By 6pm on the last Tuesday of any given month, you’ll find a Luna Dance Institute faculty member in a sweat and speed-talking as they jog back-and-forth from their office phone, to our Professional Learning library for an in-person meeting. This sweaty-session is part of Luna’s free consultations that provide back-to-back coaching sessions over a three-hour period. Each consult presents the dance artists at Luna with impromptu inquiries into dance education. The monthly marathon tests our teachers’ skills of improvisation as they listen to and support a unique spectrum of dance teaching artists working in various capacities. It’s exhausting, but it’s the kind of exhaustion that is also exhilarating. While by the end of the evening the consultant may collapse in a chair, it is not without a smile on their face, happy to have stretched their creative muscles.
When Luna began offering professional development workshops in 1994, we saw a steady stream of questions flowing in about the art of teaching dance. Eventually it became too much to answer every question immediately — there were far too many — and yet we didn’t want to abandon the mentoring and Q&A services entirely. Clearly there was a need for an ad hoc dance educator support system. Therefore, in 2008 we launched our free monthly consultations as a way to give back to the field, share our expertise, and listen to the needs of our fellow artist educators.
For more than a decade, we’ve heard a wide-range of questions from dance practitioners from throughout California, across the States, and around the globe, such as—How do I change careers from engineer to dance teacher? My curriculum is too restrictive, what can I do? How do I get a dance program going? How can I expand the program I already have? What advice do you have about a labor dispute with my employer? The questions we get run the gamut. Sometimes a question launches a long-term relationship that offers us an up-close view of a dance education leader emerging.
Julie Lebel is one such person. She first called us after reading the May 2012 issue of In Dance which included an article by Patricia, co-writer of this article, about early child development. As the founder of Foolish Operations Ensemble, Julie had been intent on continuing her work as an artist and choreographer after becoming a parent. After touring Stroller Dances, she launched Paper Playground and Dancing the Parenting, two programs that bring dancers, choreographers, parents, caregivers, and young children together to engage in creative process and performance. She visited Luna to take the first Family Dance Institute offered in 2014, then returned to Vancouver to expand her dance-parenting programs. Julie invited Patricia to give the keynote address at a conference she was organizing in Vancouver and teach several community workshops while she was there. Foolish Operations performed Yarn-Around at that conference which led to several hours of dialogue between Julie and Patricia about intention and tension trying to meet the needs of parents and children in the same space. Recently, Julie called again, requesting help to document her pedagogical theory and practice and develop a training module so that she can build capacity by teaching other choreographer-teacher-parents how to do what she does. We all saw this as a way to help Julie expand her program and allow her to continue to tour her choreographic work. We at Luna look forward to this new 2019-20 partnership to continue to push the envelope of what it means to embody multiple roles of artist, educator, parent, and community builder.
Dasha Che is another young leader Luna has engaged with. A Russian-born, Bay Area-based dance artist, Dasha came to an initial consult with a vision of bringing dance improvisation workshops to the LGBTQ+ community of St. Petersburg, Russia. Challenging the socio-political environment that marginalizes and oppresses LGBTQ+ bodies, Dasha planned to offer a creative space for folx to experience physical freedom, touch, and expression. As we unpacked Dasha’s developing program in that first consult, we talked about how the success of the workshops would rely on a strong pedagogical foundation and a reflective practice. A seasoned dance artist, Dasha decided to enroll in Luna’s Developing & Implementing Dance Curricula – A, a course that was developed to strengthen teaching skills, particularly those of curriculum design, leading movement classes, and observing and responding to the needs of students. A year later we heard from Dasha, this time thrilled to tell us about the growth of their program, Telaboratoria, that taught 350 hours of dance classes to over 200 LGBTQ+ folks over nine months. Their pilot run was ready to take off again, and while they were writing grants to fund another year of free community classes in Russia, Dasha was seeking more training as a dance educator to take Telaboratoria into its next stage. They signed up for Developing & Implementing Dance Curricula – B, which focuses on building lessons into longer units, teaching the art of composition, and creating a personalized teaching philosophy. We know we’ll continue to be in touch with Dasha as they cultivate their program and their voice as an artist-educator-activist.
