Author Archive | Patricia Reedy

Choreofund: A Work in Progress

IN DECEMBER 2013, with the support of my co-workers, I started an experiment called CHOREOFUND. It has been my life’s work to investigate the creative process. Some of the most inventive and creatively interesting people I’ve known are dance-makers. Bay Area choreographers are risk-takers, the open-minded, ground-breaking, rule- breaking “disrupters” of all time. I love them, support them and study them because they reveal what is possible in making art—and changing life.

The CHOREOFUND project came about after a trip to Chattanooga, Tennessee, where I enjoyed working with an old friend, Ann Law, a phenomenally creative dance improvisation artist. I taught with her, coached her, listened to her, and watched her perform. She talked about the challenges of working in a politically conservative landscape while pushing artistic boundaries. On the plane home, I thought about community— what is needed when and where. I imagined CHOREOFUND as a way to expand my community’s understanding of the dance- making process and embolden them to participate as audience and supporters. My plane touched down and I set out to make it happen. After five distinct CHOREOFUND events spanning two years, I’m taking stock of what has transpired, what has been learned, and how this event serves our community.

By community, in this case, I am referring to two groups—parents of the children we teach at Luna Dance Institute, and those of the general public who are unaware of, or intimidated by attending, performances by yet-to-be-known, independent choreographers. Luna’s curriculum, and pedagogical approach to teaching dance to children (and their teachers), places dance-making at the center. Parents enroll their children in our studio laboratory and after a few sessions are excited to see them as creators. Teachers, too, in our school and community programs, begin to recognize the transformative potential of dance for their students. Some of these parents and teachers, seeking experiences for their children, are eager to tell us that they’ve taken children to the “Big 3”: Nutcracker, Alvin Ailey, or The Velveteen Rabbit. While I respect the artistry of these performances, I want children to see choreographers in the process of creating—engaged in the same type of inquiry-in-action that the students experience in their dance class.

In 2012, I, with a group of Luna teachers, produced 20 Points of View: a peek into dance making, for this very purpose. 20 Points of View (now held annually) is a daylong event wherein 20 choreographers are invited to “play around” in our space in 30-minute increments while children and their families’ watch. Over the past three years, choreographers have generously responded. Their time in the studio ranges from a “cleaning rehearsal before tour,” to improvising, to interacting with the students, to sharing the latest thinking about dance and technology. Schools come to 20 POV as a field trip, parents bring their children afterschool, and the local community drops by at lunch—sometimes returning with their children or grandchildren again in the evening.

20 POV serves as the bridge between children’s dance-making and adult choreographers, but because of the random, drop-in nature of the event, it wasn’t doing as much as it could to educate parents and teachers about the craft of dance-making. A short, contained event like CHOREOFUND might do more. My co-workers at Luna agreed to commit to host four CHOREOFUND evenings, offered every six months, December 2013 through June 2015, with a fifth added December 2015. We invited parents and the general public to witness six choreographers at work. We asked audience members to contribute $40 cash to attend—we had a hunch that a financial investment to support a “yet to be revealed” choreographer might increase engagement. An audience of thirty created a bucket of $1,200 to be distributed to a choreographer chosen by that evening’s attending audience. Guerrilla fundraising! No grants to write, no bar to be met. Simply what a particular audience sees in a particular group of artists on a particular night that they vote to fund.

The structure of the first CHOREOFUND evening was set. The audience, reserving seats in advance, sat on sofas and pillows and enjoyed refreshments. Six artists, selected on a first come-first served basis, were given eight minutes to share their creative process. Although not required, most chose to perform. After each presentation, the audience had two minutes for questions. Intermission gave time for reflection. As the votes were tallied, the artists were welcomed back to meet and relax with the audience.

That first night was a success. It had the casual “junkyard dog” feel I wanted. By that, I mean it wasn’t curated; it wasn’t laden with rules, expectations and competition. As I’d hoped, the audience loved the randomness of the event. They did not know what to expect next and they seemed to appreciate every artist. Many told me that they were surprised and delighted to see so much creativity packed into one night. Attendees seemed to enjoy their roles as funders, too. They put cash in the box, watched the choreographers, and voted. They talked to each other about the experience and to the artists about their process. The winner was ecstatic to receive the bucket of cash with no strings attached other than to make some art.

Then came the criticisms: “Why don’t you ‘educate’ the audience about what to look for in the choreography? They don’t know how to evaluate.” As a $40 payer myself, I had listened to my friends and colleagues discuss their voting choices. Reasons varied: “She already has support, so I’m voting for the underdog”; “He’s the strongest dancer”; “I like the risks they took culturally—telling stories no one tells”; “I like these youngsters—let’s give them a chance”; and so on. This personal interpretation of the artistic “pitch” is exactly as education philosopher, Maxine Greene describes aesthetic valuing. Art works—and is so universal, whether one makes or views it—because the truth of art, its aesthetic essence, lives in the intersection between maker and viewer. The choreographer creates something with personal meaning, from an aesthetic related to culture, experience and personality; drawn on study, family and tradition; and pitches it on a particular day, in the feelings of that moment. The audience “receives” it and imbues it with personal meaning – from their aesthetic cultural viewpoint, experience, personality, family, tradition, and how they feel that day. I witnessed 30 distinct audience members catching the work of six choreographers. It was exciting and alive. I wouldn’t interfere with that power.

The first four CHOREOFUNDs were won by varied artists: Nol Simonse, a veteran dancer, yet new choreographer; Jessie Barber, a new choreographer and performer; Randy Paufve, veteran award-winning choreographer; and Heather Stockton, representing a collective. The runners-up—often a close call—were strong choreographers in their own right (LV Collective came in second, twice). At Luna, we celebrate the choreographer in every child, every person, so we publicized each “winner.” This seemed to incite more criticism: “People like only the polished performers—it isn’t fair that new choreographers have to compete with super experienced choreographers.”“If you have a lot of your friends in the audience, you’ll win.” And again, “People don’t know how to evaluate choreography.” While I had ready answers—“Heather didn’t know anyone in the audience and she won”; “People vote for many different reasons”—some began seeing CHOREOFUND as a competition, and I became defensive. I was hurt that people wanted or expected it to be like other competitions, rather than the “free from influence” experiment intended.

Choreographers and dance companies struggle with audience development. We know some non-dancing friends are intimidated by modern dance; they don’t know what they are supposed to think, or feel, or like. CHOREOFUND was meant to introduce relative newcomers to the many different ways choreographers work. Specifically, parents and teachers in Luna’s composition-based programs could see adult artists engaged in dance-making using strategies similar to their children’s learning. By voting, the audience could think about what they heard and saw, listen to those around them, and claim their own their experience.

One person, one vote: as democracy was intended. The added perk of funding a choreographer made me happy because these new artists get few opportunities for support, but it was not the main point.

With each CHOREOFUND, we at Luna examined our motives and the outcomes. Do we allow repeaters? Why six and not seven chorographers on a program? How do we attract more parents—the audience we want for this event? Do we allow children? New staff challenged us to be very clear about CHOREOFUND’s purpose. Why not let the dancers watch each other perform? (We want the audience to be able to chat without “expert” influence.) Why not let more than 30 people come? (We like the intimacy.) And sadly, and most recently: Why is Luna holding a competition? This, asked by a new faculty member after the most recent round, CHOREOFUND5, gave me reason to pause.

CHOREOFUND5 did feel different. Several artists made “pitches” rather than describe their creative process. The audience was filled with friends of one particular choreographer, vocal in their support. When she won, her friends began talking about how hers was clearly the best. Audience newcomers—for whom the event was intended— expressed concern that they might not be “doing it right.” Past in-house conversations about “stacking the audience” always ended with the reasoning, “If a choreographer has so many supporters, why don’t they ask them for money directly? Why risk a competition?” We didn’t see a problem. But now we are looking at it again— figuring out what we need to do differently to convey our intentions.

