I am currently researching yoga, as I feel that I may be interested in pursuing teacher training sometime in the near future. I checked out a bunch of books from the library and The pure heart of yoga by Robert Butera has been thought provoking on many levels. I find that many of the themes in establishing a yoga practice also apply to what I believe a dance practice should look like. The book constantly describes yoga as a holistic practice, not a physical activity solely focused on poses. Dance is often taught as a combination of steps, shapes, and movements. The language used in class generally emphasizes the body. However, to be successful as dance artist, there must be a mind, body, and spirit connection. As I have written before, I believe that dance classes should always benefit the whole person. Most dance students will not pursue a career in the arts, therefore, class should not solely emphasize solely the accumulation of dance phrases.
But what does this look like? I am constantly struggling with the application of these ideas. I have given a lot of thought to how material should be presented in dance classes. In my development as a teaching artist, I have felt that the how to teach is much more difficult than the what to teach. Sadly, the majority of my pedagogy training in college focused on the what of teaching, and while I know that this is important, I believe that the what doesn't matter if you struggle with the how. The strength and depth of my knowledge doesn't matter if my students can't receive it.
What does being receptive look like as a student?
The first chapters of The pure heart of yoga discuss intention, attitude, and posture. How often do we address why we are in class- what is our purpose, motivation, driving force? What is our attitude in class? Are we comparing ourselves to others? Are we competitive? Are we infatuated with the teacher or dancers around us? Confused? Clinging to an idea or movement? How do we in the midst of the craziness of life arrive at a place that is calm, peaceful, content, and open? The best thing I can do as a student is to accept where I am today and be willing and open to experiencing what is happening in the room in that moment. It is being aware of the mind and spirit and how it manifests in the body. As Martha Graham said, "Nothing is more revealing than movement." and "The body never lies." Nervous energy makes it difficult to balance or turn. Comparing myself to Sally can cause me to ignore my own body and push into injury. And the list goes on.....what we are thinking and feeling impacts our movement.
How can we facilitate an open mind and body in our students?
I feel strongly that as a teacher I must be friendly, patient, calm, and passionate about what I am doing. I want my students to know that I care about them as people, not just as dancers. I want my students to feel comfortable enough to be honest. I strive to teach by example. I am honest and vulnerable. I am receptive to comments, complaints, and ideas. I encourage students to share their thought process and perspective.
For example, when I demonstrate a combination I might say:
"I am really excited about my family coming to visit me, and as a result I am having difficulty calming my nervous system. I feel a bit off- kilter. I am going to choose to demonstrate a balance here, but you are welcome to turn if you are able to today. Does anyone have any suggestions of another choice I could make? What do you do when your energy feels frantic?" As dance teachers, we are asking our students to expose their physical selves to a room full of people- it is a delicate and intimate venture, and I believe that the student needs to feel supported in order to take that risk. Openness requires you to first accept where you are in that moment in order to receive and try something new.
I know that these ideas have taken some tangents. I am working on organizing my thoughts....it is a process :)