Monday, December 12, 2016


     Do everyone and everything fit into neat, tidy boxes and definitions? Discussions on Skype this fall have reminded me that we attempt to differentiate between academia and arts in practice. Are these differences created by academia, practicing professional artists, or politicians?

     While writing area of learning papers, I think about skills learned in my professional practices in dance not the skills I have learned when attempting to live daily life. However, with my father's recent hospitalization I discovered that if I became the teacher/facilitator when attempting to extract information from staff and medical professionals I accomplished more.

     As an instructor/educator I have learned to accept students where they are and to guide them where they express they wish to be. I use this moment in my life not to personalize this post but rather to mention that skills I learned in arts and academia helped me gain the necessary knowledge to translate medical information for my father.

     I think back to the writing workshop in August 2016 and how one participant complained that the articles in journals viewed online were written with such heady wording that an encyclopedia and or dictionary would be necessary to translate the articles into words and phrases any reader might understand.

     Whether technical medical vocabulary or words used to impress people with advanced degrees in research communities these "words" needed to be simplified for understanding and comprehension by others. This is a skill many dance teachers use daily. How many dance teachers have not had to explain an exercise in several differing ways to help most if not all of the students understand the exercise? Is failure to help all the students in a class be successful a truly a failure of and by the teacher or simply a failed attempt at learning by the student? Can an instructor in the arts be perfect one hundred percent of the time when explaining exercises, phrases, and choreography? Failure to develop a complete understanding might assist in a student getting hurt by doing a step incorrectly. Failure to successfully communicate an understanding of medical issues and possible treatments might lead to life and death decisions.  The reality is that failure to communicate successfully can lead to serious consequences no matter the subject matter.

    So then why do academics feel core subjects are the only topics needed to be taught so a person may become a fully functioning adult? Is this because academics depend on grants and need the acceptance of politicians to keep open the doors of learning institutions? How do artists translate their practice into language to acquire funding to educate the masses about the arts and the many life skills learned in the arts?

     True, a  non-hearing person will most likely learn differently from a non-seeing person and differently from someone who can both see and hear.  Do people from different cultures and economic backgrounds learn and comprehend differently?

     So are compartments/boxes divisive or helpful? Does separating people, things, and knowledge into categories help people understand the similarities or the differences? I felt as though my earlier topics of translation and interpretation were misunderstood. I do watch many British shows and movies and have visited countries beyond England who use British English rather than American English. Languages are not the only translation necessary for teachers/educators. Do movement artists express movement initiation in the same manner as exercise physiologists or sports medicine practitioners? The most interesting example I can give from my personal history is the physical therapist who had performed on Broadway who helped me rehab from a severe back injury. This therapist was the first medically trained professional who seemed to understand the needs of a performing artist. Science and the arts did find a way to meet and accomplish positive things.

     So the biggest question I still have is why do put bits of life into compartments and give them labels? Division is often hurtful. Integration of abilities, knowledge, and people is often positive. Humans may have a better grasp and comprehension of the arts or science but in the end people are people. Knowledge is valuable and translatable.

Sunday, November 6, 2016


     The challenge I continue to face in this program is translation from British to American. The most pronounced example of my challenge is deciphering when is a word being used as a noun or as a verb. "Process" and "Reflection" are two words which have been used as both verbs and nouns throughout this journey so far.
     During today's Skype chat, one of the participants asked to discuss hard vs. soft subjects in the UK. From this dialogue I gathered that hard subjects in the UK would be core subjects in the USA and soft subjects in the UK might be electives or even extra curricular activities in the USA.
     Through my studio teaching I have discovered the lack of generalized music courses in local elementary schools (K-5) create deficiencies in a student's ability to count music. While band and orchestra classes are offered for this age at their schools, many of the students in these classes do not gain knowledge that had previously been considered basic to general knowledge for previous generations. Counting is primary among those.
     Having taught in the secondary schools as a substitute and adjunct faculty in dance, I realized that dance and other art forms teach many concepts which are taught in STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math) curricula. Dance utilizes math, biology, anatomy/physiology, kinesiology, as well as ways to create art, relieve stress, and develop a more fit body.
     So why then are dance and other art forms considered not core or hard subjects?
     Many dance students cultivate skills learned (learnt) in debate, drama, speech, art appreciation, history, music, and politics.
     If academics have difficulty promoting the many benefits of qualitative subjects like dance which enhance and encompass quantitative subjects, then how are students to discover the difference between a word being used as a noun or as a verb to relate to an academic exercise?
     Clarity is often challenging. The most overused phrase is "say what you mean, mean what you say." Again, through cultural, nationalist, religious, and other actions impacting a person's perspective and perception, how do we make ourselves clearly understood so that others glean the true meaning of our words and actions?