Experiments, inquiry, chance-dances all test a hypothesis: what would happen if…? We have learned a lot. Some CHOREOFUND attendees haven’t seen independent dance before. Others come to see an artist who was their student years ago, or just to see a sampling of what is new. They do not balk at paying $40 to see a randomly selected group of artists. Bit by bit, CHOREOFUND audience members become aware of their aesthetic preferences, and the variety of those preferences underscores the very purpose of art. Dance-makers can practice describing, revealing and sharing their creative process. They have a chance to attract new audiences. Though not allowed to watch each other’s presentations, they witness being part of a larger community as they wait “backstage” in our offices. As an educator, I know that people have trouble accepting a brand-new idea. To understand it, they must connect it to something familiar—something known, and what is known is competition. I recognize that this disequilibrium is where the criticism comes from. I must become less defensive and more courageous (and maybe reconsider the name). So far, this unfunded, grassroots experiment is based on a hunch I had in 2013. CHOREOFUND6, scheduled for June 2, 2016, will allow me to see how that hunch plays out one more time.

Read an addendum to this article, written by Patricia Reedy


Creating and Revising

DURING THE LAST YEAR, I spent a great deal of my time writing the second edition of Body, Mind & Spirit IN ACTION: a teacher’s guide to creative dance (BMS). My learning curve was steep—I had greatly underestimated the complex nature of this task. I learned that the act of writing a second edition is about improving, amending, and revisiting ideas of the first edition. Slipping into writing an entirely new book is one of the dangers of re-writing—my solution to this problem was to design the project in two stages: the first was practical; to re-write BMS because I am totally out of first edition copies and we use them at Luna Dance Institute for our professional workshops. The second stage is the creation of three supplemental booklets that dive into the areas I am interested in without resorting to adding bulk to BMS. These booklets have working titles of Dance in Early Childhood, Dance & Family Relationship, and the Rigors of Creativity. All are scheduled for completion by December 2015.

Since completing the first BMS book in 2003, there have been three sets of national standards for dance. The following excerpt addresses shifts in policy and practice that, due to timing and resources, were not fully addressed in the first edition.



(excerpt from Body, Mind & Spirit IN ACTION: a teacher’s guide to creative dance, 2nd edition)

The National Art Standards documents of 1994 and 2005 focused on articulating a foundation of “what every young American should know and be able to do in the arts.” The Introduction of the initial document describes the rationale and benefits of arts education:

Because so much of a child’s education in the early years is devoted to acquiring the skills of language and mathematics, children gradually learn, unconsciously, that the “normal” way to think is linear and sequential, that the pathway to understanding moves from beginning to end, from cause to effect. In this dominant early mode, students soon learn to trust mainly those symbol systems, usually in the form of words, numbers and abstract concepts, that separate the experiencing person from what that person experiences. But the arts teach a different lesson. They… cultivate the direct experiences of the senses; they trust the unmediated flash of insight as a legitimate source of knowledge. Their goal is to connect person and experience directly, to build the bridge between verbal and nonverbal, between the strictly logical and the emotional—the better to gain an understanding of the whole.

The National Arts Standards led 49 states to adopt Visual and Performing Arts Standards of their own. While implementation of standards varied widely from state-to-state and region-to-region (most often accompanied by inequity with regard to socio-income levels and race), the basis was there that the arts were to be taught for their intrinsic value. Without veering from this original intention, a coalition of arts education experts convened to bring these foundational documents fully into the 21st century and “affirm the place of arts education in a balanced core curriculum.”

Like the 2005 Standards, the 2014 National Core Arts Standards for Dance (NCAS-D) center dance learning around general themed processes: Creating, Performing, Responding, and Connecting. Purposely chosen as verbs, these processes are designed to be experienced by all children as part of a comprehensive dance education. Similar to Common Core standards for other academic areas, NCAS-D aligns each process to Anchor Standards designed to be held constant throughout the grade levels. Unlike Common Core standards, however, the NCAS-D are clearly written and transparent in intention. There is often negativity expressed around standards because of our country’s recent history with No Child Left Behind, high stakes testing and now the opacity of Common Core. At the same time, there appears to be general agreement that the education system has not been working and that children need to be better prepared for the 21st century. There is also increasing concern, particularly among educators and innovative business leaders that students are graduating from high school and college deficient in creativity and critical thinking skills. Never has arts education been more needed than today.

Dance educator members of the National Dance Education Organization (NDEO) led the way in the National Core Arts Standards development in all arts disciplines. The NDEO website has multiple resources for the dance educator to become familiar with the NASC-D. There you can read, study, interact and play with the standards. You can see examples of how to assess them. The Creating, Performing, Responding, and Connecting processes are aligned with Anchor Standards and each anchor standard is supported with a Process Component, an Enduring Understanding and Essential Question. This framework aligns with contemporary thought about teaching and learning; that is, that curriculum should be about big ideas, with lots of room to customize, detail, and make meaning from the vast content that exists within any big idea. To that end, though written linearly, the writers of NACS-D acknowledge that in dance, these standards tend to occur simultaneously.

NCAS-D chartNCAS-D chartNCAS-D chart

It is easy to see that the NCAS-D are not prescriptive; rather, they invite the dance teacher to create his/her own curriculum that relates to the fundamental processes of creating, performing, responding and connecting through dance. They were intentionally written broadly to allow for local differences and flexibility in instruction. While some might quibble with certain language or examples provided in the NCAS-D, it might be useful to remember that this language resulted from a large committee of volunteer experts and consensus does not always sit perfectly with the sensibilities of each individual. Try not to get bogged down by the details of the age-level examples; instead, refer to the larger concepts and check-in regularly with the NCAS-D to assure that you are not forgetting an aspect of the full ranges of the discipline, or to help you describe what it is that is happening in the dance studio classroom. Many highly qualified dance teaching artists use the NCAS-D as a launching off point and teach well beyond the examples provided to elevate expectations of the field. The writing committee does an exemplary job of checking in with master teachers across the nation for feedback on the viability of NCAS-D as a living, feasible resource.

The process of establishing standards— whether on a national, state, or district level—provides opportunities for communities to partake in conversations about values: specifically, what knowledge is important in a particular discipline. As states and districts create their own version of arts content standards, the values of the various local communities are revealed. Artists, teachers, administrators, curriculum designers, parents, and students can participate in the process of adopting local standards to ensure that the standards adopted reflect their values for dance education.

Teaching and Choreographing: Mutually Beneficial Acts

By Patricia Reedy in conversation with Deborah Karp

ON A RECENT SUNNY AFTERNOON, Deborah Karp and I left our desks at Luna Dance Institute to share a cup of tea and conversation at a local coffee shop. We spoke of how our lives as choreographers and teachers are similar and different, and we talked about the future of dance. As Luna’s Director of Teaching and Learning, the role dance education plays in sustaining, evolving and maybe even elevating the field of dance is as interesting to me as bringing dance to underserved children. Our conversation rambled and intersected through our shared passion of educating children and families to the art and craft of choreography. The conversation continues with these reflections on how teaching artists might begin to see their teaching selves and art-making selves as part of one whole artistic craft.

Deborah Karp: As a choreographer and as a teacher of creative dance and composition, I find myself ruminating: how does my own practice dictate what and how I teach? Inversely, how does what transpires while I’m teaching influence my choreographic decision-making? From the impressionable age of 22 I’ve been fortunate to be encouraged to notice the confluence of these practices. Inherent in this encouragement was the idea that, in fact, they should influence each other; that one’s teaching will be its most rigorous when informed by one’s choreographic inquiries, and that the most relevant dances have embedded within them the fabric of mutual learning and discovery.

Patricia Reedy: I’m particularly interested in your project Perform: Education. The fact that you and your colleagues are sharing reflections on teaching and composing and how they intersect is exciting and generative.

