As a teacher I am deeply invested in the creative process, in leading students towards surprising themselves when generating something new. Since creativity is innately personal, my teaching method is based in individual mentoring. Class exercises in which students are engaged in teaching one another are very useful in developing trust, confidence, and joy in the process. Teaching movement phrases to each another, and then reworking or ‘wrecking’ that material teaches us to let go – not everything we make is precious – cut it, change it, invert it… p l a y! Hands-on somatic partnering allows students to experience living anatomy through touch. Discussions in my classes can take the form of a pair of students giving individual feedback to one another or group discussions that elucidate assigned readings. I consider all these examples as forms of pedagogy. Teaching allows us to take responsibility for the material and take ownership –hopefully remembering it for life.
The spirit of collaboration is the organizing principle of my work as educator, choreographer, filmmaker and dancer. When constructing a choreographic work I begin with a collaborative process that draws upon the creative potential and technical ability of students at all levels. Improvisation is an essential part of this process precisely because it is egalitarian. I use improvisation in my classes as a strategy for students to discover and develop their personal movement vocabulary. We all move differently and for different reasons. When engaging with another dancer, each is free to lead or follow and this spontaneous decision-making process physically and mentally challenges students. As bodies connect through weight sharing, the group thrives collectively through interdependence. Through this dialogue the possibilities are limitless and dancing can take shape from an authentic voice.
In addition to giving lectures and teaching practical skills, my focus as an educator, is in encouraging students towards paths of awareness and problem solving. This is particularly useful in teaching technology-based classes like Video Dance where problem solving through sharing the latest plug-ins for editing software can keep us all up to date with the latest advances. I create a classroom atmosphere where everyone feels invested and contributes because they want to not because they feel they have to for a grade. I’ve also come to trust the element of chance, both as a method of problem solving and as creative opportunity. An accidental occurrence or unprompted interaction often yields unusual and exciting results. These so called mistakes are actually opportunities to question our work, to see our work from a different perspective – a narrower lens that leads us to consider new possibilities.
We need to honor and understand our traditions so that we may incorporate them, shatter them, transcend them. For this reason I like to begin the academic year by teaching the Martha Graham dance technique – a rigorous, richly philosophical, and visceral technique that encompasses the fundamentals of modern dance. This codified movement language gives students of all levels a foundation for their technical training that in subsequent contemporary dance adjuncts we can begin to dismantle, deconstruct and reinvent.
When guiding a dancer’s artistic development over 4 years, coordinating physical, cognitive, and emotional components is key. Dancing in its simplest form is coordination, which thrives on principles of duality and opposition; coordinating upper-and-lower body halves, coordinating polyrhythmic movement phrases, coordinating lightness with weight, coordinating mind with body. My aim is to teach dance from both a theoretical and technical perspective so as to integrate the body and mind and find balance. Most students first interact with the Theatre and Dance department through dance technique adjuncts – they want to dance. Dance for them is mostly a physical or athletic endeavor – they are young and have energy! My role is to convince them that the intellect is every bit a part of dancing as the body itself. Repetition alone does not make a strong dancer – a good dancer uses intentionally cultivated neural skill. My aim is to teach dance in ways that give the student a blueprint towards discovering their individuality and potential.
A unique type of learning happens when doing: as in life, our keenest learning experiences are found in direct experience. Understanding the complexities of gravity, utilizing the risks of suspension and falling, experimenting with musicality, all serve as vehicles for discovering artistry. Mastering movement principles and infusing them with intent begins the process of transformation – from student to dancer and dancer to artist. Performing culminates the creative process in dance. While process is paramount, at some point the work must be realized - whether in a classroom showing to peers, or on stage in front of a scrutinizing audience. Seeing a creative idea through to its end demands commitment, problem solving, and courage – skills acquired through experiential learning. Performing creates a heightened physical experience and teaches students about interdependence, organization, responsibility, and energy through the exhilarating exchange of energy between audience and performer. The pressures of performing are transformative.
Creativity lies at the heart of my teaching because it cultivates the cross pollination of ideas central to interdisciplinary education, in particular, a liberal arts education. A creative mind is a resilient mind - creativity is a part of every great invention, every technological advance, and is central to many things our culture has come to value - an essential life lesson, which transcends any individual discipline.