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.