Maria Hanley wrote a great article on Dance Advantage a few weeks back about how she incorporates thought into her dance classes for young children. I've spent the past few weeks considering this idea and what the role of thinking is in the classes I teach. Check out her article by clicking here.
Now for my own thoughts:
How do I define myself as a dance teacher? What is different about my classes versus another teacher? It is common practice for teaching artist to write a description of their class to give new students an idea of what to expect. What are the defining aspects of my approach? I believe that this idea of the "thinking dancer" is at the core of what I teach. Now how do I articulate exactly what I do?
Dance is body. It is a physical act. However, the brain initiates the body. Awareness, observation, and choice are key in developing a fully articulated facility. The emphasis on dance class is often the memorization of movement. You begin by learning a sequence of movement, then, you imitate, copy, embody that sequence in order to build pathways, patterns, and develop strength, balance, and flexibility. As a dancer, I am often frustrated when class ends up being one long exercise in memorization. As a teacher, I do not have an alternative to the role of learning set material. Improvisation alone will not prepare students to the demands of working with choreographers. There must be an emphasis on learning specific material. However, the learning of set material in class must have a specific training purpose in mind. Dancers need to be able to apply what they are learning in class to their own work as a moving and creating artist. As a student, I often feel as though I am deciphering a secret code in class. Why am I doing this movement? Am I fulfilling the teacher's choreographic desires or is there a big picture training goal in mind? Which leads me to.....
What is the purpose of dance class?
It is the preparation of the mind and body for performance. Dance class is where we train dancers to dance. Dance is a performing art form. Performance is not limited to the stage, rather all of life is a performance. The audience can be myself, my students, my peers, and/or the public. The dictionary definition states that performance is "the execution of an action" and "the manner of reacting to stimuli." I would define performance as a conscious initiation that may include unconscious habits and mannerisms. Performance begins with choice.
If the purpose of dance class is to train the mind and body for performance, what does that entail?
There are so many things a dancer needs to be able to do today. However, for me, at the heart of it all is the ability to make conscious choices in the body. This requires thought. I decided that my knees are tracking over my toes, because I am aware of where my knees are in space, and I have the ability to choose their pathway. I noticed that my jaw is clenched, so I choose to release it by separating my back molars. I am finding myself using the words notice and make a choice in class more and more. I also find myself sharing the purpose of movement- I created this phrase because I wanted to explore the weight of the head. This phrase is about exploring use of breath to initiate movement. This emphasis has lent itself to the use of sensation, initiation, and intention. When you are observing and deciding, those three words become key in the performance of movement.
I find myself really interested in what is happening in the minds of my students in class? What are they exploring during the phrase? What aha! moments are reached? What are they noticing in their own bodies and observing in others? These questions have become a regular discourse in my class. We finish an exercise with What did you notice? What learning took place? What are you more aware of? What choices became available to you? What do you need clarified due to new information being received? These discussions take time away from moving- and I have to be careful to keep dancers warm and discussions short- however, I find that verbal and written articulation of thought adds a new layer of understanding and growth.
Dance classes can feel so rigid and powerless. I often feel an obligation to perform as told, rather than to listen to what my body is telling me today, and making a choice different from the rest of the class. I desire an openness to new perspectives, approaches, and understand that there is a time and place to experience new challenges. However, I believe that students should be allowed permission to explore other choices in a safe and respectful way. Is it worth it for me to do as I am told if I am doing it incorrectly and building bad habits? I am not sure how this would always look in a dance class where students are sharing space.
These thoughts at times seem random and unconnected to me. Yet, what I am coming closer to is a definition of the atmosphere I want in a movement class, and how the material should and can be presented. I want dancers in class beside me who challenge me intellectually