Monday, December 4, 2017


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.


  1. How do you define technique? I definitely think hula, for instance, has technique of its own, but perhaps the disagreement might come in how we're defining it.

    I love the idea of writing one's story throughout their training. I did a version of that with a young student last year that was very successful. We took a short video of her at the beginning of the year, and then I kept my lesson plans from our first classes. At the end of the year, we revideotaped and I showed her the differences in lesson plans, and she was really pleased (as was I) at her progress over the year.

  2. Definition of technique is much like the perception of what may be classical or traditional. The definition or expectation is based on the viewpoint of a specific individual and may change quite a bit when someone else attempts to interpret what is being said or executed. Is this not the question Parimala was trying to ask in regards to enabling the audience to comprehend what her works encompasses and is meant to convey?

    With my younger students I often relate barre work to letters and words or numbers and addition/subtraction which leads to sentences and multiplication/division in short combinations center floor. Combinations and dances for performance become stories and complex math story problems.

    My mature students try to focus on their individual accomplishments as the school year progresses. However, this is difficult because they sometimes forget to think about their abilities when they started and we do not stop or have seasonal sessions. Most of the youth at my studio and the adults take class year round stopping only for weather emergencies such as severe heat(poor air conditioning in the building) and blizzards or ice storms.

  3. Hi, I really liked the paragraph, where you asked, if we teach our students to be morally sound adults. I've been in a discussion very recently, where we have talked about just that: how far do our teaching responsibilities go beyond teaching just steps, where are the boundaries? There is this huge grey area between just encouraging physical training and trying to transmit a whole belief system (that might not fit every body). In the am Skype discussion, we have also talked about discipline. I have thought a lot about the definition of a disciplined class setting. The phrase you wrote on learning respect for one's own body and the bodies of others and their need for personal space really resonated with me. And I think that is a big part of discipline, that there is an atmosphere of mutual respect and trust in class, where every body is allowed to grow and gives also the others the space they need to grow and learn. So, thank you for sharing!

    1. Agata,

      Awareness of one's body should assist with developing belief system. I believe the responsibility to develop morally sound human beings stands on the shoulders of the families of the students. Respect and acceptance happens within dance class.

      The challenging use of words by others in MAPP for me have been the words authoritarian and discipline. I feel authoritarian should be replaced with respect or perhaps trust and that structure may be the word many of us should use instead of discipline. The word discipline conveys an image of spanking of something from the movie "50 Shades of Grey." Over the course of my teaching career one of the biggest challenges has been adapting to the belief of parents that discipline is something best taught or not at home and is not the place of an instructor. Do order and structure occur without what many dance teachers consider discipline? I think this is why the ability to best convey thoughts to others is so important for teachers, choreographers, and performers. Communication whether through voice or movement is broadly open to interpretation based on perspective and perception. Translation is not as easy as using Google+.