transmissions, transitions, thresholds transformation
“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 skilled students feel overexposed. I’m willing to do whatever I ask of students because I love 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, then students start to go for it too, and when we’re in that together we make a context for art to emerge…and then we all point to it.
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 patterns of fixedness left over from years of “sticking it”. I learned to choreograph my consciousness when I worked with Deborah Hay as 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. I have a deep respect for students’ skills and perspectives no matter 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.
I ask students to move their questions so that answers, ideas, and new questions in dance can emerge from dancing at least as often they are 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 enact embodied inquiry 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
I believe that dance training is 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.
I’ve experienced the transformative power of contemplative and somatic movement practices over the past decade. These sophisticated technologies can expand awareness and cultivate consciousness in all parts of dancers’ whole selves. These include practices that train us to listen and become 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.
Identification, articulation, differentiation, and integration are steps in the creative process of embodied anatomy described in the introduction to Sensing, Feeling, and Action by Bonnie Bainbridge Cohen, creator of Body-Mind Centering® (BMC®) that I constantly return to. What are the details (parts)? How are they in relation 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 work as an artist and educator (dance making, performing, writing) to more fully permeate and support my teaching.