Monday, 9 October 2017

The theory-practice relationship

On Friday we had some interesting discussions about dance competition and exams and its impact on the students and the place of culture in dance. During the chat, Agata asked some questions about the relation of theory and practice and Adesola tried to encourage us to start theorising a topic (see her blog post Noticing to Wondering: passive to proactive). Because of Adesola’s request, I tried to look at the conversation through a different pair of glasses. I reflected less on the content of the discussion but more on the nature of it. Today, I will write down some thoughts about the process of theorising a subject: 

I think it was Chelsie who talked about an experience in Japan where she had a performance with dancers from all over the world. She stated that if they all would have had a better understanding of the culture of the country they were working in and the style they were working with, their performance would have been better. She experienced something, reflected on it and started theorising. As we all talked about it, gathered similar experiences, noticed and reflected, I started to wonder how this discussion could interlink with Agata’s question about practice and theory.

In fact, I see reflection as the first tool needed to combine practice with theory. We do something, we experience it and we reflect on it. During the process of reflection, as J. A. Moon suggests, we think about something we already know. ‘It is a process of re-organizing knowledge and emotional orientations in order to achieve further insights.’(1) After reflecting on something and maybe learning something new out of a practical experience, we can, in a second step, then start theorising around this reorganised knowledge. To do so, we need additional tools like using already existing literature, interviewing practitioners or even theorists, collecting more experience, etc. This is the process of collecting data and this is where I am today in my research project. I am starting to write down thoughts in my reflective journal, reflecting on what I experience during my practice, I have confirmed two interview appointments and I have sent out an email with a task to people I want a response from so I can collect different stories around my inquiry.The third step would then be the writing process where we explain what how we understand this topic after careful consideration in critical review.

A last thought: this relation between theory and practice is reciprocal. I will think about the tools needed to turn theory into practice and post it at a later date. Feel free to already comment with ideas. 

(1) Moon, JA, 2004, A handbook of reflective and experiential learning. Theory and practice, London/New York: Routledge Falmer, p. 82.

Wednesday, 27 September 2017

"Exchange is the teacher of many things"

I recently had a situation at work which left me with a feeling of deep disappointment and frustration. This is why I want to write a short post about exchange. I believe that the subject fits very well in this programme, especially at the beginning of a new term.

I'm not sure if it is because I'm doing this programme and meeting so many people who are keen to exchange ideas, or if it is a character trait.... but I am wondering why are people not willing to open up and to pass on their knowledge and experience? Why do people fear that someone would steal ideas and copy their classes if they let them into their studio? Don't we all have one main goal in common as teachers, namely to provide the best possible training for our students? 
I guess in this programme, we all are convinced that the learning process is never over and that there is always more to discover. Yesterday, Samantha commented my previous post by saying that she is excited to "learn" from her students and determined to open up. Having this platform for exchange gives me a feeling of not being alone in my job and being surrounded by people who believe that it is important to stay connected. We accept our weaknesses, or we know where we could learn more, and we are aware of our strengths and willing to share them. 
My previous post was about responding to stories and letting experiences converse with each other. If we close the door to our studio, how can someone respond to our story, how can we start a conversation? 
In dance, exchange is vital. Exchange occurs in the breathing, between the dancers in many different ways, within the body, between the dancer and the environment... dancing, we constantly exchange movement. In fact, "(...) exchange is a tool for engaging, communicating and responding spontaneously with the world around us; it is how we experience life and is the teacher of many things (...)." Even though Karin Rugman wrote this in her article about 'Contact Unwinding' in order to talk about a specific technique which focuses on partners bodywork, this citation nicely expresses what I believe should happen between us teachers. I wish that we all would use exchange as a tool for engaging in our profession, communicating between practitioners and responding to our environment in order evolve and learn or teach. In order to do so, I cannot think of another way than by simply opening our doors.

I'm excited to exchange with you this term, and hope that I will continue to do so in the MAPP Alumni group and I'm looking forward to reading and listening to your stories. 