     At what point does the teacher/instructor/educator distance himself/herself from a learning exercise and allow the student to fail or succeed? Are teachers/instructors/educators failing the students when personal opinions and thoughts affect a student's ability to grow in the subject being taught? For example, the stereotyped ballet teacher gives exercises that have been passed down for generations and often express views that only stick thin bodies with exceptional or forced turnout may be successful in a ballet performance career. However, as the human race changes its thought processes due to influencers such as religion, ethnic or regional race, gender, sexual orientation, and political leanings, more teachers have recognized the reality of performance careers in ballet for dancers with a fuller figure. Does the use of mirrors add to the misconception of the need for abnormal body image or do mirrors truly help as a learning tool for viewing proper body alignment? Then again, who determines proper body image? Again, religion, ethnic and regional race, gender, sexual orientation, and perhaps political leanings impact how body image differs around the world. While weight and flexibility/range of motion can impact the bones, joints, and muscles proper training can and has allowed individuals to pursue ballet careers without being anorexic stick figures.
     Is accepting a student's limitations a hindrance to that student's development? When must a teacher/instructor/educator squash a student's hopes or dreams by stating the body just will not cooperate? Or is that even acceptable in the politically correct climate of today's world?
     The challenge is finding how to communicate effectively with each student so that each learner develops at the right pace for that learner.
     This train of thought brings me back to hard vs. soft subjects. Math is seen as a hard subject. Yet 5 does equal 4 when you subtract 1. Is this philosophical and abstract or concrete? Five minus one has been proven to be four. If a dancer does five repetitions of a movement when that movement should only be done four times, then five does not equal four. The difference in the number of repetitions makes a difference in the interpretation of the movement.
     Is this also the case if Rs are not properly rolled in certain languages? Different letters require different exacting sounds. Could the same premise for exacting movement be made as a way to misinterpret or alter theme and intent? Perhaps this is why improvisation is so important in the development of the choreographic and writing processes.
     Five and four have different meanings. Pronunciation of different sounds create different words. A good example is the word read. The spoken word determines whether past or present tense is inferred. This creates a challenge for interpretation and comprehension. Different cultures and nationalities speak English in varying ways because the instructors have learned how to teach based on their academic learning process and their culture environment. The same process applies to dance. Ballet is the easiest example again for this as many teachers using the Vaganova method in the US have learned from exercises in books not from direct exposure to the method as it is taught and has been taught for a very long time in Russia. RAD (Royal Academy of Dance) and Cecchetti methods have similar adaptations based on where these methods are being taught.

     To listen and see are not the same as to hear and observe. Understanding and interpretation lead to understanding, hopefully. Dialogue and discussion bring comprehension. But is the comprehension that of the teacher, student, performer, choreographer, or audience member? As Socrates might say, "why?"

Tuesday, November 1, 2016

reflection vs. responsive continued

Reflection occurs after the experience whatever it may be. If the thought process resulting from reflection leads to adapting or altering teaching strategies is this responsive? Or is responsive teaching the immediate adaptation to learners and their challenges or situations arising during class?

This brings up a question about improvisation. Is improvisation a reflection or reaction to impetus or movement or thought? Does improvisation lead to reflection which leads to response or adaptation? Or do improvisation and reflection occur simultaneously? Is responding the same as adapting?

Is immersion improvisation, adaptive, or responsive? Does immersion always lead to reflection?

Sunday, October 30, 2016

is reflection responsive?