DK: As both personal action research and a desire to ignite public dialogue among Bay Area artists/educators, this evening of live performance and critical discussion examined these questions about the relationship of art-making to art-teaching. Perform: Education featured the work of The Thick Rich Ones, Cherie Hill IrieDance, my company Deborah Karp Dance Projects, three Bay Area companies directed by artists who are also teachers at Luna, and musician Aram Shelton. The evening included a post-show discussion facilitated by artist/ scholar Megan Nicely.

PR: As you prepared for this event, what bubbled to the surface about your own artistic process and teaching practice?

DK: With some pieces and with certain classes, the answers to my questions seem obvious and sometimes more obscure. I often wonder for myself if there is any connection at all, and, if there is, would it be recognizable to someone outside of myself? I consider: well, maybe if I taught regular technique classes to professional dancers who also danced in my work, the answers might be more apparent. But, because the populations I teach and I create dances with are disparate, the questions remain.

Patricia, how has your choreographic sense changed after 23 years of directing and teaching at Luna?

PR: Choreography, like any creative act, involves discovery, problem-posing and problem-solving, shaping and refining. While I am no longer as active in my choreographic practice, by instinct, I am a shaper—and I get to do that in every aspect of my teaching, program development and evaluation design here at Luna. Yet, as we teach through our class structure and teach that structure to others, I have come to appreciate the power of the discovery process. To be in the moment, trusting that kinesthetic intuition—knowing something is there but not yet attached to it is so liberating. If I could do it over, I would definitely embed much more time for exploration—for just playing with a simple notion, modifying it, horsing around. I would apply to my artistic practice what I do in teaching—I would have played more.

DK: I love play and I find that exploration is integral to my process as a choreographer. Before this project I had the pleasure of developing a work over the course of a year. That luxury of time left the container open and we did a lot of experimentation. Some of that material made it into the final piece and some didn’t but its footprint was palpable. It would be so nice if this kind of spacious time could be a part of every creation and rehearsal process.

PR: I often hear that people feel they have to choose; that there isn’t enough time to work and be a real artist. Yet, I am inspired by your generation—you seem to embrace multiple identities. How do you reconcile your various obligations?

DK: This is a daily reconciliation. There are some days when my teacher identity definitely feels more present. There are times in rehearsal when I am wrapped up only in what’s happening in the moment. The multiple identities is expected of dancers these days, it’s a given. We expect that we will be dancers and teachers, and Pilates and yoga instructors, and part-time administrators at arts non-profits, and other things, too.

PR: At Luna, all teachers also administer the programs that we teach in. For you, that has meant a number of things including coordinating the logistics of our MPACT (Moving Parents and Children Together) program and our contract at Grass Valley Elementary. How do you see these aspects of your job affecting your teaching and your dance-making? Is there capacity for inspiration there?

DK: It’s kind of like self-producing a show; I don’t just waltz onto the stage and have all the production details taken care of. If I don’t make a postcard and send out a press release then no one will. Did I remember to get ice for the reception? What day must the invoices be submitted to the school district in order to receive payment on our contracts? It’s a lot of details to keep track of, in roles as self-producing dance artist and program administrator, but the gift in both realms is I get to see the whole picture!

This is where I think the revolution and vitality of improvisation and creative dance training comes in: a dancer, even one trained in the hierarchy of the “copy me and do as
I say” teaching model can develop her own voice, be it through seeing a seed of inspiration to fully produced evening or a glimmer of a teaching program to full implementation.

I remember a moment from one of our staff meetings, probably a year ago or more. We were talking about mundane stuff, scheduling classes, I believe. As a staff, we were discussing the pros and cons of changing the day, the time, and age range of a certain class to determine if it would be a better fit for various reasons. And I remember you saying, “Let’s not change everything at once, because then it’s hard to tell what is working well and what isn’t.” And, I thought to myself, that’s Patricia the choreographer! Looking at a dance, or a dance class, knowing there is something that needs adjusting, looking closely, but not changing every single thing, examining the details, in order to see what needs to be tweaked to let the “ness” of the dance come out.

Deborah Karp is a dance teaching artist and program coordinator at Luna and the Director of Deborah Karp Dance Projects. Both women enjoy creating, teaching, talking about and writing about dance.

Reflections: What a Difference a Dance Conference Can Make

photo courtesy of Luna Dance Institute

photo courtesy of Luna Dance Institute

Flying from Oakland to Chicago to attend the 16th annual conference of the National Dance Education Organization (NDEO), November 5, 2014, I recalled my maiden voyage to NDEO in 2001. Back then I was the only person from northern California in attendance—and one of only three from the entire state. I felt excited about what was happening at the national level, yet also dismayed and a little embarrassed by my state’s lack of involvement in dance education as a field. This year, I was thrilled to attend with five of my Luna Dance Institute colleagues, as well as to join a reception with 30 California dance educators, representing about half of the Californians at this year’s conference, hosted by the California Dance Education Association.

When I first came to NDEO, I felt there was no category for Luna; now, we attend all special interest group (SIG) sessions: K–12, Private Sector, Dance & Disability, Advocacy, Higher Ed, and Early Childhood. We find them all relevant to our work, and we have a unique perspective to offer each conversation. At the same time, we work within a region and state that are behind most in per capita standards-based dance programs. National leaders, such as Joan Finkelstein, could help California build “dance for every child” programs like the recent initiative in New York City, but we remain stymied by a lack of teaching credential in dance. Without one, there is absolutely no incentive for policy- makers to support dance programs in any large-scale or systematic way. Artists in the San Francisco Bay Area demonstrate amazing innovation and creativity every day—we relish autonomy. At the same time, as artist-educators, it may benefit us to overcome our tendency toward individualism and consider more conversation and collaborative action toward making California a major force for quality and equity in dance education.

The focus of this year’s NDEO conference was collaboration, and we six from Luna presented as a panel. We spoke of our process of developing goals and assessments based on Luna’s mission to place and keep art at the center. We also shared Luna’s organizational structure of teaching artists as program administrators. People were intrigued.

In the Luna staff reflections presented in this article, my colleagues paint a clear picture of the conference and our dual roles as individual teaching artists and state representatives when we attend.

Deborah Karp

Before I moved to the Bay Area I’d never even heard of NDEO. When I did hear of it, I was dubious. Pay an annual membership fee, then shell out a sizeable sum to attend a four-day conference with hundreds of other dance educators, when half the people I interact with on a daily basis are dance teachers anyway? I’m too busy teaching, I thought.

Behold: Chicago.

Never in my life have I been around so many dance ed nerds. And when I say “nerds,” I mean that in the most loving way. What are some constructivist ways to introduce Pina Bausch’s choreographic process and history to students in school and studio settings? How does a child’s proprioceptive understanding of their kinesphere (or lack thereof) lead to school violence? How do we define the differences between a push and a reach? In what ways has our new, digital age promoted an underdevelopment of children’s vestibular systems, and how can I address this in a choreography class?

It was like my idea of heaven at a conference-sized Marriott accommodating the more than 1,200* conference participants. I could choose to attend 10 different workshops each day if I wanted to! I could look at all the nametags and see the whole country represented! I could take a class, listen to a panel, introduce myself, and learn about dance education practices, policies, and pedagogical approaches from all over the nation! It is difficult to choose one particular highlight of an experience at once so immersive and so professionally validating, but some impressions continue to resonate. As dance teaching artists, we are hungry—and we are not alone. We grapple with an arduous, even isolating, part of our daily practice—that is, trying to explain the importance of dance education in the lives of young people to the non-dance administrators we communicate with in schools, community settings, foundations, and statewide organizations. But we have peers nationwide undergoing similar experiences to whom we can turn for understanding, advice, and inspiration.

Those same people, with whom we might not otherwise have contact throughout the year, give a new perspective on what feels like the same concepts, re-examined in a refreshing way that reignites the teaching fire of discovery, creation, experimentation. These resonant ideas removed any lurking doubt I might have had about the value of NDEO. I’m now a believer.