While we often meet emerging dance teaching artists through our consults, expert educators call in too for fresh perspectives and curricular shifts. Lisa Simon is the Lower School Dance Educator at ‘Iolani School in Hawaii, and despite living an ocean away, she was destined to join Luna’s learning community. “I first visited Luna while on vacation about ten years ago, then reconnected recently on the advice of artistic coach Hope Mohr. As I explored Luna’s website, I was drawn to the wide range of offerings uniquely tailored to support dance educators,” Lisa explains. A veteran dance educator who has led her school’s program over the past 25+ years, she spent her semester-long sabbatical investing in inquiry and her own professional development. Lisa signed up to be a Professional Learning User, which allowed her to book a series of consults and dive deep into her questions: How can I bring classes outside to my school’s new natural playground, to play through movement and respond creatively to an interactive environment? How can I strengthen community with relationship-based dance opportunities including multi-generational participation? How can I design unique movement experiences to allow students to honor their family legacies? Lisa then flew out to take an Improvisation and Community workshop with us to glean more ideas and to put into action some of what she discussed in her consults. Lisa shares, “My Luna consults with Nancy Ng and Patricia Reedy have included rich conversations about turning ‘dream big’ ideas into the movement opportunities I design for young students. The generous offering of consult sessions sparked exciting developments for our program at `Iolani and my own growth as a dance educator.”
Local dance artists often book in-person consultations and meet us in our Professional Learning library. Besides forming meaningful, real-life connections, these face-to-face sessions allow us to pull articles, books, and resources off the library shelves to help answer questions and provide curriculum examples. Highlights of these local inquiries include helping prepare proposals for conference presentations or new programs; orienting Bay Area newcomers to the dance resources of the region; and introducing teachers to experts in their topic of interest such as special education, intergenerational teaching, or cultural dance forms.
Our Professional Learning faculty rotates in our position of monthly consultant so that we each have a turn fielding questions. When we’re on call our own creativity is challenged. We must be flexible, fluid, and quick while challenging ourselves to stretch outside of our own box. In 30 minutes we listen deeply to what is being asked (and what is not), ask strategic questions to uncover more, then offer a tidbit of advice that is meaningful to the caller. Such a great creativity workout.
These consults also benefit Luna by serving as “field research” to the pedagogy we offer in our professional learning workshops. By spending so much time listening to dance educators, we ensure our fingers are on the pulse of what’s going on in our field — what questions and inquiry are being presented now, what are the current big issues today? This influences our own research at Luna and informs the design of each year’s Professional Learning calendar of workshops and events. And there’s always that surprise call from a Luna workshop alum from many years ago. Sometimes they’re looking for a curricular refresher, but more often than not, they’re in a new leadership position and calling for advice on how to step up as an advocate for dance education. When we get off the phone we exclaim to everyone in the office, “Guess who I just heard from! And guess what they’re doing now!” We’re reminded why we are a relationship-based organization and of the impact of investing in connections. It’s exciting to reunite and even more exciting to celebrate the growth of these practitioner leaders. And it keeps us hopeful for the future of our field, as we hear about their projects and help them strengthen their voice and vision. You can read about some of these leaders and their stories on our website at https://lunadanceinstitute.org/news/blog/#teachers-creating-change.
What can we help you with? No question is too big or small. If you are curious about any aspect of dance teaching and learning—from curriculum advice to career counseling to a leadership pep talk—we’re here for you. Give us a call, or come meet us in person. Free consultations are scheduled in 30-minute increments between 3:30 and 6pm the last Tuesday of each month. Reserve your time at http://lunadanceinstitute.org/professional-learning/resources/consultations/
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This article appeared in the October 2019 issue of In Dance.