     Having recently viewed the movie "Inferno" starring Tom Hanks I thought about reflection vs. responsive learning. The imagery and stage direction used throughout the movie mirrored many themes from Dante's original Inferno.“See how he’s made a chest out of his shoulders; and since he wanted so to see ahead, he looks behind and walks a backward path. And see Teresias, who changed his mien when from a man he turned into a woman, as totally transforming all his limbs that then he had to strike once more upon the two entwining serpents with his wand before he had his manly plumes again” (Alighieri 181). This procrastination or self reflection brings up the many later books written in Western literature with a mirrored theme. Can anyone truly see his reflection and know whether or not he is good or evil? Do dance instructors learn what is right and wrong from their experiences as students or learn the differences between what is right for one student may be wrong for another from adapting material given to the students? 
     In an essay for a critical perspectives class I wrote," Did those souls know their wrongs and could they have seen them before falling through hell?" At what point in a teacher's career does the teacher realize when harm may be done to a student's body? The teacher must accept responsibility for doing his or her best to prevent injury to the student/novice. A teacher is the student's guide, more physical than spiritual, but sometimes perhaps both. When a teacher recognizes issues or difficulties and adapts instructional methods so the student may come to a better understanding of movement or quality might be considered responsive learning. Responsive learning should help not only the student but the instructor so that both improve from shared mutual experiences. Teachers who continue to teach the same way without consideration for a student's physical or mental limitations may be harming that student emotionally, mentally, and physically. Mental and emotional harm are different but that is a discussion for another day.
     So back to the theme of this post. Santayana wrote, “Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it”(Santayana). Is reflection a form of responsive learning? Does reflection only aid the individual reflecting or remembering or does the reflection enhance the way others respond to material being given in a new or different manner as a result of the initial reflection? Do athletes and dancers train differently now than they did as recently as one year ago? Do instructors accept that dance will always be taught the exact same way or do instructors/teachers/educators learn to adapt and respond to new methodology that may enhance traditional teaching strategies? Dance and faith or religious beliefs are not equivocal yet many observers might say dance students training for a professional career in dance are fanatical in their pursuit. Mistakes occur. Improvements need to be made. So it is the responsibility of the dance instructor/teacher/educator to ensure dance is not seen as something to be worshiped but as something to be appreciated even relished.
     For me reflection leads to interpretation and response through adaptation.  But, anyone can respond without reflection. So is reflection necessary to adequately respond?

Alighieri, Dante. The Divine Comedy of Dante Alighieri, Inferno. Trans. Allen  Mandelbaum. 181. New York: Bantam Dell a Division of Random House, 2004.

Santayana, George. The Life of Reason. Ed. Brian and Richard Janda Joseph. Vol. One. BiblioLife, 2008.

Monday, October 17, 2016


As I weave through Module 1 I find the ever present need to continue adapting to many things. Like "improvisation" the word "process" can be a noun and it can be a verb. The ability to adapt to the different ways each is used is frustrating. Perhaps this anxiety comes from the need to constantly remain fluid in everything we as adults do in life-work, family, and education among others.

As is a constant reminder in America during the current election cycle, the way in which a person speaks or writes makes a difference in how others accept and disseminate information received.

The constant struggle or challenge is to remember when to flip our switch from instructor/educator or friend/confidante to friend or even to student. Many of us remember to change which hat we wear when we enter and leave the dance studio but do we always remember which hat we wear at other times?

Do we actually switch hats when we teach? I believe we do. When teaching technique class we become learners as we acknowledge our students' efforts at accomplishing steps and phrases given to them. Do the students progress more quickly if the instructor only gives directions for the mechanics of a step or combination or does adding background information and motivation help the students? For me this answer is simply that the resulting answer depends on each and every student and his or her background and desire to progress. The mental and physical well being of the students impacts their ability to comprehend and retain information/instructions provided.

Instructors may plan each class but I have found that classes rarely stay on course. No matter the variables which affect the changing flow of class the teacher adapts. It is interesting that instructors  give the name "improvisation" to such a fluid, spontaneous act when done by the student. When the teacher/instructor/educator gracefully reacts to variables in a classroom the concept is given the term"adaptability".

Do we reflect enough on how and why we modify our actions? Should an instructor rigidly avoid change in plans for class? Does that accomplish anything? Does adapting help everyone?

Wednesday, October 5, 2016

perspective, translation, and communication

As someone who speaks and writes American English, I find the need to translate the written and spoken "English" word when communicating with others in this course. Having written this sentence I hope not to offend anyone is it seems to be my mantra for this course of study.

Before entering this MA program I felt self assured that I was more than proficient in the English language. I watch plenty of BBC and have helped English instructors in other countries assist their students with understanding how to write papers in English. Unfortunately that was/is a very self centered reflection of my own abilities.