Monday, 25 September 2017

A response to my feedback

This time a year ago I wrote a blog post about everything that was new to me. I wrote: "Right now, ‘new’ seems to be my guideline, my companion". At the same time, I was discovering the process of reflection as a tool to question my practice, to challenge my views, to progress as a practitioner... Today, there is still so much that is new to me and I am still discovering new dance schools, new students, new classes, a new home, a new chapter in my life, a new module... more and more to reflect on, to process, to question, to challenge... And it really does help to progress. 
In this context I will talk today about my feedback from module 2. 

The feedback I received offered me a valuable overview of my work so far. It enabled me to see how someone who reads my proposal understands my proposal. Reading through my feedback was like listening to someone talking about what I am planning to do but in a different voice. This was very useful to deepen my own intentions but also to illustrate the main critique I got, namely finding a more flowing and consistent voice. 
Writing on my blog, I am slowly finding my own writing style, my own voice. However, it is difficult to keep this voice while gathering stories of the people around me. It is difficult to continue in my own style while reading articles from different authors. My style shifts and mirrors the texts I am reading. I get carried away, get inspired by the authors' voices and let it 'bleed into' my own voice. 
In a slightly different context I received a similar critique. It was suggested to me to respond to the stories I receive through my interviews rather than 're-writing' or 're-telling' their stories. 
From today on, I want to try to respond to the authors' voices just as I will respond to another person's story. I do want to discover something new and unknown. I don't want to re-tell and risk generalising their stories by turning them into a single story. I see my research project more like a conversation between different experiences, stories and storytellers. So, in order to find a consistent voice, I will try to proceed in a similar way. I will consider my authors' writings as stories I need to respond to rather than re-tell. This will help me discover more and new things. This way, my understanding of original ideas will be greater and my study more complete because I will have to truly deal with the subject. I will converse with the texts I am reading just as I converse with my interviewees.

Today, I realise that the new is still my companion and will always be so. It isn't really a matter of starting a new programme or teaching in a new school. It is more of an approach that contributes to openness which helps constantly progressing in my understanding of the world around me. 

I am excited to start this last term and hope that we all find some time to respond to each others' stories.

Monday, 8 May 2017

References to performances in the literature review

Sunday Skype chat 07/05/2017 (11 am)

I have wished to discuss the use of references to performances in our research, but unfortunately, there wasn't enough time to talk about every topic. This is why I will post my thoughts and questions around this today and hope that some of you share some ideas.
In fact, I find it very difficult to include something that is non-text based in my literature review. I either feel that a piece expresses ideas around my inquiry (ownership) but it is only an intuition and I don't know how to explain or justify my choice, or I listen to what the choreographer says about his/ her piece and then it is not really non-text based, isn't it? 
Do I chose a choreography because there is one gesture that expresses something specific I am interested in? Do I chose a choreography because I feel that it talks about my theme in general? Do I chose a choreography because I know that the choreographer works in a way that is of interest for my research? ... 

During the Skype chat, we talked a lot about confidence and not always depending on confirmation. So, should I pick a choreography because my intuition tells me to do so and be confident about my choice? As the language of dance is very subjective, my tutor won't be able to confirm my choice anyway? But still, I have to explain my choice. It has to make sense and be written down. But as soon as I try to explain why I chose a certain piece, it feels compelled. Is that only because I am not used to do this kind of exercise? I guess it is just like creating a piece but the other way around?

Does anybody have any suggestions or ideas? 



Tuesday, 18 April 2017

Dance is more than...

