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?