Biting Your Own Teeth

According to Pinterest (I know, I know) Alan Watts said, “Trying to define yourself is like trying to bite your own teeth.”

I have written about defining and labeling at several points over the years on this blog as well as for Dance Advantage.

I am in the midst of change with my relationship to dance and the proportions of focus through which I see and do. I think I write that every summer.

In my graduate study, I explored a movement curriculum as a method to alleviate symptoms of PTSD. Over the years, my teaching has taken principles of that work and implemented it into the structure of my classes as I worked with at-risk youth and others. I am finding myself currently drawn back into that world as I embark on some projects this summer. More on that to come.

This year, Daria Halprin’s book The Expressive Body in Life, Art, and Therapy: Working with Movement, Metaphor, and Meaning has never been far out of reach.  It has been influential and it brought me to this (page 64) about dance therapy pioneer Mary Starks Whitehouse, “She first called her approach movement in-depth and later authentic movement. She remarked that a significant turning point was the day when she realized that rather than teaching dance, she was teaching people. More than theory or philosophy, the inner life of the mover was of primary interest to Whitehouse. For her, movement was a way of becoming conscious more than a way to “act out”.” And here I am.

I have many friends navigating the waters of change right now: people leaving classrooms, leaving traditions, leaving fields, leaving relationships, leaving countries.

Change equals movement.

Once upon a time, I wanted to use my teaching to produce dancers. Then it was to also produce thinkers. Now it is also to help guide people to the knowledge they already hold. Do you see it? It is and, and. Not either/or.

Movement changes what we think and how we think it. What we think changes how we move.

I am observing the consciousness surfacing through my own movements. I am curious about the consciousness of inner life for these friends of mine as they move. I am finding the more I drop the labels and definitions, defense and offense, I am able to honor more of who I am rather and what I offer. My inner life is more thoroughly realized. I wonder if they are feeling the same.

I have spent years, decades actually, defining.            I want to stop.

I think the challenge of change hasn’t been about the change itself- the tasks, the environment, the affiliations. It has been about the shift in definition. If I am this now, does it mean that I am no longer that? No. At least not in my situations. It is altering the proportions, gaining more dimension by accumulating “ands”.

How are you moving these days? What is surfacing? What are you accumulating?

Where in this Moment

I am standing at the gate of opportunity; a wide open space.

I am here thinking about a post by Seth Godin about how it isn’t necessarily the how or the why that matters most in your journey; it is where. Where is the fear?

Where is the fear that is holding me back?

Fear  is where I think I am not able to define what it is that I want to do…

It is where I think I am not able to do it because somehow I am not enough…

It is where I think I am not finding the right “place”…

It takes me to the how…

I can feel what it is I want to do. How do I act upon it?

I know what it is I want to do. How do I explain it? Ship it?

I am where I am and we aren’t planning to move. How do I make this work here?

And the why…

I want to help people connect with themselves, with ideas, and with each other.

I want dance to serve as way of healing, self-discovery, and expression.

In looking back at that list, it seems fear is where I think I am. But where am I really?

For now I am imagining this open space as a sheep meadow. It is green, vast, and beautiful. There’s nothing scary about sheep.

Where is the fear that is holding you back?

What is it holding you back from doing?

And

I have recently been in a situation dominated by “either, or” and it has prompted me to think about this in terms of dance education.

In (dance) education, consumers- and many providers- seem stuck on classifying everything. Rating everything. Judging everything. (Read my article for Dance Advantage on why I refer to the current generation of dancers as “The Hybrids”. ) I find myself frustrated.

Why either, or? Why this and not that? Why what I like and not what I could use more of? Why me instead of you?

What about “and”?

Liz Lerman has been the the most recent “guest thinker” in my classroom. (By this, I mean that I shared some of her words from Hiking the Horizontal, described her work, showed video excerpts, and some of her lectures available online). As a class, explored dance as a means to connect to self, self to group, group to group. We were examining what we have to express and how how go about expressing it. We entered conversations about value, purpose, and measurement.

I shared this talk by Lerman at Simon Fraser University.

In it, Lerman talks about shifting the spectrum of measurement from top down or bottom up to sideways- making room for everything to be seen and valued. She also beautifully explains the catalysts for her varied aspects of work.

I used this as part of the students’ final exam. Create your spectrum- what is at the polarized ends? How do you measure it- vertically, horizontally, circularly? Where do you fall right now? Why? Where have been before and where are you headed next?

There is power in “and”.

My career has depended on it. My experience has depended on it. Hasn’t yours?

Getting to the Point

What is the point of (dance) education if not to help students connect with themselves, connect ideas, connect to others, and connect to action.