Sunday Skype Chat 02/04/2017

Since the beginning of this course, I notice the importance of being aware of one’s own learning process on many occasions. This awareness is mainly due to the promotion of reflection and the value attributed to experience. I feel empowered because the knowledge I acquired through my experience as a dance student, dancer and teacher is valid. But I don’t only feel empowered. I am also allowing myself to take more time. More time to savour a moment.  More time to appreciate the process and less focusing on the outcome. More time to reflect on experience... By doing so, I see connections in places where I didn’t before. I interlink thoughts from choreographic workshops with my inquiry. I interlink sensations from my own practice as a dancer with teaching methods I use when teaching a class. I interlink ideas from my students with my practice as a dancer. I slowly stop to categorise everything. I am a teacher, dancer and learner all at ones. For instance, I can participate in a choreographic workshop and learn something about my inquiry which focuses not on choreography but on pedagogy... I have been reflecting on this now for a while and our monthly skype chat helped me to formulate those thoughts.
Even though we weren't all talking about the topics during the skype chat, we kind of turned around one similar subject, mainly ‘dance is more than…’. This topic emerged because we sought for a connection during the chat. This process made it possible for each one to further develop their thoughts around the specific topic. 
As for me, by saying that ‘dance is more than…’, I want to show the importance of consciously letting ourselves be nourished by everything we experience and by stopping putting everything in boxes. Dance is more than just movement. Teaching dance is more than just teaching steps. Researching dance on an academic level is more than just reading and writing. 
Concerning my research inquiry, dance is more than moving. It is about learning movement, learning to learn, learning to own your movement, learning to own your body, learning to own your learning... 

Tuesday, 28 March 2017

Ethics and integrity in dance and research

Step by step, task after task. I am slowly getting on with my draft proposal for my inquiry. 

Those last weeks, I tried to be very systematic in my approach and proceeding and I lost the relation to my body.

In my blog post 'thoughts around truth, certainty and knowledge' I wrote that very often, I find it difficult to formulate thoughts in my mind in order to communicate them. "The bodily knowledge I possess is easier to share through its own language, through movement. It does resonate in my mind, but without words." Wishing to get on with my proposal, it seems like I have forgotten about this for a short moment. 

This weekend, I participated in a ten-hour workshop about the choreographic composition of a solo. I was in a particular state. As if my mind was exhausted from the work I do for module two, I accessed the language of movement, first. I have let my body find a way to talk without worrying about words. In the end, I was able to put words on what I have created. The bodily experience nourished my mind and they slowly began to work together, again. Despite everything, I was frustrated. Frustrated because I didn't get on with my tasks from module two. However, even though I haven't finished the task about ethical considerations, yet, I have learnt something quite important through this experience. Don't forget your first language. I learn as much through experience as I do from reading and writing, even, or especially when studying for this programme. The literature and theory are there "to stimulate (my) thinking about (my) own Professional Practice deeply or differently" (Adesola, A, 2017 "Ideas, theory and theoretical frameworks."). Theory can guide me but I shouldn't get lost in it and forget about my professional practice. So, what did I learn about ethics this weekend?

Considering the ethics, I was able to interlink my experience from this very workshop with my project. In fact, during a debriefing session, participants said that they were nervous and scared to present their work. However, everyone noted that there was a spirit of benevolence in the group that was very supportive. Actually, when you present a solo, you have made choices that you have to fulfil and defend. There is no right or wrong, so you have to stand for your ideas and choices. Presenting this choice can be scary because some might question or criticise your choices. This is where the ethical framework becomes important. How do we respond to someone who is communicating with us through their body and what are the consequences of our reactions? In this group, no one questioned or judged the choreographers. Criticism was constructive and reflective words were chosen with great care. Everyone participated in the discussion. This puts the choreographer into a position where he knows that he can present his work with full commitment which leaves no time or room for fear. 
When it comes to dance education, those ethical configurations still apply. If I carry out a research project where I observe and reflect on experiences, where I want to analyse the benefits of 'students ownership of the learning', I need to have a similar ethical approach. If I promote student ownership, I encourage my students to make choices, to fulfil and defend them. I want them to be committed in the process and I want them to feel safe in order to do so. 
When it comes to interpreting data collected, the same ethical considerations apply. I will analyse my own and my student's experiences with great care and free of judgement. The word choice becomes very important when it comes to the interpretation of stories. I have to be fully committed and at the same time, I have to be aware. Aware of the difference and the consequences of my choices and language. I also have to be respectful. Respectful towards my students, the people I interview, the people whose stories I listen to. Respectful to the people's privacy, confidentiality and integrity. 

Furthermore, we had a very interesting discussion about the fact that when you present your choreography, you tend to show your movements. You want to show your intentions so much that you are not deep 'in it' anymore. You should rather just be and do. When it comes to my project, this is something I want to keep in mind, especially considering my ethical framework. I don't want to show my intentions (my findings) in terms of proving or justifying something. I want to make connections between ideas, experiences and theory, talk about them, discuss them, reflect on them, ... I want to be 'in it' and not look down on it from the outside. This will allow me act according to my own ethical guidelines.  

