The conference began for me on Wednesday night at the New World School of Arts: Florida Student Sharing Dance Concert. I was excited to see so many talented students performing with sincerity, passion, and joy. As I watched them I thought of my own students in Santa Fe, NM: some advanced, some intermediate or just beginning, and some in outreach classes not sure they wanted to be there. I wondered what I might be able to bring home to all of them. I also wondered what I’d be able to share with my dance education colleagues at The National Dance Institute of New Mexico, Santa Fe High School, ArtWorks, and MoveWest. I had the feeling I was on a quest.
During the conference I went to as many sessions as possible, even catching the last 15 minutes of sessions that overlapped an ending of another. After returning to Santa Fe, I organized my notes from these sessions into a 15 page document that I shared with 17 other dance educators in New Mexico. I also met with a few colleagues one on one to discuss topics in depth. Here is a list of the sessions I eagerly attended:
- Listen To Me: A Roadmap To Empowerment
- Empowerment and Personal Agency: Choice Making, Communication, and the Hero’s Journey
- Promoting Student Visibility: An Autoethnographic Study of a High School Dance Program
- Tales and Talas: Kathak Now in Global Education
- Strong Relationships and Building the Authentic Voice: A Community Building Creative Model
- Shared Space: Destabilizing Practices for Social Change
- Embodied and Empowered: Personal Stories and Collaborative Dance-Making
- What is Your Prompt? Unleashing Choreographic Potential Through Dance Video Practice
- Teaching Dance Technique Creatively: Use Neuroscience to Develop Movement Skills
- Dance Theatre Lab: Leading a Choreographic Workshop for Adults
- Creative Process at the Intersection of Teaching and Learning: Perspectives on Engagement
- The Role of Somatic Movement in the Creative Process of Dance-Making
- Creative Problem Solving in Collective Storytelling: Embodying Themes From Personal Histories
- Creation and Performance: Somatic Realities in the Live and Virtual
- Choreographic Voice: Crafting the Sociopolitical
- Cultivating Process with Millennial Students in a Product Driven Society
- Teaching Inclusivity and Rigor: A Bates Dance Festival Model
- Laban Bartenieff Movement Analysis to Support a Creative Choreographic Process
- Creative Composition the NDI Way
- Myth and Cultural Expression as Inspiration for Creating Meaningful Original Dances
Since returning I’ve created and executed lesson plans using the hero’s journey as well as the “roadmap to empowerment” as I experienced in sessions with J. Bopp, S. Knosp, and D. McGhee. A colleague at SFHS tried out two of A. Thomashefski’s lesson plans from Cultivating Process With Millennial Students In A Product Driven Society after our discussion. I’ve also stepped up my use of Laban/Bartenieff somatic work and vocabulary in my dance technique classes at all levels after attending the ISMETA panel discussion as well as K. Monson’s Laban Bartenieff Movement Analysis to Support a Creative Choreographic Process. Using the Laban/Bartenieff lens has helped include more choice making for my students as well as increase our ability to communicate, reflect, and analyze in the same language (increasing rigor). I also had a meeting recently exploring “collaboration” and was able to contribute many ideas from the conference. By the end of the meeting, this new dance organization agreed to put together a bi-monthly movement practice exploring embodiment of various collaboration models starting in January of 2020. Through the discussion we realized the best way to understand collaboration is to physically practice it, hoping someday to mentor others in our community with what we find out.
Also in my personal reflection as I think back to the conference, I remember common questions coming up throughout the sessions, “Should a dance class or rehearsal really empower the dancer ALL the time? Some of the time? Most of the time? What are concrete ways to give a dancer agency and what does it look like in the curriculum, as well as in the human being? How often do we say our dance space is empowering or inclusive, but really we are just giving orders and moving people around to do what we’ve been taught to do by others. Where does the rigor of the work intersect with all this nice kumbaya stuff?” It was during University of Arizona graduate student S. Mandala’s talk that answers began to come to me. She is a classically trained Indian dancer and she danced her entire presentation while also holding space to clearly communicate her research, while giving thanks and blessings to those before her, the earth, and us in the room. She communicated with us verbally and nonverbally, at one point with only her eyes and mudras saying things words could not. It was during her questioning of the role of traditionalism vs. discovery/expansion that I began to see myself (teacher) as a container to hold the energy of the opposites in my classes (invention vs. tradition; questioning vs. just doing; pushing vs. witnessing; agency vs. following). I thought of the Jungian idea that it’s through the tension of the opposites that a third way emerges. . . a solution. I considered being strong enough to hold it all. Then the next day I had a numinous experience where I watched another classical Indian dancer perform during the lunch hour and I could not stop my eyes from welling up as the idea of dancer/educator as container hit me again. The complex rhythms in her feet happening at the same time as the flow in her upper body combined with traveling through space all while expressing emotions that seemed to move through her eyes, face, fingertips, sternum…she was a strong and beautiful container holding everything at the same time. She was able to do it all with practice, study, rigor, reflection, creative interpretation, skill, personal expression, vulnerability, lived experiences and shared wisdom. I thought about how I had similar tools. I too could be a strong container/dance educator for my community.
My last session of the conference was with D. McGhee Valle on Myth and Cultural Expression as Inspiration for Creating Meaningful Original Dances. During this session we engaged in a dance of the hero’s journey in trios. I was chosen as my group’s hero. Suddenly synchronistic experiences began to connect…a frustration I had with a certain pedagogy that initiated my application process for the Thom Cobb Scholarship in the first place…which led to a discussion of my questioning with a random woman next to me after witnessing the pedagogy together in an earlier session…then I realized this woman was someone I’d seen before at Case Western Reserve University in 2003 under professor Kelly Holt…who happened to be my professor’s professor and once told me he was personal friends with Joseph Campbell (Mr. Hero’s Journey himself) and used to go out to dinner with him on the regular. So you see by the end of my hero’s dance when I was sent to get my gift and received the word TRUTH on a post-it note, I took it very seriously. This word had a very strong personal significance for me as I’d been on a quest for truth in my role as a dance educator for some time and in that final moment of my final session of the conference, I was confirmed.
According to the hero’s journey my next act was to bring my gift back to my community. So I did. Thank you Christine, Suzie, NDEO and Thom for helping me get there.