I have typed and deleted an opening sentence about ten times now. This blog is in some ways a public journal- it is a way for me to motivate myself to put into words the concepts and ideas I am wrestling with. I am striving to define my personal philosophy on dance, teaching, and life in general. Who am I and how do I want to present myself to the world? I haven't always been able to come up with an eloquent way to share these thoughts that are churning in my mind, but I think it is important to try, and that the more I write, the more clarity I will find.
Last night during a conversation with my dear friend Diane Cahill Bedford, I started to articulate this idea of granting permission and what that means and looks like in a dance class.
In a tradition dance class there are two roles. There is the role of the teacher / facilitator and the role of the student / participant. Customarily, the teacher / facilitator is the position of power, and establishes the framework of the class / session. I have chosen to use these two sets of nouns as I am finding that there is a trend towards using more democratic words to describe the learning experience. While that may be a step in the right direction, I don't always notice a shift in actual practice.
What does it look like to grant permission in a dance class?
I would define permission as a recognition of the needs of the participants and an environment that encourages students to explore those needs and take responsibility for their learning experience.
What is it that a student need permission for in a dance class?
What are the potential transactions and results of granting permission?
So where does permission fit into the framework of a dance technique class and why do I think it is a crucial part of teaching?
As a student I choose how I behave in a class, and in return the teacher and my classmates choose how they are going to respond to my choices. My decision to attend to my self by modifying movement may be met with a smile or a demand to push through and adhere to what has been given. I can accept either outcome. However, many students have not reached a point in their education where they feel comfortable going against normative behavior without being given an explicit invitation.
As a teaching artist, it is a tricky balance to attend to the needs of a diverse group of students. I am still developing methods for ensuring that every student feels valued, safe, and free to follow the path and process of their own learning. I am finding that in my class this means you will not find the tight knit unison found in many traditionally technique classes. While I do teach set movement exercises and phrases, I am finding that it is important to allow flexibility in the structure. We can work collectively on an element, but often students have their own agenda and I feel that is important to make space for that.
In the end I feel that this comes down to my desire to allow every student the opportunity to fully embody movement. I am not interested in a student's ability to copy my actions, but rather in their ability to fully investigate and explore what the pathway is in their body. In order to do so I must give them permission to make choices, play, take risks, and ask questions.