*NDEO shared the conference with the American Dance Therapy Association.

Jochelle Pereña

I grew up dancing in a small island community where there was only one dance studio and one dance teacher. I remember vividly our excursions to take a master class in the city, or to see the Bolshoi Ballet—how my eyes widened and my skin tingled as I discovered the expansive scope of the dance world beyond our tiny little studio. Attending NDEO (conference) for the first time, I felt this same excitement in realizing anew how many dance educators are out there, nobly investigating, researching, and honing their craft. Sometimes it can feel like we’re the sole representatives for dance in our schools and communities. Then at NDEO we find overflowing conference rooms where we discuss and present and dance together. The sense of possibility and potential is real.

I was particularly struck by the number of teachers who showed up for the California Dance Education Association meeting, filling a hotel suite beyond capacity. When I exclaimed at our numbers, a fellow member speculated on what size room we might need if every dance teacher in California joined CDEA—if all of us, rather than considering membership a luxury, thought of it as a professional duty to ourselves and to the field. That would mean thousands of dance educators not only investing in their own personal development and training but also showing to the state of California that this is a serious profession—one that necessitates a dance teaching credential.

Katherine McGinity

It may have been my first time at NDEO, but I immediately felt right at home—having taught dance for the last 20 years, I had something in common with every attendee: a robust commitment to dance education. Gathering in Chicago, we were an instant community, and I felt welcomed, inspired, pushed, and supported during my time there.

What excited me the most was being in a space reserved for both teaching and learning; the flow of ideas was rapid and crackling with vibrant energy. Thoughts about how to improve the state of dance education and each individual’s teaching practice were traded, reshaped, and challenged with every
panel, paper, and dance class. I was pleasantly surprised by the egalitarian environment—ideas and experiences “from the field” were taken in with respect, heads nodded in agreement, emphatic looks were exchanged, notes were furiously written to inspire at a later date.

Clearly, this time to connect is so needed on a national level. Working in dance education can be isolating. Many attendees are the only dance teacher in their school, or own the only dance studio in their town. The aim and value of dance education are often misunderstood by administrators, parents, and the community. As I face some of these challenges, I am lucky to call Luna my home base, as I am encouraged to connect and collaborate with my teaching peers and others in the community. As we shared on our panel, “Walking Our Talk: How Layered Collaborations Lead to Quality, Integrity and Possibility,” we each had a chance to talk about our integrated roles as teaching artists and administrators at Luna. A typical day for me at Luna starts in the morning, teaching alongside a classroom teacher to bring creative dance to underserved, low-income elementary school students, and in the afternoon, collaborating on development projects—grant writing, database entry, thanking donors.

I was excited to put faces with names I see day-to-day in Luna’s database. I especially enjoyed a talk by Loren Bucek, veteran dance educator and long-time Luna supporter, about her own research and experiences teaching dance to inner-city kids in Columbus, Ohio. I was so moved by her work, her commitment to her students, and her craft. I sometimes despair that I can’t give enough to my students, who regularly experience violence, lockdowns, and so many other challenges. In Dr. Bucek’s clear, emotional narratives I felt like she was speaking directly to me. As she candidly shared her experiences, some of my self-doubt fell away. In my notebook I paraphrased from her lecture: “We can’t change their entire situation, but can provide safe spaces to experiment with movement—to experience their power, tenderness, peace, productivity. Ask yourself how you can allow that hour of dance class to give them a voice.” The brief weekend will have a long-term impact on my teaching practice.

Cherie Hill

At this year’s NDEO conference I felt more grounded than I did my first year. Coming from a dance teaching artist background, I find certain issues in dance education are new to me, but at the conference I learned more from various perspectives. For example, did you know that schools in other countries—like Japan, England, and Singapore—struggle with finding qualified dance teachers because their region does not offer a dance teaching credential? This same issue is a predicament in our own state. At the K–12 SIG group, teachers shared their frustrations with inadequate dance space and unsupportive school principals, and as a group we discussed strategies to address our dilemmas. Having a place to hear about others’ involvements brought new ideas and comfort.

Each year I attend NDEO I grow closer to colleagues in the field whom I communicate with or read about. One night I shared dinner with Dr. Karen Bradley, head of MFA in Dance program at the University of Maryland and a researcher on brain-wave patterns and movement. When I told her I work for Luna, she raved about our organization’s incredible work and brilliant directors. At the “Global Connections” workshop, while choreographing a trio that embodied feelings of frustration, weaving patterns, and reminiscent smells, I discovered my fellow dancers included incoming CDEA President Kristin Kusanovich, whom I first met at Luna’s 20 Points of View, and Dance Teacher magazine editor Karen Hildebrand, whom I often send press releases. All three of us had the chance to expand our previously brief and electronic communications into the embodied present.

I am proud to have presented on Luna’s panel, which was well received, informative, and true to the theme of collaboration, and to have participated in NDEO, which always broadens my views and knowledge of dance education.

Nancy Ng

I returned from NDEO to California feeling immense gratitude for “my peeps”—the teaching artists, specialists, and educators who live and breathe dance education daily in pre-K through 12 settings and colleges and universities. Although the Bay Area is home to hundreds of dance companies, there is a dearth of dance education programs for children and youth that keep art at the center. I work in a county where I have advocated for dance education for 12 years, and I live in a state that currently does not have a dance teaching credential. Although it was inspirational to hear about the innovative mentoring practices between colleges and newly certificated dance teachers, it was also disheartening to return home to a place where these models are practiced in only a limited way.

Luna Dance Institute and the 92nd Street Y Dance Education Laboratory (DEL) are the only two independent organizations in the United States that offer comprehensive professional learning opportunities for teachers and teaching artists. I understand how important it is for Luna and DEL to make our voices heard even in the face of apathy toward dance education, and I believe it is important for many more dance educators to write and talk about what they are doing. This is one reason that, despite my disappointment upon my return, I also brought back renewed pride that dancers, as a group, are researching and writing about their teaching practices and owning the field of dance education.

Defining Creativity and Technique

I TAUGHT my first Professional Development Workshop to dance educators in 1994. Since then, along with my colleagues at Luna Dance Institute, I have worked with thousands of dance educators across the country, sustaining in-depth study with about 100 each year. One of the most frequent questions asked by dance educators (at all levels of experience) is “what about technique?” Dancers seem to have various (and sometimes mis-) conceptions about the notion of “technique” and, as a result, sometimes perceive dance teaching as an either/or proposition: curriculum must either choose creativity (process) or technique (rigor).

In a composition workshop last year, educators worked in small groups to unpack their understandings of this seeming dilemma. Each group gave their inquiry a title, such as: “Creativity and Technique: Clash or Compliment?”, “Can You Be Creative without Technique?” or “How to Incorporate Technique into a Creative Dance Class?” As I listened in on their discussions, it became increasingly clear to me that the participants were operating on some important unvoiced assumptions. First, they presumed an either/or polarity. Second, they held unexamined and undefined perceptions of the word “technique” and were proceeding without a common working definition. Thus appeared a schism, an underlying, unspoken tension—technique v. creativity. Technique was thought of as rigorous and discipline- inducing, leading to professional careers. It was also viewed as elitist, not for everyone. Creativity, on the other hand, was viewed as an ideal, process-oriented, open and free; yet, also somewhat slapdash—unstructured, undefined and lacking in accountability. In my view, this division is part of the reason that schools and society do not embrace dance education. The general public can view dance as either a skillset that only the “talented“ can attain or an inexact, playtime of moving around to music that could be time spent by the student pursuing more important skills.

