Dance is for everyone. No matter your skill level, age, or physical limitations; dance is for everyone. Dance is our most primal form of communication and connects us to thousands of years of history and cultures around the world. It evokes freedom not only in movement but in the mind and also provides an emotional release. It’s a freedom that everyone should have the opportunity to experience. As a dance educator, it is my goal to assist my students in seeking out those freedoms grounded in strong technique and a solid sense of personal movement style and artistic expression.
The all too often extreme aggressiveness of dance teachers and choreographers towards their dancers is what drew me to teaching in the beginning. While many will claim that this is the nature of dance training I feel that this thinking is archaic and not grounded in sound pedagogical theory. Students shouldn’t be treated as empty vessels to be filled but should have their experience, culture, traditions, language, and the many other traits that make up the individual collective of any given class taken into account in the studio. Classes must engage dancers in thinking critically and dialoguing about their experiences to create a level of interest and investment on the part of the student.
My first goal in every class is to make sure that all students understand that the studio is a place to experiment and make mistakes. It is a place to fail and a place to try, but most importantly it is a place where no judgment exists. We are all there for our love of dance and desire to grow together as artists and technicians. I try and evoke a sense of shared authority by not hiding my humanity and flaws from my students but by letting them see my mistakes. I believe I must humble myself in front of my students if I expect that same sort of humbleness and vulnerability from them. Students of dance can’t be expected to let go of inhibitions and begin to find emotional release if the environment and social structure of the class don’t support such an aim. While we are individuals with multiple goals, varying technique and physicality levels, and different desires as artists, we are all thirsty to maximize technicality and to express our innermost selves as efficiently and clearly as possible.
I base my pedagogical style on the midway model, created by Smith-Autard (Smith-Autard, J., 2002. The Art of Dance in Education. New York, NY: Bloomsbury Publishing Plc). It is a system that emphasizes process and product together instead of just the product, or performance, emphasized by many traditional dance schools and conservatories. I want my dancers to feel satisfaction in their technical attainment but to also appreciate the time, focus, and hard work that it takes to achieve. I believe by skipping this step we’re giving in to the ever-pervasive culture of “right now” and instant gratification. If a student’s experience in dance is challenging and leads to both physical and artistic fulfillment, it has the power to create a life-long love and appreciation for, not only dance but for all arts. A love that is, hopefully, shared with others and passed down to the generations that follow. Such creative explorations can also lead to the opening of the imagination and the ability to see one’s reality in a new and interesting way. Being able to re-think one’s immediate relationship to the world increases the ability to adapt and problem solve; two skills that are useful well past the end of one’s dance career.
As a dance educator, I believe that it is important to emphasize personal discovery and advancement over all else. This is the only way to walk out of the studio with a sense of accomplishment and belonging in the art. It is my job to act as a guide; to assist students on their journey through the world of dance and to help them attain their personal goals. It is my goal to constantly challenge my students to seek new endeavors that push them as technicians and artists.