Monday, December 4, 2017

perspective

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.

Sunday, November 5, 2017

Emerging from One’s Shell

Improvisation, free writing, and embracing new ideas and concepts is a huge challenge for me. So I have been attending conferences and workshops to force myself to acknowledge concepts, techniques, questions, and answers beyond the training and experience I amassed in more than thirty five years of teaching.

Frustration is what I felt in today’s Skype discussion. In last month’s Skype discussion most of us acknowledged the reality of no set wrong or right in technique. Perhaps this is/was due to changing perspectives in how we look at whether every person executes a pirouette in the same manner. Maybe not.

I wonder why some people simply refuse to acknowledge that discussions are not for receiving “how to do” answers. Is this fear of opening oneself to the idea of black and white expectations being blurred? This question relates to technique vs. choreography. My experience has been the recreational dance student prefers choreography to technique because there is a sense of freedom and fewer moments of the instructor saying ‘fix the technique.” Why? Simply because as discussed in “how to do a pirouette” our discussion group acknowledged that individuals might need to alter technical approaches to executing a single step or group of steps and phrases. If we allow our students the freedom to explore and make mistakes should we not allow ourselves the same leniency?

Few people like to be told they are doing something wrong. This brings up how safe spaces can be created. In today’s society there is most likely no safe space. No matter how politically correct and friendly or inviting a space may be, any thing can happen. People have free will. Expectations can be given to participating individuals but the individuals do not necessarily have to adhere to the guidelines and expectations set forth. Governing bodies, governments-schools-organizations, can and often do limit what, where, and when anything may be done or said online, in public, and sometimes even in one’s own home.

Technique and choreography are great examples of this. One person may be unable to execute a step or choreographic phrase as given due to limitations within that person’s mobility, physical and/or mental.

While our personal professional experience is the foundation for our study in this program are we not expected to maintain some objectivity?

So my point to this exploration of this morning’s Skype discussion is a big question. How do we as students realize the difference between narrowing our search for knowledge and expecting answers we must discover for ourselves?

Monday, October 2, 2017

framework for journey of questioning

I do not like dreaming about school work. I need my sleep.

Non-positivist research has some balance if one considers the questions initiating the investigation are the framework built from positivist results a researcher may already know or have come across as the researcher toys with his/her ideas for exploration.

Where do the ideas come from?

The challenge in yesterday's discussion was not understanding how different people may execute a pirouette the same way but that most students are taught to do a pirouette the same way and the student/professional/teacher learns how to adapt set instructions for how to do a pirouette to the idiosyncrasies of that person's body and ability which make the journey to execute a pirouette different. This is learned through trial and error. Failure creates success. If I and we as a group of students and instructors look at how to do a pirouette in this manner then have we already begun a non-positivist journey without having to expound some grandiose process proving the reality of our own non-positivist/qualitative journey from early years in our training.

Is it fair to equate quantitative with positivist and qualitative with non-positivist? With the given example of how students typically adapt to what their bodies are able to accomplish as most instructors do not give different instructions to every student, does this mean our non-positivist journey of dualism may actually be monism as both types of thought are necessary for the non-positivist journey?

Do statistics from non-positivist research and journey create positivist results even when more questions may be generated? If no additional questions are generated from a non-positivist approach does this mean the journey was positivist because that journey disproved or may not have proven any results?

I think I will count today's blog as my daily journal entry. Much about which to think. I may need a nap to recover from the dreams of heated discussions around large conference tables.

Sunday, October 1, 2017

finding balance

In today's 5pm Skype discussion I asked about positivist vs. non-positivist in relation to writing, research, and comprehension. This lead to several people talking about how some academics do or may not think arts, specifically dance, are as advanced in knowledge and execution of facts relating to real world experience and how experience gained through teaching dance may not be as useful. Did I just say the same things in different ways? Possibly and probably. That occurred in our discussion.

My question relates to empirical statistics found in quantitative/positivist and how we might use that as we proceed with what may be considered qualitative/non-positivist writing, research, and translation of the skills learned through dance and teaching dance and how those skills translate to skills learned in fields of study considered more relevant in academics. While I use a very poor loosely misguided statement to over simplify what I feel I have heard over many Skype sessions I find it was a recurring theme again today.

Helen and Adesola mentioned the need for a framework to support non-positivist questioning in its many forms. So do we take this to mean empirical facts are always necessary? My thought is most likely. However, several people went directly to several more literal interpretations of framework meaning guidelines or set requirements to execute dance or writing or research? Not really a question but it is how I felt after listening to the discussion.

The more I learn about quantitative studies, framework, foundations, and guidelines the more I look forward to reflection or philosophical inquiry about free writing, free thought, varying interpretations, and improvisational methods of movement and study. If only my improv instructor had included some of this thought process into our class thirty two years ago.

Finding a balance is the challenge I am facing. I realize I do not need to go to far afield from the topic I hope to use for research but I feel further from my actual everyday professional work and how it translates into empirical facts when having been studied and put into numbers and thoughts by others.