What is the point of (dance) education if not to produce citizens that can think and express in multiple modalities.

What is the point of (dance) education if not to help others to leave their egos for enlightenment and become better people and not just better at tasks.

What is your point?

in the company of others

This semester has been great. I am digging my students, my new teaching environment, the content in which I get to delve, and look forward to structuring our experiences differently over time with the wisdom I am gaining on a daily basis.

Here’s the depth of my satisfaction. In a letter to my company dancers the day before break, I said this:

Dancers,

I have spent countless hours trying to figure out where I most want to dance or most want to teach; where my family and I most want to live, and where we most want to spend our time.

I am fortunate because I never had to start with the “what”- it has always been dance for me. Really it has always been about education, too.  As I chased a performance career, what I was really doing was mining my teaching philosophy and collecting experiences and strategies to share with students. I just didn’t realize it at the time.

At long last, though, I have come to understand I have been asking the wrong question. It really isn’t  about the “where”: should I dance in big cities or mid-western cities, should I audition for companies or projects, should I aim for big programs or little programs, higher ed or K-12….the list goes on and on.

It is really all about the “who”.

In life, you must be in the company of others. This can be tricky. Sometimes the “who” that inhabit the “where” you THOUGHT you most belonged make you miserable. Sometimes the “who” that inhabit the “where” you thought you DIDN’T most belong, change your life and open your eyes to things you never considered before. I have experienced both.

Now, I have the distinct fortune to be in a “where” that stimulates the dancer-side of my self (working with dedicated and talented dancers), the “teacher” side of my self (working with students that love dance for what it adds to their lives though not necessarily their careers), and the “professional” side of my self (working with people that are professional and passionate).

I recently found something I wrote while I was living and dancing in NYC (and working a lot of retail). I wrote that I wanted a small life, one deep in meaningful work. I wrote that I wanted to live in sweat pants and bare feet. As I recall, that was a time that felt like a constant hustle. Securing jobs, juggling jobs, always having to prove my worth or potential within minutes. Days of wearing emotional armor while I paved a career that seemed to be largely based on chance yet built upon decades of hard work and striving. What changed for me was that I stopped trying to be suitable for others- wanting desperately to convince them to take a risk on me. I started deciding if they were worth the risk.

As it turns out, all jobs are a little like that. Relationships, too. You could spend your life trying to live up to the standards of and for others, or of and for yourself. When you do the latter, the “right” things emerge.

This year has been a risk for me, and for my family. We have had to adjust to new schedules, new budgets, new demands of time and responsibility- but it has been a risk worth taking.

It has been worth the risk because of the company of others that I am able to enjoy daily. Hourly. Semesterly. Yearly.

My wish for you is that while you are so focused on making the “right” decisions, you remember the who– your sense of self, your value, your self-worth. I hope you continue to find the company of others that help you recognize and maintain that perspective and allow you to do meaningful work and share the love– whatever that means for you, in dance, through dance, or beyond dance.

Have a restful break and thanks for everything.

Always,
hvs

I share this with you, readers, because in the larger scope I am in your company as well. I appreciate you.

As I think about the blogs that I frequent, the authors I enjoy most, the people I consider friends, I am drawn to the dimensionality of their lives. As I reflect on the most meaningful experiences of 2014, they have all been when we have been real, open, and engaged. While I consider this mainly a professional blog, and therefore don’t discuss much about other aspects of my life than dance and feelings related to my experiences in dance, I recognize that perhaps you are interested in knowing me differently.

I recently joined instagram (hvsdance). I was inspired to do so after listening to a great knitting podcast (Woolful) and wanted to see more about the work of these fiber artists. What it has done though, is inspire me to create (knitting, cooking, writing, documenting, moving) in ways that other forms of social media don’t necessarily promote. I enjoy seeing the images of lives very different from my own, but also of those that are similar. It helps me not compare in achievement but in shared love of the little things. The things that make life great. It helps me feel connected to people that like the same things I do because I see how they feel. Just be warned that I post a lot about my knitting and won’t post photos of my students so I am unsure of how dance will present in my feed, if at all.

I hope the new year brings you peace and love and movement and creativity. We plan to “keep it simple”;  #livethelittlethings, #authenticliving, #simplify (a few of my favored hashtag searches).

Where I Fell in Love

This weekend I have enjoyed the honor of returning to my alma mater to create a dance for first year college students. The students are lovely. We are enjoying an opportunity to get to know each other as movers and as people and the dancers are enjoying a new (to them) process for creating dance and creating a culture.

