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.

present and connected

This weekend I had the distinct honor of presenting at the McEntire Education Summit, hosted by Trent McEntire. Trent and I are old friends- the best kind, where you don’t speak nearly often enough but when you do, it is as if not a day has gone by. Trent is a force in the pilates world, a real icon and one that takes people and their potential seriously.

A couple months ago, Trent and I had a conversation about helping educators enhance their relationships, their connections, with their clients.

This, in tandem with research I have been conducting with a dear colleague and special education expert, Karen Hicks, has launched a new line of professional development presentations for me.

We address the presence and application of movement in academic classrooms, how to conceive and implement authentic arts integration. As a dance educator in a dance-specific setting, I present alternatives to the traditional and often shaming methods of teaching dance. Here is another way to describe it:

What is it?

Empathy-based pedagogy, emotionally-intelligent teaching

What is the application?

Acknowledgement of people first, then organizing movement systems to help them reach toward and beyond their potential. Get the most out of your time, get the most out of your experiences.

What is the result?

Happiness by way of growth, service, and satisfaction. By way of relationships, communication, and support.

Why? (Although I have always known the why, Trent has continually pushed me to find the words).

I believe movement connects. (Bodies to ourselves, our minds, our ideas, our potential)

I believe connections save lives. (Connections of people, ideas, dots, movements, mantras, communities, you name it…….)

But the longer why is that it has taken me years to put down my “dance-traumas” as a friend has described them. The wounds and complications experienced in training my body and mind to master and compete. For what?

In working with the students I see on a regular basis, life is already full of challenge, condescension, and competition. Pitting students against each other, yelling corrections, and delivering nasty looks doesn’t produce anything productive. Even subtle “judgements” set up obstacles over solutions. I am not against competition altogether, but there is healthy competition and unhealthy. I realized that many of the negative messages I received from teachers (of all subjects- NOT just dance!!!) were probably not even intended, they may simply have been received. So my goal is to help people understand those messages and build intention in what they are sending and what they are choosing to receive.

Want to know more?

  • I will be teaching a pedagogy-based movement experience for Dance in the Annex this August (dates to come) in Grand Rapids, MI.
  • Karen Hicks and I will be presenting a professional development session for STEAM teachers at the Mt. Hope STEAM school in Lansing in August.
  • AND we will be presenting at the National Dance Education Organization Conference in Chicago this November (Saturday 11:30).
  • Or I/we can come to you…..

This is the work that has nurtured some of the best relationships of my life. You deserve the same.

 

Bend It Like Bikram

Gloriously, I am back into my Bikram practice. So far, it hasn’t been as frequent as I’d like but I gradually feel myself coming back. In the months away, I continued to teach and dance yet I lost a lot of strength. It has been a strenuous year in terms of body and spirit and thus, the return to a class that makes me feel safe and able to care for myself is most welcomed. It also inspires me to provide that same sense of safety and self-nurturing for my students. More on that to follow…..

One night, post Bikram, I woke to check on one of my kids I heard talking in their sleep. Once awake, true to form, my mind wandered and wondered. There have been several situations  pulling at me to reflect on what I do and how I do it. Within this process, I am pushed to define the differences of those that practice the arts and those that claim it as an identity. I work with both. I am both.

Here is what I decided that night:

I believe anything done with intention becomes an art. Expression is not about the audience but the projection of self. Therefore, the performance never ends, the processing is the constant rehearsal. The refinement results in enlightenment and a lift of the soul created through an authentic act of learning.

 

I view the arts as a humanity- an innate part of the soul through which one creatively problem-solves and articulates deeply-held theories and ideas– so deep they shall be expressed only in artistic form.

 

Artists are those who nurture the talent and commitment to perform at intense levels and who might also feel they know no other way. For them, practicing the arts is beyond a lifestyle; it is a way of life, a way of knowing, a way of being.

This summer I have been more attentive to my dabbling in the arts. I have returned to sketching, painting, crafting, creating, cooking, writing, knitting, even cross-stitching (working on patches for my son’s backpack since patches are really, really hard to find these days!).

I have realized that for a long time I have not claimed some of these interests and meager talents because I don’t have professional level skills nor am I pursuing them as a profession. I say “claim” in the meaning that they are a part of my identity (except knitting, I have called myself a knitter for a few years now). I have also tended to see writing as an extension of my work as a dance educator simply because of the subject matter. I haven’t allowed that identity to stand alone.

I have also noticed that I feel the need to find an excuse to engage in these enjoyments- a recipient for the item I am knitting, etc. I have a hard time allowing myself to do these things because I enjoy them. I feel pressured to be busy and have a product that proves it wasn’t time spent selfishly.

