I come from a family of teachers. From little on, my days were spent at my father’s alternative high school program, seated on student’s laps, participating in all projects. (I vividly recall dissection labs, foosball breaks, circles of music with whatever instruments the students brought in that day, and laughter.) My mother taught physical education and gymnastics with me in a backpack. Once I outgrew the backpack, I would participate in her classes, or she would send over her shyest kindergarteners. I would teach them one on one, working through physical skills (rolling, jumping, skipping.) I knew the classroom as a place of joy and excitement, a laboratory for forging into the unknown, a space centered around building community.
Years later, as I pursued my dream of performing as an Olympic level rhythmic gymnast, I experienced a different sort of teaching and training: unethical methodologies based on manipulation and control, hierarchical power structures as well as physical and mental abuse. While these practices yielded success, I performed out of fear of failure, fear of the repercussions that were sure to follow.
It is out of these two experiences that I shape my classroom. I believe in the potentiality of the body, in embodying a willingness and care for both my physical self, as well as those around me. An ever optimist, I believe in every moment being a chance to learn to risk big, to fall, and recover. I believe in the practice of dance as improvisation, the compassion that can be extended to one’s self in the practice of yielding to gravity, to the floor, to another’s offered touch. I believe in this practice’s power to heal, inform and guide one to a deeper sense of communication, rhythm, honesty and interaction. I believe in a nonhierarchical approach to learning, working through activities alongside students, reminding myself of the learning involved with the activity at hand. I believe in the resiliency of the body. I believe in reminding myself and my students of all the layers of knowledge, memory, and physicality that we accumulate year after year; all we need is present in us already.
I have spent the past 10 years working as a wellness coach and personal trainer. In each of these teaching environments, I focus on patience, a holistic approach to learning, believing that the body often acknowledges, understands, or speaks before words are clear and present. (How important it is to allow the space in for this search!) I have witnessed that the practice of physicality, whether that be in a workout/ gym facility, or a dance studio teaches us much more than the specific exercise at hand. My work as a trainer, as I approach each of my clients, is not only about the physical, but about forging new pathways to walk through this world. Taking adults back to the developmental movement patterns of crawling, pushing or pulling often leads to a more coordinated approach to hopping, jumping or a deeper access to coordination and concentration during their day. My work has focused on walking women through post-partum depression, working with prenatal clients to encourage active healthy pregnancies and mental and physical preparation for labor. My work takes me to eating disordered women, working to locate compassion and strength and forgiveness, or working with weight loss clients- the shedding of weight both a literal and figurative act. Again, the physical task is always the way into discovery and healing. It is this compassion and confidence building that I believe in seeking out in the dance classroom.
My classroom is: a space of negotiation, a chance to reimagine,
a space to practice a listening body as a way of seeing and building the community that surrounds us.
As I teach in non-major dance or theater settings, I work alongside my students to co-construct our classroom space, each participant asking for what we need, embodying a “yes and-” response. We create situations that never resolve or unending moments where what we are after is unknown; it is up to the student to make those decisions. I focus on team building activities, brain teasers, simple rhythmic patterns and puzzles to enliven the senses, awake awareness, to be built upon and returned to later in the class. We play improvisational theater based games, moving through roles of director, actor, mover, maker. We practice quick articulations of ideas and cues. We focus on the daily making of dances, specifically solo dances. We continuously ask or write on the board, “what do you need?” This is a necessary question to answer before we can share choreographic work, provide articulate and considerate feedback, speak our opinions with honesty, or participate in any activity that asks for touch. We learn how to be active and empathic audience members, witnessing our classmates perform vulnerability and honesty. We play games of tag where we fall to the floor, practicing extending our hands to help each other up, asking for nothing in return. We discuss the larger implications of enacting this manner of risk taking and seeing the space around us as a landing pad with enough cushion to catch us. It is this that I believe in; the classroom as a testing ground for the real world, a “how-to” laboratory for carrying ourselves through this tiresome, treacherous, beautiful world.