The honor, though, is the luxury of time in the space I poured myself into many years ago. To return to the environment that opened my eyes to the artistry of dance, strength of character, and gave me opportunities to take risks and truly be seen. I hear the echoes of wisdom doled by sage mentors and I am flooded with fondness for friends and memories made there.

My lens is not totally rose-tinted. I equally recall the struggles and challenges, the drama and the sacrifices yet I acknowledge the resulting sense of group and the profound sense of belonging I felt there.

It hits me now that it is precisely that feeling I have been searching for, professionally, ever since.

WMU was where I found my “flow” as theorized by Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi- where interest, rigor, and appropriate challenge result in joy, the kind of joy when time is lost and sense of self is found. An optimal experience.

This piece explores the notion of seeing and being seen. We are sifting through the landscape of being a “first year”- eager to demonstrate and impress, bridled with the change of status from leader to low man, feeling invisible and being hungry for acknowledgement.

We have talked about being “under construction” in technique class, as technical skills are built or rebuilt, and the longing to “just dance” which really means reconnecting with the dancer- selves we knew and understood. There is no going back, though. That is the sneaky thing about growth.

Being in a new teaching position, in spite of my substantial experience, I can relate to the “first year” experience. I am living it. Being new is exhausting, even in the best of environments. Reputation means little after the initial invitation to do whatever it is you want to do, until you can establish your reputation all over again in a new place, with new circumstances, new people. Character. I think it takes character to build character. I think it takes character to help others build character. This will be a big topic in my classes at the high school this week.

Yesterday we ended rehearsal with four questions,
What have you seen today?
What have you allowed to be seen today?
What are you reluctant to share?
When do you feel seen (acknowledged, valued, appreciated)?

Some of these are as tricky for me to answer, I think, as they are for the students and equally as important.

We decided yesterday, we are searching for fulfillment. That is defined differently for each of us, but one commonality kept coming through- we want to change people’s perspectives. We want to move people.

We’ll be back at it at 1pm.

Living Life as an Experiment

Have you ever had that experience in which what you have been wishing for materializes and you can hardly catch your breath? You can hardly believe it is real. It is as if your mind has been read and you find yourself in a place where all the right things align? A place that you thought may only exist in your imagination but in fact is real and only an hour away. One that doesn’t hold perfection but does hold immense promise? And your eyes may or may not occasionally leak as a result.

You feel a little like Alice in your own version of a Wonderland- a place full of curiosity, provoking thought, happy people, and things to learn and see and do?

Yeah. That is me right now. See….

I love teaching dance in the public school system. I love it for its potential for students, its representation of the breadth of the field, its opportunity to develop dance advocates.

Dance in the K-12 setting allows me to teach everything I love about dance: technical theory, history, performance theory, and the creative process. Every lesson is experiential, whether it is challenging our definitions and applications of technique, understanding the legacy of dance in concert and social forms, or relating dance to other subject areas to simply make sense of life. (Okay, maybe not so simply but certainly profoundly.)

Teaching in the public schools has introduced me to a passion for teaching and understanding many layers of development (social, emotional, cognitive) that I didn’t realize I had when I was working exclusively in the world of dance.

Teaching in the public schools has introduced me to a desire to really connect with people and not merely communicate with them on a variety of levels. Teaching here has allowed me to put down my biases (artistic, social,….), be willing to truly be seen by the students among me. I have learned to truly see them. Students have taught me about what is most important in life. It may include battements and flatbacks, but it isn’t about them specifically.

Teaching in the public schools has introduced me to people that have made deep impressions on my life- in how I think, plan, structure, communicate, create,….. Some of these introductions have been in the classroom, or in the school itself. Others have been due to related work, such as assessment development at the state level. All have been professional and became personal.

Finally, I have met a community that shares my values and has put these values into practice. Our values are visible, tangible, sustainable.

  “Live life as an experiment”.

I have been doing this in the studio my whole life.
     
I have done that with my dance career.
  
I am doing that now with my career in education.
         

I have gained so much in teaching dance in a K-8 program for the last few years. But I have come to decide that I do my best work with secondary students- middle school, high school, and college. I like the K-12 setting for the inclusion of all aspects of dance rather than segregating concepts into classes and styles (modern, jazz, history, composition,….).

Now, I return to the high school level but this time in a district very different from the one I have known. I am directing a serious program of serious dancers with beautiful training. I lead a community of people committed to making dance and arts education a priority. I am already professionally challenged and supported.

I am grateful for all the lessons and the people that have led me here. And now, I am grateful for the opportunity for change and for growth. I know it won’t all be easy but it will be positive and it will be valuable. It will be professional and become personal.

Just as “a world-class education”- a Wonderland- should be.