So, I pledge to work on that. I am striving to see “play” as the invaluable tool it is- the time to connect with others, let some things go, and open doors for new ideas and inspiration.

Bending my thoughts to be just as intentional about play and rest and creative expressions, just as I bend my body for nourishment and nurturing in Bikram.

Areas of Expertise and The Great Disconnect

This year I had the opportunity to talk to several professionals representing institutions with K-12 dance education programs. Within our conversations, the subject of technique came up and it was clear that the faculty teaching technique courses were only expected to teach within a single discipline; their “area of expertise”.

I casually asked if the faculty were ever allowed or encouraged to teach across disciplines- technically, conceptually, theoretically,…. I was usually met with a repeat that faculty tend to teach in their “area of expertise” which was defined by how they made their money dancing professionally.

Yet, their students will be expected to teach several disciplines. (As well as composition, history, theory,….)
Yet, very little of the dance I see being made these days is “pure” in style or approach.
Yet, the biggest cry of our society is that schools aren’t producing creative, thinking people.

What strikes me most about this is not even the “do as I say and not as I do” approach to curriculum planning but the narrowness by which these dancers must view their own field.  I think it is a little…..dated.

Maybe they aren’t watching the same dance I am- in terms of what is being made, who is making it, where it is presented, and who it serves.

I “get” why one would want to stick to what they know best when assuming a position of authority, as an educator does. Yet, why not model how to connect ideas, take risks, and think outside traditions. I know it feels messy from an administrative point of view. So what.

Is it because these programs are in “higher education” that they must have “specialized” conversations. Or is it because these college students will be teaching children that they may be less “specialized” in their own teaching. I am not suggesting that every dance educator serve as a generalist, but I think we could benefit from a having a few more.

Where is the value- the content or the learner?

Maybe I should ask where is the bias- the content or the learner?

I suppose that is the other piece that feels dated to me: I am the educator- come to meet me. Heaven forbid we meet the learner’s needs.

What if making connections IS the area of expertise?

Sometimes the arts aren’t very creative.

What are we going to do about it?

The Secrets Behind My Busy

I don’t love busy. In fact, I hate it.

At this stage of my career, though, and my stage in life- working mom with two small children, busy is a must. I work really hard, though, in making busy not just busy-for-the-flash-of-it, but for the intention and advancement toward personal and family goals. And, truly, for the ultimate satisfaction in each and every endeavor. I have reached a point now that if the endeavor doesn’t feed me, I don’t do it. I don’t have time to waste.

Here’s my approach to busy:

1. Composite Career

So I have been reading this book, One Person/Multiple Careers by Marci Alboher. I am a slasher.

As someone working in the arts, I have always felt the need to have options for what might come next. This was definitely true when performing- my gigs were short-term. This was true in grad school when completing the task at hand was intended to put me on a path for my teaching career. When my career path took unexpected turns, that at times meant assessing my then-current situation with my long-standing goals. At other times, those turns meant being forced to pursue other options. Parenting helped open my eyes to the rest that life has to offer. Arts integration validated my personal interests in other academic pursuits such as writing and has encouraged me to pursue some of those interests professionally as well.

Essentially, I am attempting to live up all of my passions and in doing so, all of my segments of life have improved.

2. Strategies in Layering

In having a composite career, multiple jobs happening simultaneously, I have to be mindful for connections between projects. This is how I tend to choose projects these days. For example, the work that I do with the Michigan Arts Education and Assessment Project, directly relates to my teaching. Although we are currently working on high school assessments, and I teach K-8, I have been able to scale some of the work I have done back for the grades I teach. As such, the planning for my classes is streamlined, in a sense creating less work instead of more. Now, the timing of the work can be challenging but this is a little like pouring water from one glass into another. The volume is simply redistributed.

One of my research projects involves a colleague and our work with students in her classroom. We spend a good amount of time together after school discussing the work, but the research experiences are during the school day.

3. Living Life

I can’t help but work at home. The when and how, though, is strategic. Now, I have to admit I have the greatest life partner in sharing responsibility and caring for all things home. We schedule when either of us can sneak away to get some work completed on the weekends or after the kids go to bed. When we do this, we know we can stop thinking about the work until it is time to focus on it.

4. One of the best gifts my husband has ever given- and gift-giving is one of his super-powers- is a Kindle. He did this after our second child was born and I was up often in the evenings with her. For some reason, I didn’t use it that much. This year, though, I have made up for lost time.

