TEACHING PHILOSOPHY

ON FOSTERING KNOWLEDGE

The dance classroom is a laboratory for learning to feel at home in our bodies. It is a space that I enter humbly, remaining open and aware, wherein knowledge is shared, forgotten, developed, and exchanged. I facilitate this shared space with compassion for the unique histories that live in each individual, and with the hope that we might come to build new histories together.

I assume my responsibilities as a teacher from a place of curiosity, guidance, and support, acknowledging the strong roots of my dance heritage as well as my various social locations, so that my students are aware of the cultural influences that inform my pedagogy. Following Freire, hooks and McCarthy Brown’s teachings, I am committed to identifying myself in these ways because I approach movement as both a means of expression and a transmitter of culture rather than a practice of molding students into ways that they may not fit, nor wish to fit.

Training in dance nurtures our synapses, muscles, and bones to broaden the vocabulary from which we can tell our own embodied stories. We investigate our attitudes towards technique, virtuosity, and meaning against other sources of information: peer feedback, discussion, and readings that dislocate us from our assumptions and expectations. From introspection, we turn outward to exchange and inspire our instincts. We submit our habits to the space to rediscover them through new lenses, thereby assuming a panoramic, collaborative scope for learning. 

I lead with questions and with invitations: What is technique? How do we perceive choreography through the lenses of gender and sexuality? How might our ancestors be present in our bodies? While I offer students my own professional expertise, I strive to select materials, lead discussions, and interact with students in ways that recognize and honor a diversity of perspectives. I prioritize multi-modal approaches to classroom materials styles by presenting readings, videos viewings, writing exercises, physical activities, online material/activities, lectures, and discussions. In doing so, my goal is to guide students to curate a self-practice that serves their individual goals, that cultivates their ability to see through new and varied perspectives, and that enables critical interpretations of work – both theirs and others’. In posing questions that allow space for a range of responses, I encourage students to develop a dialogue among themselves that is a practice of listening, distributing authority, and co-creating knowledge. Together, we draw on the wealth of personal experiences that each of us holds, and cultivate deeper ways of thinking. 

As an educator, I aim to facilitate a maturation of curiosity: the ability to engage with a range of materials, a practice of self-observation, and an awareness of and responsibility to one’s healthy body, mind, and spirit. In practice, I open space for each individual to follow their own impulses, using my curricula as fuel to deepen their personal relationships to movement and, ultimately, the world. I also acknowledge that the “dancer” is not the sole proprietor of movement inscription, meditation, and virtuosity. The critical-thinking skills and awareness of the world developed through the study of dance (as a means of communication, culture, catharsis) is practical—not only in a student’s chosen field, but also in their daily lives. To enliven this point, I keep curricular goals clear yet flexible, while emphasizing foundational concepts in a way that can be applicable to a range of pursuits. 

We enter the classroom each day to elevate each other’s strengths, work, and passions so that we all depart the semester with a clearer understanding of ourselves as artists, thinkers, creators, and citizens. My work, as a teacher, is to create a framework, process, and space where this development—personal andartistic—is possible; in which every student can see themselves and their work as valuable. 

ON CONTEMPORARY TECHNIQUE

I approach contemporary technique through an exploration of skeletal function and joint mobility, muscular efficiency, and sensory stimuli. Employing approaches from Klein/Mahler technique, Vickie Blaine and Bebe Miller’s perspectives on weight, and Skinner Release Technique, I utilize somatic exploration and improvisational exercises to bring awareness to physical states, emphasizing function, sensation, and responsiveness. We often consult the skeleton to better understand our bodies’ architecture: the bones as building blocks to connectivity and strength. Floorwork employs Bartenieff fundamentals and moves in and out of standing, integrating the student’s understanding of groundedness and verticality. Similarly, standing exercises move in and out of the floor, shifting values around horizontality. I value a dynamically aligned body, one whose bony scaffolding bestows attributes of power and range. Class explores fundamental qualities of weight – strength, lightness, drive, and resiliency. We draw from Humphrey, Limón, and Cunningham techniques to relate our contemporary work to that of our predecessors, and to encourage a fundamental organization of the body that is beneficial to various styles of movement. Concepts of swing, fall and release, on and off balance, and momentum encourage risk and promote full-bodied exploration. 

ON IMPROVISATION AND COMPOSITION

I believe in improvisation as a means to open one’s self to the unknown, to prepare ourselves to live in unpredictable environments, to recognize options as they exist around us, and to help us imagine possible futures. Through solo, partnered, and group explorations, we work to train perception and responsiveness, both as a source for discovery of movement and choreographic structures, and as a performance form. We explore self and other, mind and body, impulse and decision, habit and tendency, and memory and presence. We come to understand improvisation in historical, sociopolitical, and artistic contexts. 

Improvisational thinking is at the core of my teaching of composition: I seek not to insist on any aesthetic agenda, but to create a space in which students feel a freedom to risk. I believe in composing dances as a constant engagement with (com)posing questions. We work to find movement languages that directly correlate to choreographic intent. In this way, we work toward meaning, not from meaning, so that physical content supports concept. We avoid good/bad and right/wrong paradigms, instead focusing on whatand how the choreography is. Ultimately, we consider the repercussions of context on our art. In the contemporary world, as the boundaries among the arts become increasingly permeable, I recognize the methodological importance of multidisciplinary work to facilitate our critical understanding of the arts. In every class, we cross-reference our physical work against other fields of knowledge.