California’s recent adopting of Common Core K-12 curriculum integrates what are considered 21st century skills and make a keen case for a re-examination of creativity and how it can be taught.1 Common Core emerged from conversations among key educational philosophers, business leaders and creative minds, revealing that there is tremendous discipline and rigor in developing creative thinkers and meaning-makers. This concept of developing creative thinkers within a moving body is nothing new to those of us working in dance. We know very well that the art of dance requires all 16 habits of mind2 underlying what is now seen as essential learning for all students. Choreographers and creators must commit to extreme discipline, deliberation and persistence to imagine and innovate.

The national core art standards (United States) center on Create, Perform, Respond and Connect—both rigor and openness live in each of these. Creating requires imagining, innovating and risk-taking. The dance-maker uses inquiry and problem- posing skills to determine what to explore in the creative process. The process, at first may be very free, full of discovery. The artist persists in looking for new, unchartered notions, as well as applying past knowledge and information. Eventually, the work becomes shaped and ordered as the choreographer uses the tools of their craft to make the most accurate representation possible. As the work becomes defined, the performance requires focus and attention to communicate the artistic intention accurately. Response, too, requires its own attentiveness as one strives to remain open and present to absorb the art, even while connecting what is seen to one’s own aesthetic values and experience. This process is metacognitive and allows humans to engage at the highest level of knowledge and understanding.3

The art of making dances may be one of the most rigorous, meticulous activities one can engage in. So, where does “technique” fit in? From the Latin roots to the French language, technique is dictionary-defined as “a way of carrying out a particular task; a skill or ability in a particular field; a skillful or efficient way of doing or achieving something.” What these definitions share is the sense of technique for something specific. Yet, the unnamed and unexamined meaning of the word among dance educators is more generalized. When dancers talk about technique classes, they are often defining a broad range of studio dance classes wherein the teacher leads a series of strength, core or flexibility exercises followed by teaching a routine she/ he choreographed. The students follow along and try to adapt their bodies to look and move like the instructor’s. From a cognitive point of view, there is less rigor in the follow-along approach than in improvising or composing. Of course, dancers seeking to perform a specific style at a professional level would need repetitive training and practice in a distinctive set of skills. They would require a course of study that would lead to a very identifiable outcome. One might find this type of training in a conservatory-type school of dance.

Many studios offer a more eclectic course of study, appealing to a diverse and varied population of dance-artists. Some teachers at these studios offer curriculum that expands beyond the follow- along approach. They provide opportunities for students to engage in problem-posing and problem-solving of conceptual content essential to contemporary dance.4 By drawing out the rigor of our students, regardless of age or place of instruction, we build more engaged and intentional dance-makers and more educated and responsive audiences. Conversations that encourage us to challenge our habitual thinking and dualism can help us find new language to describe, create and evolve the study of our enigmatic art form.

1. Reedy, P. Common Core & Dance: A Perfect Match

2. Habits of Mind were key elements of Common Core and include: applying past knowledge; improvement; persistence; opening to continual learning; problem posing/inquiry; deliberation; creating, imagining, innovating; taking responsible risks; keeping a high standard; communicating clearly; metacognition; listening with empathy; flexibility; fun; working independently; humor

3. Iowa State University, Center for Excellence in Learning & Teaching, A Model of Learning Objectives based on a Revision of Bloom’s Taxonomy of Educational Objectives.

4. Anderson, K. Pedagogical Frontiers in Technique: a Fresh Look at Old Ideas.


Finding Creative Action in the Teaching World

Teaching artists can no longer afford to wait for administrator buy-in or to be offered a seat at the table.

In the January/February 2014 issue of In Dance, I described the genesis of Luna Dance Institute’s (LDI) Summer Institute, a six-day intensive born of the need to bring dance teaching artists and classroom teachers together to transform the cultural practice of how dance is taught to children, preschool through high school. Over the past two decades, LDI’s Professional Learning division has swelled in response to our fi eld’s evolving needs. Initially, the offerings responded to practitioners in the field, addressing how to better prepare themselves for the realities of the classroom, improve teaching practice, and maintain their artistic integrity within a system that valued neither creativity nor risk. LDI courses empower dance teaching artists and their classroom allies to create captivating environments for arts learning and performance and to increase the presence of dance in public schools and social service agencies. Although practitioners have brought dance learning to a higher level of artistry and purpose, there is a point when practitioner-directed programs become endangered because decision-makers do not understand dance, and the institutional practices and structures reinforce an outdated definition of dance teaching and learning. In short, the educational bureaucracy has created gridlock for what is possible in education through the art of dance. To break through this, LDI’s Building Cultures of Dance Initiative takes a multipronged approach: continuing to support practitioner-leaders, modeling a critical pedagogy approach to dance teaching and professional learning, and working with teams of in-community artists and allies.

What teachers need to know
Learning happens in the wild triangle of interaction between teacher, student and subject content. [In Dance June 2013] It is dynamic and relational, with shared ownership of experience and knowledge. Dance teachers can best prepare themselves by addressing all three areas. The teacher starts with clear goals so that the experience provided enhances the lives of everyone involved. Clarity addresses all three points on the triangle; it creates a satisfying experience for the teacher, is true to the needs of the students, and reveals an inclusive understanding of the content. For example, I might have as an overarching goal that students gain an enduring understanding of themselves as creators, that they make new discoveries in action, and that each idea can be voiced in more than one way. Content objectives for a fourth grade modern dance class thus might center on a performance task; for example, students create paragraph length dance studies that reveal an understanding of four Laban efforts—Weight, Space, Time and Flow—to express an idea and its opposite. Depending on the students, goals can be made collaboratively with the student or solely by the teacher, with an eye to giving students freedom of interpretation and choice in the classroom. In either case, articulated goals and objectives guide the many in-the-moment decisions that the teacher must make in the classroom or studio. As one aspect of the triangle, the teacher continues to probe her/his own beliefs, assumptions, biases and aesthetic points of view. Reflection and collegial exchange guide this process, as does creating a feedback loop through embedded assessment practices.

Beyond knowing their dance content, effective teachers know their student population and understand, in general, how human beings learn. All people learn in different ways, using various strengths and drawing on varied experiences. At the same time, different stages of development influence the efficacy of timing and approach in dance teaching. Teachers will get “more bang for their buck” by presenting material well-matched to a specific developmental stage rather than oversimplifying an activity best experienced at a later age. For example, preschool-age children learn in motion. They are exploring the temporal, spatial and tactile experiences of their bodies every single moment. Their cognitive processes are also concrete. Repeated attempts to get them to listen to instructions or explanations of abstract concepts are not the best use of time and energy. A more natural fi t for their developmental level is allowing them to move freely through space, interspersed with concrete prompts to momentarily stop, shape or otherwise control their bodies. They will then absorb the
language and concepts quickly because they are fully immersed. Offering a variety of activities through a range of modalities accommodates diverse learners.

The third point on the triangle is dance content. In this three way relationship, teacher and student each relate independently to the content. The teacher’s knowledge derives from experience, study and values. Given a finite amount of time for class, semester or course, the teacher selects what she/he believes to be important, in an order that makes sense. Each student, however, has her/his own experience, knowledge, and values. Learning happens in a spiral, so students may or may not recognize the order presented by the teacher on the first round. Understanding this constructivist approach leads the teacher to revisit material, inviting students to apply their experience and knowledge to the new learning, and allows space for both inquiry and disequilibrium.

All levels of LDI’s workshops address the three points of the triangle with increasing depth. They also invite dance teaching artists to continue the investigation of themselves as choreographers and reflect on the confluence of the two aspects of their professional selves: dance-maker and dance-teacher. Values based, professional learning at Luna Dance Institute invites the teacher to critically examine assumptions and to question and problematize the known. As a result, teachers find innovation in what was previously known and develop new levels of artistry in their teaching.