This became more apparent through the 5pm Skype call on 2 October 2016. What one thing may mean to me may not be what that same word, concept, or phrase might mean to another person. This difference of understanding and opinions can be attributed to how I identify myself. I am who I am based on my ethnic race, gender, sexual orientation, religious affiliation, political views, education, and comprehension of others.

So while I may have explicit understanding of concepts my views of true may not be those of others. The challenge in offering my perspective to others is that I do not wish to be perceived as high handed or off putting. Globally many peoples in countries are experiencing a backlash of civil rights and political alignments within governments nationally and internationally. Are these returns to thoughts of inequality a form of bullying or suppressed groups offering their opinions and thoughts through force and often violence?

This global perspective or look at varying perceptions of events can be used as an larger example of how we as instructors and educators look at the microscopic world of our dance studios/classrooms. As instructors our job description is to teach dance. Does this mean we only teach the mechanics of how to do movement, or do as discussed in my blog from last week on innovation and what is not a repetition of building the wheel, we as educate our students to understand the history of the dance form(s) we teach? History of each technique and how other techniques impact the progression or development of a specific technique does impact the technique we teach. Ballet was more than court dance and social dance but it is still part of those cultures. It was and is affected by world politics and the need for power (social as well as financial).

Modern dance (now sometimes referred to as contemporary dance-a misnomer I loathe) is also a form of dance based of folkloric, ethnic, and political issues and protests. This last statement is an over simplification an educator may use to pigeon hole the concept of modern dance to non dancers. Modern is current. Contemporary means your peers but may also mean current. So the multiple definitions given in encyclopedias (yes I am old enough I prefer a book not online editions) give people the ability to choose how the words contemporary and modern may be used. The choice of how to use each word as a descriptor or a noun is made by the person using that word. The audience/student does not know why the teacher/instructor/educator uses the modern vs. contemporary. The student must respond to the teacher based on the teacher's interpretation of the words modern or contemporary. A similar comparison may be made for ballet when discussing the differences between classical, neoclassical, or contemporary ballet or when comparing rhythm tap to Broadway tap. Do classical, neoclassical, and contemporary mean the same thing to ballet dancers that these words mean to art historians? Rhythm tap is part of Broadway tap, yet it is considered a different entity.

So again, how do we as teachers and educators allow our students to know the historical and technical foundation of dance techniques we teach without imposing our own viewpoints on our students?

This was a theme which ran rampant in the Sunday afternoon discussion about interviewing people for projects within this course. As students we choose the topics we wish to research and develop. The journey through that process includes being open to learning how the people we choose to interview think and reflect or not on the topics we choose to question and discuss. Again, we must be open to new ideas and concepts. Is this not the bane of my dislike for improvisation? Yes. But it is a principle basic to improvisation even in the form of free writing and journaling. So if we employ this practice in our practices of dance and reflection then we must fight our urges to force movement/answers into a dance/research project with corrupted data.

This will be an exercise in self restraint for me during journey of exploration, reflection, and understanding not only my awareness and experience of the world through my life in dance but also hopefully through comprehension and understanding the world of dance as seen and lived by others.

Saturday, October 1, 2016

remaining relevant

How many ways can we as instructors and educators market ourselves to keep newer generations from realizing maturity and experience are not obsolete?

Innovation-choreography and performance vs. teaching

Merce Cunningham was considered innovative by setting movement phrases in sections that could be interchanged each night into different orders by the roll of dice. John Cage credited himself for silence as the music for one of Cunningham's dances. Was Paul Taylor considered innovative or a hack when he later set a work to silence?

Choreographers who set movement to spoken word were once hailed as creative. Innovation then meant film or slides were used during a dance, perhaps even marrying the work onstage with video footage or animated work on a screen. Pole dancing was never elevated to serious dance until the acrobatic marriage of scarves, ropes, trampolines and other circus props were woven into the stories told in movement by Cirque du Soleil. But then again Fred Astaire was deemed a genius for using many different props such as newspaper or fireworks to accompany or enhance the sounds and rhythms of his footwork. Tap dancing on roller skates was a novelty. Now Cirque du Soleil and shows such as Starlight Express exploit the use of roller skates or roller blades. These ideas are not new but may not have been seen by younger generations.