Wednesday, 22 March 2017

Creating a literature review

“Recently in education, the idea of promoting student ownership has emerged as a means of authentically engaging students in their own learning.”[1] In education in general, the idea of empowering students by promoting ownership emerged recently, considering the literature around this theme. This phenomenon finds its sources in the development of ‘student-centered education’, a notion that arose in the 1990s as a response to educational systems that didn’t fully consider the needs of every individual. Theorists like John Dewey, Jean Piaget or Carl Rogers, to name only a few, have pioneered student-centred education through their research on how the individual learns and the importance of creating a learning environment with opportunities for the student to actively engage in the learning process through experience.
In dance, the additional aspect of the physical body becomes very important when it comes to ownership. Research around student ownership in dance raise questions about embodiment, empowerment and the training of dancers’ bodies. How can we free the student dancers’ body in a technique class and allow him to own the learning process and learning material?
Some researchers say that by not imposing any kind of form, the dancer becomes autonomous and responsible.[2] In such cases, the teacher doesn’t feed the students with learning material but is there to initiate, to guide, to create learning opportunities. With a similar point of interest, but considering the aspect of technical skills, J. Karin develops an approach to acquire ballet skills respecting “the role of sensory awareness, imagery, and intention in cuing efficient, expressive movement”[3]. With her ideas about aesthetics, imagery, sensory context and expressivity, she touches on the theories of somatics in dance[4] such as J. Green’s research study from 1998. J. Green questions the education of the dance student’s body by focusing on the objectification of the learner’s body and how one can change this by applying somatic authority where the student regains ownership of the body[5] and engages more personally in the learning process. In 2013, R. Rimmer discussed in her research one possible method to achieve embodiment and ownership of the body, movements and especially learning, namely improvisation[6] (using it “not to create new material, but to work with existing material”[7]). The type of class R. Rimmer is explaining joins Stanton’s propose that a technique class is a ‘laboratory’, “working with principles and not codes”[8], where teacher and student work together, move, observe and verbalise.
Creating my literature review, I noticed that there are several case studies around multiple teaching methods promoting student’s ownership of the learning. However, I feel like there is a lack of literature about the reason why “laboratory” technique classes can be beneficial and how they meet with the students’ as well as the teachers’ expectations.  

[1] McMullen, JM, van der Mars, H, Jahn, JA, (2014) “Promoting student ownership in a non-traditional physical education teacher education internship course”, Physical Education and Sport Pedagogy, 19:3, p. 337.
[2] Necker, S, (2008), “Créer un moment de danse à l’école: les conditions d’enseignement et d’apprentissage dans l’atelier mené par un enseignant et un artiste”, Les Sciences de l'éducation - Pour l'Ère nouvelle, 41:2, p. 109.
[3] Karin, J, (2016) “Recontextualizing Dance Skills: Overcoming Impediments to Motor Learning and Expressivity in Ballet Dancers”, Frontiers in Psychology, 7, p.1.
[4] On somatics in dance: Meenan, M, (2013) Exploring the modern dance technique class as a somatic practice, MA thesis, University of Oregon.
[5] Walsh, L.D., Moseley, G.L., Taylor, J.L., Gandevia, S.C., (2011) “Proprioceptive signals contribute to the sense of body ownership”, The Journal of Physiology, 589:12, p. 3009-3021.
[6] On improvisation: Davenport, D, (1999) ”Working with play: Improving dance technique through improvisation”, Dance Teacher, 21:1, p. 85-88.
[7] Rimmer, R, (2013) “Improvising with Material in the Higher Education Dance Technique class. Exploration and Ownership”, Journal of Dance Education, 13:4, p. 144.
[8] Stanton, E, (2011) “Doing, re-doing and undoing: Practice, repetition and critical evaluation as mechanisms for learning in a dance technique class ’laboratory’”, Theatre, Dance and Performance Training, 2:1, p. 86.