I do not expect harmony. Improvisational thought makes my head hurt. Last week was the first time in many years I did not feel overwhelmed when my thoughts drifted from concept to concept.

I become easily aggravated when people speak or write just to hear their own voices but I am finding that is something I may be doing in my blogs. I hate journaling. I strongly dislike improvisation. However, I am appreciating the challenges provided by asking questions and finding new interpretations and translations to things I have experienced or practiced for decades.

Right vs. wrong. Good vs. evil. Black vs. white. Moral vs. immoral. How many more examples can I bring from everyday life? Fifty shades of something to redefine varying thoughts and expectations. So how do we discuss framework and foundation in enough detail so our students, colleagues, fellow students, and advisors know our starting point. Finding the end is the journey.

One answer I discovered today is that I am correct in how much translation and interpretation play a part in this study and in our careers. No other answers today but more questions.

Sunday, September 10, 2017

accurate words

Having attended several conferences and workshops this summer on teaching I find continue to ask several questions. The only consistent answer from other attendees is very interesting. The response I keep getting to these questions is " depends on the interpretation." One presenter went so far as to reply that interpretations are determined by the local, regional, state, country specific, and often socioeconomic or religious influences on the presenter/teacher and the student/audience.

So here are a few questions to ponder as we traverse the fall.

1. How often do we use accurate words?  (remember one person's definition of a word may not be the same definition or understanding used for the same word by another person). Does the audience/class makeup affect what you say and how you say what you say?

2a. Political correctness. Does it apply to more than ethnic race? Gender? Sexual Orientation? Dance genre (studio-academia-conservatory-theater/concert dance-competition)?

2b. Is comedy an effective tool to lighten the classroom's mood? Should comedy used in bars or for adult humor be used when working with any student? Should an instructor be willing to same one thing to older students when the same phrase would never be used when working with youth? Or are my expectations of acceptable phrases based on what influences my life? And if so, should I expect others to meet the expectations I set forth for myself?

3. Assumptions. How specific are labels? Folk-which region, state, country, or religion? What does dance studio mean?

4. Urban. In which/what instance?

5. Community. Class (economic or dance grouping)? I live in a small luster of rural communities that are so packed with people one might consider the community urban.

6. Personal journeys. Dance life. Are there any hard and fast truths beyond we are born and we die? Personal opinions may be well intentioned misconceptions.

7. What is an appropriate setting to ask questions? When does questioning transition from seeking knowledge to being combative? How do we as teachers and educators maintain open dialogue for growth in learning? How do we as teachers and educators maintain objectivity even if our beliefs or methods may be challenged?

So these questions have been buzzing around in my head for about ten weeks and have raised one further question that I believe I had and asked last spring.

8. When researching how do we as students recognize when our objectivity is actually more bias or prejudice? How do we ensure our research is not influenced by preconceptions of what is research?

Not answers just more questions. Time to reflect.

Thursday, May 11, 2017

commitment and impetus for competition

Sunday was an amazing day for a very personalized Skype discussion.

I feel that commitment surfaced as a topic important not only to me but all of us in this program. Do we all share the same commitment level, students and faculty alike? Are our levels of commitment perhaps perceived as different when they may not be? How much of these possible preconceptions or misconceptions may be due to outside influencers?

The question of commitment arose from the discussion topic Becky brought to the table referencing "competitions" vs. graded exams. Do students prefer competitions to graded exams because their worth may be gauged next to the value of work done by others? Is that really any different in competitions than in graded exams?

In both instances students strive to achieve better success. Some people might infer that competitions are more subjective based on personal beliefs or expectations whereas graded exams in syllabus programs or in academia require understanding and execution of certain technical expectations to move forward tot he next level.

Are competitions any different in that judges and studio owners expect certain technique and tricks from specific age students/competitors/performers?

Why do students choose competition over graded exams in syllabus structured learning? Or do they choose syllabus over competition? What is the impetus for achieving success?

Is the motivation for both simply the competition an individual with oneself to improve his or her own execution of steps and understanding each time said steps or dances are performed? Or does the desire to be better than others create motivation for moving forward?

A student in this program responded to one of my previous blogs stating she was uncertain what to write as she did not want to appear as if she did not know what she was saying or that her comments were of no value. My response was that every thought is worth hearing if only to decide it may not be what you actually think. A discussion can not be held if dialogue does not occur.

To that end I think back on commitment. How seriously are we taken by each other in this program, students and teachers/advisors? We are all working and living daily life with many obstacles thrown in our journeys. We must be respectful of each other and help each other along the way. We may not be meant to be new best friends or more than acquaintances. However, we all have reasons for improving ourselves through this course and our careers.

So commitment is important. Then maybe the challenge for each of us is to discover what drives us competitively with ourselves and others in our fields.

Once again, I feel as if I have more questions than answers but is that not why we are in this program to question and learn? How do we effectively communicate through dialogue and support the learning experience of teachers and students alike?