So how do we be innovative in teaching dance? To teach dance forms such as ballet or tap dance require basic, fundamental understanding of movement skills/language. Repetition and immersion are the most often used forms of teaching dance. Do students truly understand how and why steps are done certain ways? Are teachers doing students a disservice by not explaining in detail the why, how, and meaning of movement? Are mirrors necessary? Does music enhance or take away from the learning process? How do we as teachers make class invigorating and exciting every time for both the students and ourselves? Do young and mature students learn the same way or do we modify our expectations based on assumptions? Should this remain the same or change?

But back to the question of innovation in teaching dance. Using flashcards and white boards to learn vocabulary in only useful when students find it interesting. Would integrating video excerpts of Angelina Ballerina during a class for young students be acceptable or considered a waste of time by the parents? Seemingly this might actually make the steps or exercises more relevant to the youth even for those students who do not train in the RAD syllabus.

Does using models for artists with moving parts to demonstrate basic positions or mechanics of leaps and turns mean the instructor is lazy or innovative. Perception plays a role in how we see creativity and innovation as being new or enhancing something from the past. The wheel has been created. How many ways can a knee bend be made exciting?

Thursday, September 29, 2016


What is innovation? When does technique no longer become the foundation for dance or art? Artists push boundaries all the time and have done so for centuries. With the invent of shows/companies such as Cirque du Soleil, mainstream audiences now crave dance performances that involve more than technique, costumes, and scenery. Is the post modern movement having a resurgence or are millenials trying to marry the internet and social media with movement, sculpture, or poetry recitation?

Perhaps returning to pure technique might be innovation. I am unsure. But I wonder if the push by festivals and shows such as Cirque du Soleil have begun taking away the beauty of movement in its simplicity. Is a return to simplistic work classicism or is it innovative? Even fashion returns to classic looks every few years to remind and refresh awareness of origins of fashion. Should this be done in dance or are studio owners who now feel booty shorts are not enough coverage for young dancers leading the charge to make dance and costumes more age appropriate?

But is this innovation or conservatism? How do we as teachers and choreographers emphasize foundation in dance without alienating students who turn to dance because of things like aerial work with scarves or dancing with/on poles? Even rhythmic gymnasts must put down their balls, hoops, and other apparatus to execute basic movement.

This week long challenge of technology seems to have me longing for simpler times and cleaner movement.

Wednesday, September 21, 2016

integrating technology with teaching

There was a time when using a sound system to teach dance in a studio was easy to do. The studio/school provided a phonograph, tape deck, CD player, or minidisc player. Instructors brought their own music to use in the systems provided by their employers.

I reluctantly added iPod capability to the fixed sound system in our school in 2009. My hesitancy to upgrade technology proved to create challenges for my instructors. However, our staff now seems to rely on older technology such as portable sound systems now that we operate out of community halls to more easily access the community.

I thought I was being progressive by using a singular Bluetooth speaker with an Ipad so that I would personally be able to utilize my own music library stored on the iPhone and Ipad. Pairing a sound speaker to the phone and tablet proved easy and made teaching at multiple locations much easier.

The Bose SoundLink, however, proved too heavy and bulky to transport everywhere so we decided to begin using a UEroll at our main location. The shape of the speaker was much more recognizable and conducive to carry-on luggage screening. Yet the first generation did not provide enough sound for some of the albums stored in my music library.

So I purchased a UEroll2 to pair with the first UEroll. Instruction booklets are no longer provided, which bothers me as I want something I can read and hold, not something electronic. The information provided on the app was less than helpful. After twenty minutes I was able to pair the two speakers on Monday night. The speakers did not immediately pair up again (as inferred would happen by instructions on the app) when I tried to use them on Tuesday. I only used fifteen minutes to pair the speakers on Tuesday. I fist pumped the air at my minor victory and thought I can handle some of this technological improvement only to realize I use speakers that might be considered yesterday's inventions.

Is learning to pair Bluetooth speakers an example of multidisciplinary work as the instructor becomes the accompanist once the speakers and music device are used? Does this simplify what I was taught so many years ago about using video, slides, or other electronic devices to facilitate teaching or performance? If the technology used improves the learning experience, then are we not using multidisciplinary tools in our teaching? Or is this the starting point for future instructors?

Something to think about. My frustration during this process reminded me to think about how I can be more clear when explaining an exercise or phrase of choreography.

Monday, September 19, 2016