What decision-makers need to know
As teachers develop confidence and unite their artist self with their teaching self, they become leaders in dance education. Once freed from the pressure of having to be the sole expert on dance education content, they experience rejuvenation and often want to bring their new-found energy to bear on improving, expanding or creating dance programs in their communities. Luna’s recent Building Cultures of Dance Initiative works with the artist practitioner to develop curriculum, courses, projects or departments that place the art of dance at the center to meet a district’s or neighborhood’s goals.

Over the course of seven years of applied action research, we have learned that the most successful dance education programs are child-centered, teaching-artist-practitioner directed and administratively supported. Teaching artists can no longer afford to wait for administrator buy-in or to be offered a seat at the table. As professionals who know first-hand how dance works, we must create and direct the programs and then request backing. Support includes funding, presence and a clean, safe space, but most of all, it requires will. The administrator must be willing to see what is happening, to understand it just enough to endorse or protect it, and to articulate its value to the larger school or organizational community. Luna’s Dance Education Leadership cohort is our latest effort to investigate the transition of dance teaching artist from skilled instructor to change agent.

Luna Dance Institute’s 2014-15 Calendar of Professional Learning is available June 15, 2014. Our 14th Summer Institute will be held July 17–25, 2014 in Oakland, California


Dance Educators: On a Road to Create Change

Fifteen years ago, I found myself listening deeply to the stories my friends told about trying to teach dance in schools. Consider the experiences of two typical educators:

Josh, a dance teaching artist, felt that his work was unacknowledged and unappreciated. He was expected to teach dance to 40 students in a dark, dirty multipurpose room. The students ranged widely in maturity level and experience and, as is typical of all California public schools, included mainstreamed students with Individualized Education Programs (IEPs) who needed attention to their special needs. Flexible as most dancers are, Josh did his best, trying to engage students with fun dance exercises, contemporary music and his outgoing and generous personality. During classes, his classroom teacher partner, who was ambivalent about carving out time from her overloaded curriculum and test preparation in the first place, sat in the back of the room grading papers and working on a laptop. Occasionally a skirmish would occur and the classroom teacher would pull the offending students out of class for a time-out, leaving Josh temporarily alone with the remaining 38 students. One day, Josh arrived ready to teach, only to find the multipurpose room filled with tables and boxes of books for a Scholastic book fair. Another day, he called me from the school parking lot, in tears because he had driven 40 minutes in the pouring rain to get to dance class, only to find that neither teacher nor school administrator had bothered to inform him the class would be canceled for a school-wide field trip.

A teacher leading a dance class in an elementary school classroom/

Photo by Verna Benz

Unfortunately, Josh’s experience was not an exception. Dance teaching artists confront a widespread lack of respect. Perhaps they should not take things so personally, but consider where dance teaching artists have been forced to teach: in cafeterias where the janitor refuses to put up the tables, in classrooms where teachers refuse to move desks, on the playground while others are having recess or P.E. class, in hallways, in stairwells. One dance teacher was even forced to temporarily set up dance class in the bathroom!

During that same period of time, some of my classroom teacher colleagues saw the value of dance in a holistic, child centered curriculum, but complained about the dance teaching artists’ lack of knowledge about school culture and child development; most often, they felt artists lacked what they called “classroom management” skills.

Consider classroom teacher Shari, who had studied the California Visual and Performing Arts (VAPA) standards and frameworks and was excited to support the multiple intelligences of her students through the art of dance. Even though Shari was under pressure to raise her students’ test scores, she had read the research about movement being good for the brain and saw transferable skills in the Create, Perform, Respond framework. Shari spent her personal time completing the district paperwork necessary to apply for her school to receive a dance “residency” from a local provider, and she assured the principal that her students’ “time on task” would not suffer.

Shari was surprised to find that the dance teaching artist did not teach to the standards and had a difficult time engaging the class. The material taught was not grade or age appropriate and seemed to consist mainly of students following the teacher’s movements. Several of Shari’s students did very well; they loved dance class and “got” the complicated steps of the routine. But Shari couldn’t help but be disappointed, as these students were also her above-average readers and tested well on math. She had hoped that dance would be a better equalizer, improving the confidence of the kinesthetic, musical and spatial learners.

Over the course of two years, Shari’s students had four different resident dance teaching artists. Although none of them taught standards-based dance, some had success with students because of an engaging personality or skillful sharing of a traditional or cultural dance form. But the inconsistent quality and content of the curriculum led Shari to wonder about the choice to spend so much time in dance. The VAPA standards had led Shari to believe that dance would focus on the body, moving in space; that her students would be learning about energy and time; and that she would partner with the dance teacher to connect dance to other classroom learning. After two years, Shari switched to drama for her students.

At the root of both of these limited perspectives we found (1) the general public’s lack of understanding of dance, (2) the relentless pressure on classroom teachers to meet the mandates of No Child Left Behind and teaching to the test, and (3) the dramatic cuts in California public school funding since the late 1970s. These have gradually turned our public school classrooms into dreary facilities in which highly stressed, overworked educators teach students from increasingly high poverty, high-violence neighborhoods—including students with a host of special needs related to health, nutrition, autism, immigration and disability.

In response to this dysfunctional situation, Luna Dance Institute created our first Summer Institute (SI) in 2000. We brought together dance teaching artists and classroom teachers in a six-day intensive for the purpose of understanding each other’s perspective, improving dance teaching, and working in alliance to shift the culture of dance and the culture of schools for California’s children. We were inspired by the philosophy of Susan Stinson, who wrote, “All educators, including dance educators, must prepare students to imagine and create new worlds; to do this, educators must be able to create new worlds within schools” (Design for Arts in Education, 1991). With SI’s lofty goals of co-creating agency and social change, a syllabus rooted in Critical Pedagogy made the most sense. And to demonstrate respect and dignity to these under-appreciated professionals, Luna fundraises extensively so that no fee is charged to the individuals selected, nutritious food is provided throughout the week, and compassionate, individualized coaching is offered throughout the follow-up year. At times, when full funding is achieved, participants have even received a stipend for their time or a contribution to offset travel costs for out-of-town visitors attending the midyear reunion meeting.

With SI now in its 14th year, the syllabus has shifted slightly because the field has noticeably changed. Participants come with less frustration, anger and blame. Instead, they bring focused questions and leave feeling connected, energized and strong. We’re also accepting educators beyond public schools: studio dance teachers, community artists and practitioners and therapists. More than 150 dance educators have attended our SIs, and although not all remain in the field, several have actually become leaders in dance education. They have launched or expanded programs in Hong Kong, Los Angeles and Australia. They advocate for dance programs in their rural and urban school districts, knowing that a strong dance program needs to extend beyond the typical ten-week residency. They understand that space (as well as the body and rhythm) is an element of dance that needs to be allocated, safe and clean. And they grasp that children are playing with energy when they dance and that this may look chaotic to the public school personnel who prefer children in straight lines. Dance teaching artists become more confident as they learn to identify what they value in dance and find ways to weave their values into dance curricula that meet state and national standards and are engaging, creative, fun and rigorous. Most important, dance teaching artists and classroom teachers find that they are allies on behalf of children and build relationships that increase everyone’s sense of agency.

At the annual conferences of the National Dance Education Organization, professionals meet in special interest groups (SIGs) to discuss issues of relevance in their particular group of dance educators. SIGs include K–12, early childhood, higher education, studio, professional dance companies and more. In Miami this past October, I sat in on the Teaching Artist SIG meeting, wanting to know more about what dance teaching artists need now so that I can keep our SI syllabus relevant. I came prepared to discuss the potential labor issue ramifications of teaching artists and credentialed teachers. Instead, I found myself back in 1998, as dance teaching artist after dance teaching artist stated some of the very same complaints I heard more than a decade ago: no respect, no space, no communication, the perils of teaching during prep time, 20-minute dance classes, the need to accommodate the wide range of abilities in the class with no training or support, no professional development and pressures to put on a show with only a seven- or ten-week residency. Our SI veterans have moved the field forward and are asking much deeper questions, but there is still such a long way to go.

