All my life, I have danced in some form. My mother opened The Modern School of Dance Education in Washington, DC (1944), continuing the legacies of Hanya Holm and Ruth St Denis who were her mentors throughout the 1930’s and 40’s. My career, however, went a different route than performance – one towards an expanded understanding of dance as critical to societal health and wellbeing. To this end, I evolved a trans-disciplinary career that brought together dance and the Somatic movement arts, human movement science and rehabilitation medicine. I found multiple ways of articulating the values and benefits of dance through theoretical- and practice-based research. Over the past four decades, I have sourced from science (biology and brain science), rehabilitation medicine, phenomenology, aesthetics and other disciplines. These affirmed dance as a unique form of practice-as-research, an art form that stood to contribute as much to the education of science as to art. I contributed to the development of Somatics, a movement in mind-body disciplines that over the course of a half century of dialogue, would change the face of dance training.
Today, I teach within the larger scope of embodiment: what it means to have a body, act as a lived and living body, and create through the meta-physical body. I advocate for embodied learning through an educational approach with the following aims: Emancipating students from habitual postures and conformist, commodified and complicit behaviors that distort human values, and by working towards embodied creativity and agency in evolving sustainable bodies/futures.
At the foundation of my teaching philosophy is the urge to help students develop an in-depth inquiry into embodiment as foundational to life-long learning – to raise questions, critique, and reflect on the the potential and vulnerability of the human body within both dance and life. This I accomplish through structuring movement practices that emphasize sensory awareness as a means of honing critical skills of cognition and affect, such as attention and appreciation. In my classes, students attend to discrete sensory phenomena as they move in slow time and over longer durations, building an environment atypical from dance class or daily functioning. This inquiry is critical to any dance students’ artistic and personal growth. By extension, it is critical to the development of human values and of gaining a sense of responsible citizenship and the creative agency needed to address personal, artistic, and societal needs.
Dance already offers a number of self-regulatory skills – to cope and be disciplined and resilient under pressure, to participate democratically in the distributed creativity of making and performing dances, and to value the body in its ability to discover, uncover and recover. What my teaching adds to dance training is the time and space to explore the sensate and kinesthetic dynamics of body learning more deeply. I provide a learning laboratory in which dancers (and non-dancer enthusiasts) can develop both sense-ability and autonomy. Such an exploration is fundamental to laying the psychophysical groundwork for a sense of safety, being and belonging. The ‘goal’ is to encounter states of mental and physical effortlessness and ease to allow for new movement creation to surface without anxiety and self-consciousness. The concept of ‘process over product’ is key. Here students explore bodily movement without the demand for technical achievement or optimizing performance. The point is for students to feel safe enough to explore bodily expression in a group setting without feeling pressured to perform or conform.
Therefore, I act as a guide and a muse within the multiple issues that arise within the communal studio space. We are all in process – myself included – and are learning together. Everyone is included and welcomed into the learning circle. I am interested in what each person brings – his or her interests, passions, challenges, and practices that complete the weave of their dance life. I believe it is critical to support their strengths while challenging them to engage in exploring new material through structured improvisation. Such challenge lies in exposing ways to risk without recklessness. Such risk in embodied learning means the freedom to make mistakes and the rigor to face misconceptions as integral to artistic (human) growth. What the students bring forth and explore within my curriculum is something they hopefully can also live outside the studio walls.
Last, I strive to stay informed of current sociocultural theory. Staying informed of current concepts helps in the process of building a vocabulary for personal- and collective experience. Further, it helps dancers articulate their inquiry in ways that contribute to the overall scholarship of dance.
Creative/artistic discovery through human movement has no boundaries, and we are life-long investigators in the quest for autonomy and agency. By opening all our senses to the differences, distinctions, affects and ambiguities that movement generates and by commiting to probing the exploration, we become competent dance artists. Ultimately, we become more connected as human beings. In the end, embodiment studies are nothing more than a way of knowing. But what is known? To quote Martin Luther King, Jr., it is our ’inescapable network of mutuality.’