned and processed a lot.

It is now time for me to push myself in sharing what I have come to know. It is time I follow through in the academic writing, and publishing, that I have put off in exchange for curriculum writing, program development, freelance writing, and choreographing you know, 20 plus dances a year for a K-8 program.

In reality, though, there have been other obstacles. I think of it is as the minutiae- these small, accumulating tasks or inconveniences that add up to block the path or tire you out with detours.

Reading Shawn Lent’s  “Am I A Dancer Who Gave Up: A Follow Up” helped me identify some of the areas of conflict I have been experiencing between the dance world and the non-dance world (I resist the urge to type “real” world there).

The Chatter
Like Shawn, I get frustrated with the dance conversation. I, too, love dance people but I have really strong feelings about needing a vision in or through dance. So many dance people I have interacted with seem to have lost theirs, if ever they had one, and I find myself having difficulty connecting with them let alone collaborating. Or maybe it isn’t the dance thing, it is the personality thing- the people that do want more from their art and those that don’t. Or worse, those that think they do and have no idea the work they produce (in their teaching or their choreography or their community relationships) really isn’t accomplishing much.

Or maybe there is more that I am not seeing and the problem lies with me. At any rate, withdrawing from some portions of the conversation doesn’t really help any one. I better get back in there.

The Current
Several years ago, again when I was teaching at a small liberal arts college in a rural town in Michigan, a guest artist asked me how I stay current. I have been thinking about this for years.

At the time, I said that I learn new things and immerse myself in new situations. My example was knitting. (He must have thought I was NUTS. Okay, maybe I am).

But I felt it was important to have the urge to make, tangible things in addition to ephemeral, to remember what it is like to learn a series of steps and put them in specific patterns, to analyze small scale movement as well as large, to return to a place of wrong and right methods with direct outcomes, and to just recall what it is like to learn new things- the frustration, the excitement, the pride). The process of learning and making has, I think, been invaluable in keeping up with the world, even in the world of dance.

Thanks to the internet and friends doing great things in all facets of dance, I feel that I have been able to stay up to date if not “current” in spite of not having the budget to travel, attend national conferences, and living in a place where I have to wait to see world-class companies on their next tour instead of their next season. Time has even prevented me from taking part in more local dialogue (Much of the dance events in my state seem to be scheduled for the same weekends!) Well, time and a little chatter.

But I do know what he meant. As a choreographer, and an artist- how do I thrive. I think the usual stance on this is to see what work is being made and then how does one recreate it with a personal stamp. I get that. I even value that. But it isn’t exactly for me. Not to say I don’t need some fresh ideas and could benefit from new visual experiences- I do, I could!. But the process has led the creative work for me- the relationships, the perspectives to a topic by all in the room, the democracy of art making with people beyond physical pictures. That has led to my work feeling current. I continue to think about this, though, and hope I always will.

All of my work- curriculum writing, program development, freelance writing, and choreographing you know, 20 plus dances a year for a K-8 program- will continue, naturally, but I admit my priorities are shifting a little. I am opening myself to new things, new methods, new attitudes, and new realities.

I am hoping to perform, to publish, to respond, and to revise.

Somehow I hope that if I write it here, I might actually follow through. Help me keep on track, won’t you?

The Application of Technique

Recently, I have been fortunate enough to teach a rash of master classes around the state and in my area. One of the comments that keeps rising from the students in each place, many of whom are exposed to modern dance for the first time or elements of dance through modern concepts in new ways, is something along the lines of “the movement is free. It isn’t as technical. It is ok to make mistakes and just keep going.”

Now, I love flow. Seriously. So, yes, the movement keeps going but I think their comments are powerful in how it reflects a student’s view of technique.

By the end of class, I usually end up talking about how it isn’t that the movement we have danced lacks rules or discipline, terminology or shape.  It is perhaps more forgiving of the human body compared to the movement these students define as technical (often shape-oriented ballet, emphasis on form over quality, or some personal difficulty).

I start explaining that, to me, it is an opportunity to apply our technique to a “real” life situation. Movement!

If we spend all of our time studying technique, it often robs us of the feeling of actual dancing. For students that have limited opportunities to perform or limited opportunities to feel/sense movement rather than imitate the pictures of movement, this may partially explain the appeal of overly-stylized movement.

The other light bulb that keeps illuminating young minds is the notion that we don’t have to dance the same as everyone else in the room.

I say, “we don’t look the same, it doesn’t make sense to me that we dance just the same.” Of course, I explain the value of unison and that there are many choreographers that value a unified approach to movement but in an audition situation, even for ensemble work where “blending in” is important, you still need to find a way to “stand apart”. So even within a “technique” class, we are starting to talk about performance and basic composition elements, how to read a situation- developing the ability to know when to follow and when to lead or when to take liberties with choreography and when not to.

The definition of “technique” then broadens, for the minds of these students, to include the Elements of Dance (Space, Time, Energy) as applied in real dance situations, technical concepts that don’t require a French label, and permission to authentically assess where their technique is supporting them and where they need more work. We even use improvisation to explore these tools and make technical observations about our movement habits, preferences, and aspirations.

Then when the “study” begins again, it is from a more informed perspective. A more personal place. It even feels like dancing.

Changing the Variables

Something powerful happens when we take dance out of the studio. Or out of a theatre. Or out of dance clothes. Or out of trained dancer bodies.

I experienced this as a student but more so when I was living in NYC and other cities- seeing movement of all kinds in Central Park, in installations around the city, site specific works in L.A., and rubbing elbows with elite ballet dancers at a church on the Upper West Side.

Dance took on a whole new meaning. And the means for these experiences depended on changing the expectations of dance- where, when, how, and dressed in what. I felt the freedom of the experience yet it didn’t really start to impact my own work or teaching until I was directing the dance program at a liberal arts college and teaching a dance history/appreciation course that contained dance minors and general education students.

As we moved through time within that course, I offered practical dance experiences to give the students a sense of feeling for what we were talking about. They had technique class samplers in ballet, modern, and jazz. We had comparison sessions of dance styles within single genres. We had a rehearsal in which I staged a musical theatre work. We did a slow walk across campus and they had site specific composition studies that offered us a tour of campus.

Their final exam included creating a dance on paper. Some chose to notate in narrative form or a symbol system, some drew, some created origami, some collaged,…..it was fascinating and some were very good and explaining their thought process and creative decisions. Those that weren’t, were often able to admit, in the heat of the moment, with complete honesty and ownership that their work wasn’t informed by a process or much thought. They were “caught” but I didn’t do the catching, they did. For many of “those” students, that moment seemed real. They realized it wasn’t a joke. I felt that was just as valuable as those that had elaborate explanations for their choices, the meaning, and the product they created.  We were able to have a constructive conversation about what they would do differently or we talked about the things that were holding them back. And yes, for some, I let it go. I could see they simply weren’t ready. (This could relate to a portion of my Dance Advantage article, “Your Words and Shaping Healthy Dancers).

While I would approach many of these experiences differently now, with sage wisdom, it was a good start. I think it made an impression. I think the students were more invested and took the work more seriously, even though many of them were having fun. This approach is harder in K-12, particularly K-8. We do this a little with the clothing for dance class, which I will be writing about in August for Dance Advantage but my thinking cap is on, ready to take me further from the norm.

In a NYTimes article about Mark Dendy’s new work Ritual Cyclical, dancer Michael Figueroa said in reference to dancing outside with Dendy in a site specific work staged several years ago, “I ended up rolling all over the cement — the most crazy experience ever,” he said. “I had no idea that dance could be anywhere and could be anything.”

Sounds like a pretty powerful revelation to me.