The topic of my research focus is how dance affects the brain in two populations. The first is the mature or geriatric adult facing dementia challenges hoping to stall or halt deterioration of the brain and cognitive skills. The second group is more personal to those of us in the MAPP program; it focuses on whether careers in dance have stimulated the brain in ways to make returning to academic studies as adult learners gives the professional dancer an advantage mentally and emotionally to face the challenges presented in college.
I have personally seen members within both group exhibit similar anxieties and struggle with bouts of depression. I have also seen members of both groups grow in mental and emotional confidence from their new adventures either entering/re-entering dance and movement or exiting full time careers in dance.
Both groups have a different perspective on dance. For one movement is a new beginning while the second group sees movement as a loss of ability or career change. Dance impacts both groups even though the perspective of stimulating the brain is a focus within both groups.
These thoughts bring me to the 5pm (GMT) Skype discussion held on Sunday 3 December 2017. Tradition was mentioned as the foundation or roots of dance, all dance. My question is do all forms of dance have the same tradition or background? Does dance serve as a way to teach life skills as stated in past discussions where classmates have said teachers are responsible for the social and moral well being of developing dancers as human beings? Is this true in all forms of dance? Does this influence why healthcare providers suggest dance as movement therapy to guide patients to a focused manner of living?Or are we as teachers simply mimicking our teachers who as Nike has expressed,"just do it" and many people's mother's have said, "because I say so."
These thoughts bring me to the questions regarding teaching different ability levels within a single class. Students are individuals not Cybermen from Doctor Who. Not all men (and women) are created physically and mentally equal. Still all persons should be able to attempt to learn and grow in dance whether it is for fun, to achieve a professional career, or to exercise and combat the onset of dementia and the deterioration of physical agility and abilities.
Teachers can not be all things to all people yet we are expected by many to do/be just that. Teachers can assess the level of students in technique class. Teachers can adapt movement and concepts of how to move to assist the individual students when the teachers view a classroom/studio as a group of individuals who all have something to contribute. Otherwise the teacher may be considered nothing more than a utilitarian dictator weening out the weak, thinning the herd. This example may seem a bit extreme to many of us but is it a perspective the less trained, differing gender, ethnically diverse, or young/mature student population may have in their mind?
Ballet is not just for skinny white people. Modern/contemporary is not just for free thinking feminists or eccentric men. Jazz dance is more than tricks and being vulgar, explicit or implied. Ethnic forms of dance may categorized as such by people assuming to be dance professionals or aficionados.
One such example of perspective where classical and traditional do not meet the expectations of western dance is classical Indian dance which is clearly not the same as classical ballet. It is classical because of the traditions and foundation built within the technique. Staying on the theme of Indian dance, pow wow dance for First Nations people of the Americas is not classical as it often uses more flash and tricks than typical round dancing or circle dancing as those forms are used to communicate and celebrate or mourn community history. Hula dancing is more than moving the hips. Hula dancing communicates and tells a story. It can be a celebration but many people may not see the technique required to perform hula dancing or classical Indian dance. Does traditional dance by First Nations people have technique? Is it similar to ballet or modern techniques such as Graham, Horton, Limon , or Hawkins? The simple answer is no. But it is both traditional and technical.
Can all of these dance forms communicate and tell stories? Yes but they do not have to. Dance can simply be an expression of joy or anger or for no reason or emotion whatsoever. Perhaps if we as teachers use some of these thoughts when teaching, not giving, class our students might find reasons beyond achieving technical proficiency to remain in class. Dance is competitive. The main competition is with oneself as a dancer to grow physically and mentally. Understanding, comprehension, and adaptation are mental skills learned through movement. Do these skills readily translate to life skills? Yes but many of our students do not recognize this fact. Many dance teachers forget that dance is more than doing steps. Do we teach our students to be morally sound adults? Perhaps. Is this through learning respect for one's own body and the bodies of others and their need for personal space or because we teach beliefs of religion, politics, and other adult centered thought processes? I think it is because I teach respect for the body, mind, and soul. The other concepts are up to the individual student to explore and develop his or her own understanding of beliefs of those concepts.
So I go back to how we teach differing ability levels within one technique class. I hope to encourage each student to explore and write his or her own story through their movement process and progress. Watching others execute different steps is a learning experience for each student. People will always continue to use sounds when they speak or signs when they sign. Without realizing this immersive process it is something we do every day. Do I say the alphabet every day before speaking with others? Not usually when I speak English . Yet I do find myself reviewing the alphabet when in Europe or Indian country and having to speak in a language secondary to my everyday nature. So more advanced dancers and students should always continue to perfect movement basics and less advanced students need to see the work necessary for advancing technical prowess. The challenge is to remind the student the competitive nature is not with each other but with himself/herself.
Perhaps as a dancer returning to academic studies I have more empathy for the student in my classroom. I experience fear of being wrong. But making mistakes is a fundamental part of learning how to be right or find a better solution.