Saturday, October 1, 2016

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?

7 comments:

  1. Interesting post for me this raises a question about the place dance history has in a technique. Arthur Mitchel used talk to us about the 'family' we can from to know our dance legacy He taught us and Balanchine taught him, and Diaghilev influenced him and so we had to know our own personal dance history at least to understand what the technique was we were doing and performing.

    But there is a difference between what we teach and who we teach I think some of your post is also about how we teach. I use project sometimes in my ballet classes. But I also think there is a big place for passion here and the 'want' to share, that means the teacher then can use anything or nothing and still connect with the student.

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    1. I try to always utilize historical relevance of dance in its history and its correlation to events throughout world history so our students learn more about where the dance style/technique they are studying fits into who, what, and where they are now.

      What we teach and how teach are determined by what we learned and observed as students. The challenge is whether or not as instructors/educators we continue to teach in the same manner or incorporate our own thoughts, interpretations, and societal influences on how and why we teach.

      As for whom we teach, studio owners get what walks through the doors. I will speak more to that in my next post as it relates to week 2. My question still is what is considered innovative in teaching if most everything has been done. Eurythmy and Nia use breath to teach movement and phrasing, both of which are claimed to be therapeutic. This thought process brings me back to a conversation in the summer workshop about whether Pilates, Yoga, or other rehabilitative forms of movement exercise were new or just putting new interpretations on age old physical exercises with explanations and deeper understanding for the patient/student. Many forms of modern dance technique rely on breath; therefore, Nia and Eurhythmy would not be considered novel or did those forms predate forms like Humphrey Weidman? So history is important but do we as teachers merge that so our students do not feel bored?

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  2. Really interesting thoughts Davis on the relevance of the roots of dance in some ways to current day teaching and learning. I don't know if you've come across a paper by Dr Lesley Main 'The Pedagogic Significance of Modern Dance Training on the Twenty-First-Century Dancing Body, with Reference to Doris Humphrey's Dance Technique and Movement Philosophy'?? Thought it may be of interest in relation to some of the points you offer in your post if not...

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    1. Thank you for the article information. I will try to read that soon.

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  3. Hi Davis, this was really interesting thank you! This week have reflected so much on my practice and what a dance practioner is, what are my values and what do I strive for? Teaching all levels it is so easy to get into a rut, how many versions of a plié exercise can I come up with after 30 years of teaching? Teaching my university students this morning was surprising, as I thought an exercise I gave them was boring, yet one of them commented how beautiful it was. Maybe confirmation that I assumed incorrectly, and I need to "read" my students better. Maybe I´m demanding too much of myself, or am I the one that is persuming I need to make the class more exciting. I think the "pressure" of not teaching a "cool" subject is starting to take it´s toll! Samantha

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  4. Hi Davis, this was really interesting thank you! This week have reflected so much on my practice and what a dance practioner is, what are my values and what do I strive for? Teaching all levels it is so easy to get into a rut, how many versions of a plié exercise can I come up with after 30 years of teaching? Teaching my university students this morning was surprising, as I thought an exercise I gave them was boring, yet one of them commented how beautiful it was. Maybe confirmation that I assumed incorrectly, and I need to "read" my students better. Maybe I´m demanding too much of myself, or am I the one that is persuming I need to make the class more exciting. I think the "pressure" of not teaching a "cool" subject is starting to take it´s toll! Samantha

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    1. Samantha,
      We find dance to be "cool" or we would not teach dance. I am often finding myself wanting to throw sharp objects at parents who ask why I don't bubble and shout to the rooftops that I love dance. I feel the people who have to constantly tell everyone how much dance means to them are often the individuals who are trying to make themselves believe that. Having said that, dance is what I do, choreography, perform, and teach. Dance is not the sum of my whole. Dance is not the sum or whole of our students and that is what makes teaching a challenge that we must continually strive to keep interesting for ourselves and our students.

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