Friday, May 5, 2017

perspective

So this take away from the last Skype discussion for me is that perspective and perception directly impact the interpretation, Translation, and comprehension of the target audience or classroom.

Many of us have expressed similar concerns regarding how much background information is necessary to convey to a class or audience so our intention is clear to the target group attending class or conferences.

Does this mean effective communication requires understanding of the greater dance community? Does this mean any perspective is less or more important than another? I think what we all have to say is important and the challenge we face is the realization we are all here to learn. Yes, we like to show off and let others know what we have done or what we impart to our students. But are we maintaining objectivity about the role other students/colleagues in this program bring to our further understanding and comprehension of dance, academia, and the world at large?

My blogs have focused on interpretation and translation, exploring interactive media as tools for teaching and performance, and communication among others. Accepting the differences between all people whether it is race (ethnic or nationalist specific), gender, sexual orientation, religion, or dance genre is the single most important thing to understanding our students and colleagues.

Far too many people recognize the differences between peoples and while this may be meant to improve understanding of others, this practice often creates a more divisive culture. Civil disobedience and nonviolent protest are only as effective as allowed by both the protesters and the entities being protested.

Culturally dance is used to highlight challenges faced by persons around the world as seen by specific sets of people. Choreographers and performers alike recognize the need to convey themes. Are these themes of protest different from moral and ethical lessons taught in specific dance genres, religions, or through political affiliations?

One challenge I see as I continue teaching is the drastic change in the  younger generations' constant questioning of their elders. I was on the edge of Baby Boomers who were taught "do as I say, not do as I do" and the latch key Generation X children who had learn to be self sufficient. Gone were the days of a family member welcoming children as they came home from school. Television was no longer the sole distraction from homework and time management. Video games then online chat rooms and now apps on mobile devices from smart phones to tablets divide the attention of the learner young and old alike.  Perhaps the increase of diagnosis for Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD) is due not only to better testing for such disorders. But just maybe the increase in ADHD and other illnesses and syndromes is due largely in part to the knowledge true and false disseminated online through the internet and through mobile apps.

If we as dance teachers,instructors, and educators have a challenge convincing each other that we have the same end goal as our focus for the dance genres we teach then how do we expect to effectively communicate and teach those goals to our students whom we expect/perceive to have less knowledge of dance than we do? How do we as teachers,instructors, and educators define dance?

To be able to work well together means the dance community must embrace all forms of dance and acknowledge the inherent challenges facing arts education. Is dance fine and performing arts, physical education, or a second language? When professionals in dance challenge the validity of which ballet, jazz, modern, of folk syllabus is the one true correct way to learn how can we enlighten politicians and administrative professionals in academia to pigeon hole dance into a category similar to math, language, or science?

Math can be divided into the subcategories addition, subtraction, multiplication, division, algebra, geometry, elementary analysis, calculus, and statistics. Language could be English, sign language, French, Spanish, German, Latin, Czech, Russian, or any other language that is spoken and written. Science can divided into simple categories such as physical or astronomy, chemistry, geology, metallurgy or physics and biological such as biology, botany, paleontology, physiology, and zoology or psychological sciences.

Dance can be divided into classical which for most dancers is ballet but may also include forms such as classical Indian dance. Contemporary dance includes modern, post-modern, contemporary, and lyrical. Jazz dance includes jazz, lyrical jazz, hip-hop, and musical theater. Tap dance includes rhythm tap and musical theater or Broadway tap. All of these dance forms use vocabulary and symbolism of gestures and movements as well as history. The history may or may not include evolution of dance forms from folk dances. Folk dance is often perceived as a vulgar way to group ethnically specific dance forms such as pow wow dancing of the First Nations/indigenous peoples who execute dances based on gender and region of origin and forms like belly dance. Belly dance may also be referred to as oriental dance because the genre differs based on where it is studied performed, Greece, Turkey, Egypt, Morocco, Spain, Azerbajan, Iran(Persia), Iraq, or the United Arab Emirates. Does classical Spanish belong with classical dance or in a folk category because it is often taught as a component of flamenco? Flamenco like belly dance varies based on whether it is taught in Spain or by the gypsy tribes in central and eastern Europe. Is Bollywood a division of classical Indian dance of jazz dance?

So again, I ask if these few dance genres can be broken into so many varied forms of study how do we as educators unite to impress the importance of dance as a basic fundamental subject which should be studied in primary and secondary schools? Within the United States of America the ballroom dance community feels that ballroom dance should be taught in the public schools but often does not recognize the need for performing arts genres such as ballet, jazz, and contemporary which have now become almost required training for ballroom dancers. Reality television shows such as Strictly Come Dancing and Dancing with the Stars exemplify the attempt to be inclusive of all dance genres without truly having knowledge of dance forms taught and performed.

Three different people in last month's Skype discussion held similar concerns that they struggle with how much background information must be given to the student and audience prior to discussing the topic at hand. So I finish with this question. Do I explain movement to my older students taking class for exercise as art or preventive healthcare? The classes are meant to convey both to the adult student. But not every student is able to comprehend movement and dance can be both.