I am the kind of mom, as most are I suspect, that if one of my kids wakes up in the night or yells out, I wake up and stay up even after they’ve rolled over and gone right back to sleep. For a long time this just led me to think and worry about….whatever…. Months ago, I realized I could get library books for my Kindle and a whole new world opened! Now my challenge can be trying to back to sleep since the sheer indulgence of being able to read with a quiet house has been an elusive dream for so long!

4. Living in the Moment

Lastly, I learned this in dance years ago- in fact it might be my most favorite aspect of dancing- BE and BECOME. Living in the moment helps me combat that feeling of never having any “me time”. When I am choosing what I want to do, it is all “me time”. When it doesn’t feel like “me time” any more, I know it is time to make a change.

(Boy, when I put it like that it sounds simple. It hasn’t felt that simple. At any rate, I am glad to have reached this place.)

What are your secrets behind busy?

 

A Year in Review

June. Finally. It has been a long, arduous year but there has still plenty to be grateful for. I am glad for summer; time to process and write. Here’s what has happened in my 2013-14 academic year. Let the processing (and writing) commence!

Professionally

  • Survived perhaps the most challenging teaching year of my career.
  • Thrived in the most fabulous middle school teaching experiences I’ve mustered yet.
  • Directed the repertory dance concert at Michigan State University.
  • Contributed to the creative team of Theatre Engine, a grant-funded research project at MSU, headed by the fabulous Alison Dobbins.
  • Created HS assessment items for the Michigan Arts Education Instruction and Assessment Project (MAEIA).
  • Presented professional development to various organizations on Arts Integration.
  • Performed!
  • Continue to write for Dance Advantage.
  • Developing new workshop presentation based on empathy-filled engagement and teaching.
  • NDEO (National Dance Education Organization) proposal for presentation at the national conference accepted. Will present Embodying Knowledge: Aiding Struggling Learners through Arts Integration, with Karen Hicks, in Chicago this November.

Personally

  • Continue to find great joy and love in our marriage and family life.
  • Dabbling in writing knitting patterns and learning to knit cables.
  • Found major sources of inspiration in the work of Brené Brown, Malcolm Gladwell, Anna Halprin, Ohad Naharin, and more.
  • Renewed commitments to living the good life and taking time and steps to ensure that.
  • Disneyland for spring break!
  • Started sketching again.
  • New writing project (eventually this will cross to professional category).

Will return again soon and as always….thanks for reading.

Heather

 

Around and Around We Go…..

This weekend I had the privilege of performing with DITA (Dance in the Annex) in RAD Fest (Regional Alternative Dance Festival) hosted by Wellspring/Cori Terry in Kalamazoo, MI. It was wonderful to rehearse with this group of dancers over the last few weeks and wonderful to be onstage again. It was wonderful to take class with a terrific guide, Leslie Dworkin, and to see so many familiar and loved faces from my personal history in dance- from my undergraduate professors, former colleagues, former students, and long-time friends. What a treat. I feel so very fortunate.

It is funny, to me, how things continue to cycle through including relationships and exchanges. I marvel at how easy it can be to fall into conversation with some, as if the last time we saw each other was 15+ days ago and not 15+ years.

On my drive home, I pondered how much of my life is in accord with my goals from 15+ years ago and how much is different. I pondered the areas of my work and abilities that were dormant so long ago but have come forth to be strengths and distinctions.  I pondered how some of my life might come as a surprise to those that knew me long ago and then again, maybe not.

And I am curious about the growth of others…..  Often, when I see people from my past I tend to feel as though for them, nothing has changed. Maybe it hasn’t but that seems hard to believe. Job titles or dance affiliations may not have changed but what about their ideas, philosophies, practices, interactions. I wonder what we’d think of each other if we had time to reconnect as deeply as we once were. I am sure we’d still have affection but I wonder how the appreciation might be different now- not necessarily more positive or negative- simply different.

I find myself using these cycles as an opportunity to measure my growth; the increase in my perspective and decrease in ego. I watch strangers backstage, imagining what their lives may be like and wonder where that night’s performance stands on the map of their dance life. Where have they been? Where are they going? I realize “ego” seems to be exactly what separates the younger dancers from the, ahem, more mature.

I was also aware of the stories carried in the bodies I saw moving in class. Again, where have they been? Where are they going? How many children have been born, traumas and exhilarating experiences embodied, directions and levels changed? Movement is different in bodies that have truly lived.

So back to the cycles that keep us connected, moving, and measuring…..

…….where we will stop, nobody knows.

May we never stop.