Luna’s 14th Summer Institute will be held July 17–25, 2014. Applications will be available February 3, 2014 here. For more information, contact

Universal Design for Learning: Why Does it Matter to Dance Teaching?

SINCE INCEPTION, Luna Dance Institute has investigated strategies for bringing all children to dance, including providing access to children who learn in various ways. We’ve worked with the physically-integrated dance company, AXIS Dance Company, to better understand the creative potential of dancers with a wide range of physical ability, as well as to provide expertise during our learning institutes. We led a six-year inquiry project in our school programs asking, “what does creativity look like in an inclusive classroom?” The more we collect and analyze our observations of student learning, the more we see that all students are able to learn through the art of dance and increase their range and capacity to express themselves.

Universal Design for Learning (UDL) is a set of principles designed to give all individuals equal opportunities to learn. Resulting from years of research by the Center for Applied Special Technology (CAST) on how to provide better education experiences to students with disabilities, UDL is quickly becoming a respected process for bringing to life what the field of neuroscience is uncovering about the various ways individuals recognize, express and engage with information. The elegance of the UDL approach can be found in its adaptability and ease. By understanding and utilizing UDL principles, educators do not have to laboriously de-code, analyze and interpret each and every student’s needs. Rather, UDL guidelines allow educators to create an environment with multiple points of entry for any and every student, regardless of topic. This results in an aesthetic that is universal and flexible at the same time. Discovering and working with the Universal Design for Learning Guidelines dovetailed gracefully into our inquiry by providing a framework for what we were realizing in practice.

In August 2013, Nancy Ng presented Luna’s professional learning, studio and school-based work at the Kennedy Center’s Arts and Special Education Conference. Educators, administrators and teaching artists in all art forms came to the conference to learn from each other and to examine the intersection between arts education and inclusivity. This convening offered a range of sessions, which included creativity researcher, James Caterrall, presenting his latest findings of students participating in a musical theater production. Scholarly work such as Caterrall’s was balanced with practical presentations such as that of a multi-disciplinary training institute providing teaching artists with instructional strategies to use when teaching students with disabilities. Prevalent in each session was the core tenet that the UDL guidelines are beneficial for all students, not just the students with Individual Development Plans (IEPs).

UDL Guidelines are organized toward increasing opportunities for success in three areas: Representation is part of a recognition network allowing diverse learners options for acquiring information and knowledge; Expression provides options for diverse learners to demonstrate what they know; and Engagement taps into learners’ interests, offers challenges and increases motivation. All three areas are meant to guide the educator to creating an environment where any child, at any time, can access what they need to learn. All three can be used in the classroom or studio to allow accessibility to learning for all children in a self-determining way.

The first guideline encourages teachers to use multiple means of representation when teaching including providing options for perception, such as alternatives for displaying information or providing auditory information; providing options for language and symbols including symbols, notation, non-linguistic illustrations and options that promote cross-linguistic understanding; and providing options for comprehension including highlighting the big ideas or relationships or activating background knowledge. Examples in the studio that support this guideline might include using Motif Symbols to support dance concepts or to have students describe their intention; giving movement prompts verbally but also writing them on a whiteboard or monitor; asking students questions about what is most important in a particular movement phrase and having them explore that highlight in various ways before, during and after performing the phrase.

Expression is the second UDL guideline and may come most naturally to the dance educator. Teachers provide multiple opportunities for students to demonstrate what they know including options for physical action including accessing tools and assistive technologies; options for expressive skills and fluency including tools for composition and problem-solving, media for communication and scaffolds for performance; and options for executive functions including supporting planning and strategy development, guiding effective goal setting and enhancing capacity for monitoring progress. Luna’s composition-based curriculum provides multiple opportunities for students to activate their strategic networks in action and expression because our lesson structure scaffolds students’ dance making. For example, students explore concepts, then improvise to certain problems posed by the teacher or inherent to the idea, then create an expressive dance study using that concept. We can leverage accessibility by using UDL guidelines to ask questions along the way that help students organize their time and process such as midway asking “raise your hand if you have the ending of your dance phrase,” or reminding students they have 5, 2, 1 minutes more to work. Other studio examples may include holding Q & A sessions with students or recording brief interviews about their decision-making process.

Teachers in all settings have questions about student engagement. The third UDL guideline asks teachers to provide multiple means of engagement. Many of these may be familiar strategies to the dance teacher, however UDL guidelines infer a level of respect and encourage us to trust the student’s capacity to bring meaning to the learning. Engagement is encouraged by providing options for recruiting interest such as increasing choice and autonomy, reducing threats and distractions, and enhancing relevance; providing options for sustaining effort and persistence such as heighten the salience of goals, vary the levels of challenge and support, and foster collaboration and communication; provide options for self-regulation by guiding personal goal-setting, scaffold coping skills and encourage self-assessment and reflection. Art, by its nature is about meaning-making. By developing the capacity for student voice in choice-making, setting goals and self-reflection, the dance teacher can easily connect the student artist to the concepts of the classroom. As teachers, we can take a critical look at our own curricula and ask ourselves questions such as Why study this? So what? What is the Big Idea implied in this skill or process? or What larger concepts or issues are involved? By understanding our own motivation for teaching particular content, we may discover diverse paths to the curriculum and activate learner agency.

In the studio and in the classroom, Luna faculty has witnessed the power of students naming their own goals, collaborating to solve a problem, making individual choices and reflecting on their learning. In our professional workshops we’re almost always asked questions like: How do you get boys to dance? What do you do about kids who don’t want to dance? and How can I ‘handle’ kids who have learning delays or autism? At the end of the day, it is less about a technique or strategy and more about a point of view. We assume that dance is a good thing. We assume children learn by doing. We assume that all students have ideas and opinions to express in multiple ways and we assume that it is part of our job, as teachers, to provide options that manifest those ways.

Teaching in a Wild Triangle

In my position as Director of Teaching and Learning at Luna Dance Institute, I am often contemplating all that goes on in the teaching of this multifarious art form. Consider, for example, if one “simply” wants to train human bodies to perform a particular style of dance for performance or legacy, one must understand the physical attributes of that form, understand the historical and cultural significance of the form, and be skilled in employing multiple teaching methods to communicate that knowledge to students of varying learning styles.

Often in this situation, the dance teacher can count on students who are motivated to learn the particular techniques of the genre and have accepted the teacher as an expert. Even still, the teacher has many decisions to make. Are we transmitting the form in historically accurate precision or encouraging students to evolve it? Is our understanding of the form specific to a point in time—how might others interpret the same information and what is our responsibility to knowing/conveying that information? Do we know the historical and cultural context of the genre and from what perspective was the heritage passed on? The dance teacher might also need to “read” students well—recognize when students are “getting it” at the level of understanding what they are doing or are merely lucky at replicating? And, does it matter?

To help students who are struggling, teachers must find ways to help them understand, accepting that not everyone learns the same way. What are the various ways students learn and what teaching methods does one need to employ to reach all? Do we care if everyone in the class learns or do we believe that some can and some can’t? What is our responsibility in that case?

In most cases, teaching dance is even more complex. Each teacher must decide what to teach and since dance is too huge to teach everything, we choose to teach what we value. This involves personal reflection informed by experience. Content, however, is only the tip of the iceberg. Once one makes a decision about what to teach, we answer the same questions as the traditionalist about transmitting vs. evolving; historical and cultural context and multiple modes of sharing that knowledge. We consider how to make our values transparent through our choices even as we create space for our students to bring theirs to the experience in a dancing human to dancing human interchange. Thus, pedagogy is personal and relational. “Real teaching,” states Joseph MacDonald (1992), “is a wild triangle of relations—among teacher, students, subject—and the points of this triangle shift continuously.” This opens up an entire new set of questions for the dance educator. Who am I and how do I learn? What do I know about the subject matter? How do I know it? What do I know about the students? In the finite amount of time I have with my students what do I care about most? All of these questions are subjective and values-based.

