Friday, November 28, 2014

NDEO and Beyond

November 28, 2014

Now that I have a little distance on the NDEO conference and have finally come down from the post conference high of the men’s performance and al of the workshops that I attended. I thought it might be fruitful to reflect on some of the issue that came up during the conference and in the DEL Foundations course that I am currently taking at the 92nd Street Y that is being conducted by Jody Arnhold and Catherine Gallant.

This conference more than any other that I have attended brought up a number of issues that go to the heart of dance and its importance in both performance, collaboration, and education. What is dance in education? Does it belong there? Does institutionalizing dance in academia take away from its essential and very primal power as a communicative art form? Is performing one thing and teaching something else altogether? What is collaboration in the dance classroom and beyond? Where does the performer’s heart and the teacher’s heart intersect?

Being given an assignment in the DEL course to describe “my teacher’s heart” was more challenging than I had anticipated. Having started dancing in college and earning a degree in Speech and Theater with a dance concentration and a teaching certification, I never considered that my art form was separate from my teaching practice. They developed simultaneously and were always intimately connected. So my “teacher’s heart” and my  “performer’s heart” are very closely linked in a symbiotic relationship. I have always performed and I have always taught about what I was performing.

Without studying any formal pedagogical method, my teaching practice seemed to evolve naturally around a number of progressive ideals and practices.  Educational theories that I knew nothing about seemed to be at the very heart of my teaching. When I finally read John Dewey, Howard Gardner, bell hooks, Ira Shor, Jerome Bruner, Alfie Kohn, Mabel Todd, and many more, I began to see how my practice already reflected their philosophies and practices. Without prior knowledge of their theories I was already on the path of progressive educational thinking.

It is fascinating that in following my true nature and the nature of the art forms that I work within, my practice intuitively developed on a very progressive pedagogical trajectory. This is truly a credit to the dance and theater instructors that I had throughout my life and particularly my very first classroom dance teacher, Linda Roberts. Even though my formal training started with Linda it certainly didn’t stop there as I went on to study with many of the great modern dance icons as well as accomplished acting and singing teachers, whose philosophies on performing and teaching matched my own nature, desires, and aesthetics.

On that note I invite everyone to check out my facebook page and take up the challenge to honor a transformative dance teacher in your life by posting your appreciation on your own social media as well as making a donation to NDEO. Give back to all of those teachers that gave so much to you by supporting the organization that continues to promote and support dance educators throughout the United States and beyond. Follow the links on my facebook page or in this posting to show your appreciation today. Together we can make Dance Education go viral on December 2 by doing what we do best, “get involved”. I did my part it’s your turn now!!

I am making a donation in honor of my first dance teacher, Linda Roberts, who was there when I accidentally fell into dance at the age of 18 as a computer error in my college schedule. I have had many fabulous dance teachers over the years, including some of the great modern icons form Nikolais to Hawkins but Linda was there and witness to when I first fell in love with dance, an affair that has lasted over 40 years. Thank you Linda for starting me on this wondrous journey. I challenge all you dancers, dance teachers, and colleagues at NDEO, NYSDEA, NYCDOE ,and at BAX, to make a donation in honor of a dance teacher who was transformative in your life whether you are still dancing or not. 

The challenge has been thrown down are you "Human or Dancer" enough to meet me halfway. No Donation is too small. Thank a dance teacher and donate today!!! 
Take the ‪#‎ThankADanceTeacher Challenge. Let the Thanksgiving begin! ‪#‎ndeothanks ‪#‎givingtuesday
Go here to see my posting online:

Sunday, November 9, 2014

I am back in Manhattan after attending the National Dance Education Organization conference in Chicago.  Four days of a whirlwind of dancing and meetings and workshops and networking and seeing old friends from all parts of the dance world and making new friends as we forge into the future.

As I reflect on this conference so many things come up. First, out of the 4 conferences that I attended this was hands down one of the best, for a myriad of reasons. Partly, it could be that after 4 years, I finally got the swing of how the event works and was able to navigate the plethora of workshops more effectively. But a big part of it was how this particular conference, as a man in dance and dance education, was framed.

I started the conference working on a dance collaboration with 20 plus of my fellow male dancers, which was an incredible experience in itself that I have many reflections and thoughts about. I ended the conference attending a presentation about a collaborative multi-arts project that has been going on at South Dakota State University for the past 8 years. Starting and ending with these two activities speaks directly to the nature of dance, our participation in it as an art form, and what not only dance but the arts overall gives to us as a society. I have a lot to say about it all but I will attempt to be succinct and to the point in my reflections.

Twenty plus men coming together to create, to share, to explore, to bond, to goof around, to pay homage to their physicality and to their elders, would have sent me running and screaming from the room had it been in any other setting. As a gay male, who found solace in dancing because it was removed from the mythology of “male bonding ”and the images of “superior male physical prowess” this scenario could not have been more uninviting.  Being one not to shy away from what frightens me and knowing that this was a safe environment in which to experiment, I jumped in “feet first” and hoped for the best.  

Working for over 8 hours in the physical realm on a common goal with a group of men with a multitude of individual expressions and personal identities created an environment that was more than the sum of us all. By the time we got to the performance I think we all felt the importance of what we were doing and why we needed to be together as men in all of the many ways that each one of us expresses ourselves. From the bravado to the intimate, from the young to the old, from the ballet influenced, to the moderns and post moderns, to the jazz,  hip-hoper, contemporary and beyond, there could not have been a better representation of the variety of male expression in dance today.

