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.


  1. "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?"

    Are we seeking to be objective teachers? I am not sure if teaching is possible without offering some imposition of our own viewpoint.

    Reflecting back on my own experience as a student, some of my most engaged learning took place by teachers who were very forthright in their positions. In this way, I felt I accessed a person and a perspective, not just 'information' or material. Is an important aspect of knowledge not it's humanity? (Can we say that?) These scenarios also created a clear opportunity for me to assert my own position, almost demanding it of me really. This, I feel was positive.

    My question as a teacher: How do we give value to our own histories in the classroom, and leave space for the developing experiences and perspectives of our students (and in doing so give value to theirs)?

    1. If we choose only to give steps, then we are not teaching. Most students arrive at specific studios and schools based on information they have been given by others or researched prior to enrolling in classes; therefore, those students and their families have some background information on the history of the studio owners/program director and the staff/faculty. So we are unable to truly give an unbiased class, perhaps. As to what the student brings to the classroom, is that as relevant for students as it might be for performers in a company or instructors in a faculty setting. Yes and no. An instructor needs to be aware of individual students but most try to maintain a neutral position when critiquing a student's work. This makes dance a subjective course than means not all students may be graded equally in an academic setting.

      If one student has naturally slender body and arched feet, an instructor may assume that student would be a good ballet student. Unfortunately heavy set pupils may be have more flexibility and natural rhythm giving them an advantage to better execute steps. So humanity in its physicality plays a very important role in how a student develops in his or her training. Overcoming stereotypes based on history or perceived ideals might be what allows a student to study/train with an instructor who can coach and encourage more than someone who had a career dancing and has never taught.

      Students (children) used to be seen and not heard. While I realize that students should have some say in their development, those students who feel they know more than the instructor should find another school that better fits their demeanor and needs. This is not to say that particular student has nothing to learn from an instructor only that another facility may better develop that student's strengths.

      No one instructor can be all things to all students. The challenge is not whether or not an instructor's history/CV influences the teaching but how the student adapts that teaching to his or her own past and present to forge his or her future.

      Realistically a ballet instructor teaching plie to three year olds and senior citizens is less likely to explain the importance of breath in such a simple exercise as that same instructor might do when coaching a more advanced student through a variation. But is this is because the instructor does not give value to the students and his or her perspective or because there must be a starting place?

      This could be a which came first discussion, the chicken or the egg or the student or the teacher? Most teachers continue learning through the process of instruction and how to adapt assignments to the students. So yes, the student's perspective influences the instructor. Whether or not the instructor allows that influence to change how the instructor teaches is up to the instructor and his or her willingness to learn and grow as well as whether or not the affect could make a difference in the material being taught.