As a field, therefore, no two classes will be exactly the same. That is OK because it is the essence of human endeavors and maybe the promise of creating future artists. At the same time, what is our responsibility to preparing students in our class for future classes? As an educator, working in the San Francisco Bay Area for more than 30 years, I’ve witnessed hundreds of debates about what should be taught—often, unfortunately, through disparaging comments about the choices our earnest teachers and colleagues have made. This is because we have been naïve in our understanding of what it takes to teach—we believe that there is a best way. Instead, by seeing it as a series of choices, and making those choices transparent, our students can be the deciders of their own educational fate.

Many popular and applied ideas about teaching indicate unexamined assumptions about how people learn. Despite more than 50 years of research evidence about learning, verifying that students must construct their own knowledge and assimilate new experiences in ways that make sense to them, many still believe that a teacher can make a student learn something. This implies a view that learning is uni-directional; that teachers hold knowledge and transmit it to students who then consume it. Educational philosophers from John Dewey to Paolo Freire and their progenies discuss the problems with viewing teaching and learning as a linear transmission of selected content, yet our belief systems hold firm. And these beliefs are embedded in power dynamics. We, as artists who teach, have an opportunity to shift power, by examining and challenging the underlying assumptions that influence our approach to teaching and learning dance. It is now commonly held that the learner plays a key role in the process. In education and business circles, a great deal of energy is put toward “engagement”—how do we “get” students or employees to engage. Yet, again, back to the triangle—students learn in active relationships to teacher, peers and content.

As students of dance ourselves, we know that until we experience something, we don’t know it. The teacher brings to the curriculum a lifetime of experience and knowledge and try as she may—through stories, lecture, demonstration, admonitions, praise, encouragement—it isn’t until we practice in our own bodies that we truly understand. That “aha” moment seems to come by surprise. Yet, it is actually the result of a dynamic relationship between the content (our bodies in space and time), the teacher (trusting her enough to participate in the experiences she provides) and our learner selves (being ready to receive either due to developmental maturity, emotional readiness or will). In essence, each of us constructs our own knowledge. However, we can’t do it by ourselves—we still need the triangle.

We need the experiences of peers, the narrative of our art form, thoughtful presentations of practices by our teacher because we, as humans, are social creatures. The “aha” moment and the act of transformation may occur in private studio moments; moments, sprung from a lifetime of encounters of ourselves with intimates, adversaries and forebearers.

Back and Forth

This year, in fertile Luna Dance Institute land, two new babies are born, bringing the total child count up to eight kids in an organization of eight full-time employees. In the November 2012 issue of In Dance, Alyce Finwall reflected on her dual commitments to parenting and dance-making. Finwall’s questions mirrored those Nancy Ng and I addressed when first creating Luna’s organizational structure. As feminists, we wanted to create a company wherein dance educators had “real” jobs—ones that they could depend on year-long, with benefits. We built an organization dedicated to children, to teaching professionals about sound developmental practices and attachment theory, and to programs that strengthen the parent-child bond. These perspectives did not seem to be at odds in theory. Yet, in practice, how could we, a modest nonprofit, keep our program quality high and hold our staff accountable, yet still allow flexibility for parents?

Photo Courtesy of Cherie Hill

Photo Courtesy of Cherie Hill

I asked our Family Services Manager to write an account of her own experience as a parent for Luna’s annual newsletter. The essay is included below. Erin’s narrative allowed me to see the interconnected nature of the work we get to do. Beyond feminism, as humans we get to bring our passion for dance to life in our teaching. Because we teach with a Critical Pedagogy lens, we are constantly reflecting on our own values, assumptions and practices. It makes sense that we would bring this approach to our parenting as well, supplementing the instinctive nature of parents to pay super close attention to every aspect of that role.

Our children have participated in Luna in many ways—taking class, enrolling in summer camp, helping with events or moving. On maternity leave, new moms might bring their infants to an MPACT class. By bringing children to Luna, our faculty has the opportunity to dismantle walls between work and home. Instead of focusing on “work/life” balance with rigid boundaries, our work allows us a fluidity to see connections and to allow our spheres to mutually inform each other. In the end, each new mother must re-author her own life with child. Meanwhile, at Luna, we are pleased to announce that while the rest of us were holding our 2013 Winter Open House, faculty member Jochelle Pereña was at home giving birth to a brand new baby girl named…Luna.


Dancing Mom
By Erin Lally
What an incredible year this has been. One year ago, I welcomed my sweet baby boy, Felix Rafael, into this world and life has never been the same. Elated to be a new mom, I prepared as best I could, though nothing could really equip me for the reality of motherhood—priorities shifted, sleep had a new meaning, and I was constantly in a state of learning. I loved it.

Three months of maternity leave vanished in a blur and just like that it was time to return to work. My husband’s commitment to help care for our son made the transition easier although it was hard to leave the comfort of baby and home. Fortunately, working for a child-focused dance organization fulfilled my desire to share my love of dance with others.

Photo courtesy of Alisa Rasera

Photo courtesy of Alisa Rasera

A dance educator for ten years, I’ve spent the last four years as Family Services Manager at Luna Dance Institute where I am responsible for Luna’s Moving Parents and Children Together (MPACT), a family dance program. MPACT focuses on parent-child bonding by promoting play and fun through dance. It is my favorite program at Luna and one that touches many families from all walks of life. We take MPACT on the road and conduct classes at many locations including residential homes for moms recovering from substance abuse. There, moms live with their youngest children and participate in MPACT to support reunifying and mending their parent-child relationship.

Teaching parent-child classes without the experience of motherhood was a little tricky. Before Felix, I was confident in my role as expert in dance content and child development, but I lacked the actual experience of mothering and the joys, sorrows, frustrations and pure love that accompanies it. Often moms looked to me for parental education seeking guidance on how to interact, what to expect of their children and assurance that they are “good” moms. Until Felix came along, I could only share teacher knowledge—“it’s okay if your four-month old is not crawling yet,” “two-year olds assert their independence.” Now my knowledge is grounded in personal experience—I relate as a fellow parent—the perfect combination!

Felix changed my life in profound ways but I had not anticipated how parenting would make me a better and happier teacher. And to my surprise, Felix not only informed my work with moms and children, my work informed my parenting! I loved being pregnant and was excited to know and physically feel Felix move in utero, practicing development patterns that he would continue once born. I also loved teaching dance to moms with my big round belly and sharing these experiences and stories of our pregnancies together. And I treasure relating to moms in a whole new capacity because we were now in the same club – the mother club.

Witnessing Felix move through the first year of life has been remarkable and applying my teacher knowledge to my own parenting has been reassuring (for example, knowing that rocking back and forth on all fours activates the head-tail connection, preparing the baby for crawling). At home, dance and play times are an integral part of our day. We have progressed from tummy time dance, to singing, to dancing with Felix in a Moby wrap, to crawling after him on the floor, and now as we bop and clap to music, we dance! Our current nightly ritual includes fifteen minutes of high-energy dance before bath time and then winding down for the evening. Dance is an essential part of my being, my work and my parenting. I look forward to experiencing how Felix will continue to challenge and inform my role as teacher, and how dance will continue to shape the life of my sweet baby boy and the lives of the many parent-child participants.

Coda: As the founder of Luna, I’ve longed to create community through the art of dance. So, nothing makes me happier than seeing our faculty mom’s bring their children into the studio. Iris Rasera-Holden took the Waddler & Toddler class with her mom Alisa last semester, Cherie Hill’s son, Erijah, enrolled in Modern Dance Improvisation, Felix Rafael Lally does his own thing in the middle of the dance floor as Erin his mom holds parent meetings and my own 17-year old son, Colin, will soon be helping with security at our events. All in the family is a key ingredient to building community.

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