Something truly special occurred in the process of creating this dance and we all knew it from the beginning and from the feedback that we got.  The audience felt it also.  But I must drive home the point here that it was the process and not the performance that made it possible to do what we did. The performance was a culminating statement but the process was the nitty gritty and for the next two days I missed not getting together for rehearsal so that I could share in a common goal, in the intimacy, in the bravado, in the intergenerational support, in the camaraderie, in the exploration, in the reverence, in the goofing around, and yes, dare I say it in the “male bonding” or as I see it the “human bonding”. 

In the end is this not what we all want whether it is male or female or however we identify ourselves. I have bonded with many females in much the same way. One does not preclude the other and is not to the exclusion of the other. This was a great way to start a conference on dance and dance education. I would love to see other affinity groups do the same as we move forward toward 2015 and beyond.

Wednesday, October 29, 2014

Wow, I just realized how long it has been since I have entered anything into this blog. I guess I have been really busy. Hope to write a bit more now that I am taking the DEL Foundations course at the Y as well as continuing to study Flamenco with JoDe Romano. And I Am sure I will have a lot to say about the NDEO conference in Chicago next week. So stay tuned for updates and coming attractions.

Let’s start with the Dance Education Laboratory (DEL)

The DEL Foundations course, is allowing me the luxury to look at my own practice, solidify many of my current teaching methods, and learn some new approaches and techniques that will increase my effectiveness in the classroom. I have always heard such positive feedback about the practical tools and applications that DEL provides.

Here are some thoughts on my first two weeks in the program.

First week was fun and interesting from the name game right up to the road map of how we got there. I actually really enjoyed making my map and then hearing what others had to say about their maps. It is a truly intriguing group of students from all walks of life and levels of experience with the common desire for and love of dance and movement. What struck me strongly about the evening was the diversity of the people in the room from age, to race, to nationality, to experience, to professions, and to styles of dance backgrounds.

I must admit that I am anticipating that some of the material we will be covering will be redundant to me so I am looking at ways to see with a fresh eye, to find things that I may not have or do in my current practice. I am looking at this experience as a way to see the big picture not just what my practice is or what I can do in my own classroom. I am very interested in seeing what is possible outside of my own practice and what kind of impact the acquisition of new material combined with my experience will have on the field of dance and dance in education.

This led me to thinking about my dance education philosophy. At the center of my philosophy is my belief that dance is essential to the growth of each person’s search for authenticity, as well as each person’s individual expression of “self.” In addition to promoting physical well being dance expands the psyche, encourages social interaction, and promotes thoughtful critical thinking. It also supports the development of each person’s specific voice and his or her unique way of self-expression through movement (something which I got from studying with Erik Hawkins). I believe that promoting the pursuit of this authentic self-expression will produce the next generation of forward thinking dancers, choreographers, and educators and thus enliven the aesthetic elements of dance in performance, research, and education.

I am going to end here for the night and let my philosophy on dance and dance in education have time to sink in and work its way through my thought process. More to come soon. Stay Tuned!

Wednesday, February 19, 2014

First of all I was very excited by the Common Core when I was originally introduced to it. As a performing artist ti made a lot of sense, as an educator it seemingly valued all of the things I value and find important. 


• Demonstrate independence

• Build strong content knowledge

• Respond to the varying demands of audience, task, purpose, and discipline

• Comprehend as well as critique

• Value evidence

• Use technology and digital media strategically and capably

• Come to understand other perspectives and cultures 

All things that I could easily get behind. I even conducted workshops at my school for parents in helping them understand what it is and how to make use of it at home. The problem is the over bureaucratic and rushed implementation of the standards devoid of any creative aspect. 

The push for testing does not help either. It's depressing to see how much time we spend at my school on test prep and the push for kids to perform well on these tests. What are we preparing students for? Since there seems to be strong backing for the Common Core from large corporations, I am viewing it with a bit of skepticism. I want my students to be creative thinkers and to have marketable skills. However I am not so sure I want to hand feed the corporate structure. Students are not commodities that can be pre-programmed. 

If I am to truly honor the Common Core I want my students to be independent, knowledgeable about content (which may include knowing facts not just where to find them),be flexible and responsive to others,work at understanding with a critical eye,use the current tools at hand but not be dependent on them, and most importantly question and search for evidence. I want their education to be experiential and I want them to relate what they learn in literature, art, dance, science, math, etc. to their lives in a real way. That is at the heart of eduction whether I teach dance or science. 

The Common Core probably should have been tested out first on a few select schools and then gradually rolled out. We were given standards to meet without getting the tools or training to help us out. As usual we are flying by the seat of our pants, which works for a little while but is not a wise long term strategy. What could be essentially a great template and/or guideline for learning becomes an overly commodified tool to supply a workforce to an increasingly de-humanizing corporate hierarchy. 

The same is true of the Danielson protocols for effective teaching. Something that was meant as a tool for teachers to be self-reflective and aid in improving their teaching practice has become a overly micro-managed evaluation system that has teachers scurrying around to make sure that they are operating at a highly effective level all of the time. 

The fact is that teaching is messy and does not always occur or operate at a highly effective level all of the time. Like everything in life, things are just not going to go the way you planned and sometimes you even fail. And as any artist knows, it is necessary to fail and then to get up and try again. Failure becomes part and parcel to the learning process. How we make use of our failures to inform our process and progress ourselves as human beings is what is important. This is what we should be focusing on and not meeting some prescribed set of standards, Common Core, Danielson or anything else that comes along the way.