teaching

IMG_0591“The dancing does the teaching: The teacher points to that.” – Steve Paxton

Learning asks people to stand on a foundation built with what they already know and bravely fall, supported by curiosity, into what they do not know. In dance education, this is not a metaphor. The learning process is public in the performing arts, and the focus on the body in dance can make even the most proficient students feel overexposed. I am willing to do whatever I ask of students and I am still learning right alongside them. I continue to make dances because I have questions. I teach because it asks me to articulate the edges of my own knowing with clarity and simplicity. My hope is that my own vulnerability promotes an atmosphere of risk-taking where art simply emerges…and we all point to it.

When students ask questions, I often suggest that they move their questions to create clarity, identify and articulate their unique perspective, and/or generate new questions. This practice allows concepts in the field of dance to emerge from dancing in addition to being applied to dancing. It can also reveal common understandings within some of the most diverse classrooms, as well as radical differences among students who might appear similar. When the dancing itself becomes the teacher, students’ experiences are validated, they learn how to initiate and conduct research through a process that will always be available to them, and I become more dispensable.

“The faculty of voluntarily bringing back a wandering attention over and over again is the very root of judgment, character, and will…An education which should improve this faculty would be an education par excellence.” – William James

Can both the duration and quality of one’s attention be shaped through practice? Can a more curious and open quality of attention to whatever arises allow students to dwell longer in questions? I believe that dance offers the best laboratory for the cultivation of the kind of extended, expanded attention that is conducive not only to learning, but to a way of being in the world that is conscious, empathic, and responsive. My hope is that these qualities might enable students to take a more active role in their education and in the world.

For the past ten years, I have been studying and engaging in practices from the fields of somatics and contemplative neuroscience and have experienced their transformative power. Both fields offer sophisticated technologies that can expand awareness and cultivate consciousness in all parts of dancers’ whole selves. Mindfulness practices involve listening and becoming aware of what is already happening in one’s body-mind, without trying to fix anything. I have witnessed intelligent and specific change in students who learn to practice in this way. Concepts from dance science come to life in these contexts. Another is the process of identification, articulation, differentiation, and integration (from Body-Mind Centering® (BMC®). It is a map of embodiment that puts the study of anatomy and kinesiology into artful action. What are the details (parts)? How are they in relationship to each other? To the bigger picture (whole)? What is the big picture (and how does it change when we explore its specifics)? These steps and questions enable my professional practices (dance making, performing, writing) to more fully permeate and support my teaching.

The Laban/Bartenieff Movement Analysis (LMA) training I engaged in greatly influences my approach to curriculum design, teaching and learning. I certified with Peggy Hackney (UC Berkeley) and Janice Meaden in the somatically-oriented Integrated Movement Studies℠ (IMS℠) program, where the focus is embodiment of the LMA/Bartenieff work. It is the most holistic educational experience I have had to date. I learned as much about learning as I did Laban’s theoretical framework. I now use the LMA system to analyze and articulate various styles, which enables me to support students’ choreographic processes across a greater variety of aesthetics.

The developmental aspect of Bartenieff Fundamentals piqued my interest other developmental theories. According to Don Beck (Spiral Dynamics), each stage of development both transcends and includes all previous stages. This exists within Bartenieff Fundamentals’ Patterns of Total Body Connectivity and it resonates with my own experience. I grew up doing gymnastics and valuing measurable perfection. I found contact improvisation less than ten years into dancing and it welcomed the upside down-ness of my early movement training while quietly softening any patterns of fixedness left over from years of “sticking it”. I became conscious when I worked with Deborah Hay and she pushed me to “transcend [my] choreographed body”. This did not mean getting rid of anything. It was about becoming aware in a way that made everything available. Since learning and personally testing this “transcend and include” theory, I have a deeper respect for students’ skills and perspectives, regardless of where they are in their own development. I trust that what they know and love now will both endure and mature as they evolve. Rather than “fixing” students, I am interested in bringing to their attention what they are already doing, and increasing the number of choices they have available to them as artists and human beings.

“our bodies and minds are not two and not one…our bodies and minds are both two and one”    – Suzuki Roshi

The inclusion of multiple perspectives in the study of phenomena can create a more holistic knowing. Somatics is the study of the human body from a first-person, subjective, experiential perspective. While I believe that this approach is essential, I also value the objective external observations and conclusions made in dance science.

This both/and approach permeates much of my work, and provides a greater number of lenses through which I can teach and design classes. A few sets of concepts that are alive in my teaching right now include dance science/somatics, process/product, full-bodied and high energy movement/simple and subtle movement, how/what, inner/outer, horizontal growth (qualitative, integration, translation)/vertical growth (quantitative, transformation), allowing/asserting, experimental/traditional, minutia/big picture, movement/moves, and learning how to learn/learning information.

The key to each often exists in the other. One can be an inroad to the other. Attempting to live in both simultaneously is generative. Occasionally, they blend and create something new. Each has its own definition and any set can exist along a continuum, one clarifying the other. If neither is repressed, denied, or undervalued, then nothing is “othered”. What could this mean for dance? For relationships within dance making processes and dance communities? Between department and even schools within a university?

A true “both/and” mindset includes both “both/and” and “either/or”. Context determines which side of the coin I privilege in any given moment. More often, I choose that which is underrepresented or less known, but I never ignore its counterpart(s). Giving attention to both ends of any spectrum exposes biases, explodes the number of choices available throughout the creative process, and allows for many different kinds of relationships to exist between seemingly contradictory ideas.