"Most humans are never fully present in the now, because unconsciously they believe that the next moment must be more important than this one. But then you miss your whole life, which is never not now." – Eckhart Tolle
As a facilitator of learning, I believe it is my most pressing responsibility to ground my students in the present moment. Much of what I encourage in the modern dance classroom revolves not solely around the mechanics of movement, but also around the cultivation of dance as a mindfulness tool. Eckhart Tolle’s teachings – specifically his book The Power of Now– have done much in the way of shaping my values as an educator. A good deal of what he proports involves achieving presence via traditional, seated meditation. In my experience, this is often too much to ask of the millennial learner, myself included. As the modern student is consistently bombarded with outside stimuli, it can be exceedingly frustrating to attempt to sit in silence and clear the mind; we simply aren’t bred for it any longer. An alternative that I have encountered and wish to impart upon my students is meditation by way of directing focus towards the body. Dance has the potential to command the mover’s attention entirely, separating him or her from wandering thoughts of before or after; guiding him or her to groundedness in now. Movement is unique in this way – it provides the mover with something holistic to absorb the attention while simultaneously allowing him or her to remain present. I believe encouraging this presence is my most relevant goal as a movement educator.
It is important to me that every learner leaves class feeling as equitably catered to as possible. I strive to achieve this by sprinkling a multitude of teaching styles throughout any given class. By example, in one ninety-minute class, I might begin with a guided exploration during which students are instructed to walk around the room, intermittently focusing on the self and carving one’s own path through the space, and oppositionally turning the attention to the others in the room and how one’s path is affected by the spatial orientation of others. In the same class, I might teach a foot-articulation exercise in command style, challenging the logical/mathematical learner by incorporating complex patterns and direction changes. Though the spirit behind these two exercises may seem disparate, they are inextricably connected in objective; both strive to pull the student’s focus into the body, bringing them into the present moment. I believe that to cater to multiple learning styles, one must have the ability to embody multiple teaching styles. Thus, I aim to do just that in my classroom.
In a semester-long modern class, I hope to appeal to individual student’s preferred learning styles, as well as challenging them to experiment with styles they are less comfortable with. In an emotion or intention driven combination, I encourage students to engage with the music, verbalize to the class or journal about what the movement makes them feel or how they are choosing to approach it on an intrapersonal level, and connect to others in the room through eye contact and spatial awareness when performing the movement. To encourage social interaction, I ask students to partner up intermittently throughout the semester and give one another manual corrections pertaining to physical principles discussed in class, engage in meaningful discussions about the personal components of the work, and perform both set combinations and improvised exercises while mirroring one another. In pattern and logic driven work, I challenge students to tap into the with the logic of sequence so that it is not purely a memorization exercise, but an exercise in finding and understanding numerical and sequential design. I also encourage them to interpret how the pattern interacts with the music, and discern whether that personally helps or hinders their execution. Additionally, it is crucial to me to take the time for class discussions, some guided by my feedback and inquiries, and some guided by the students. For the linguistic learners such as myself, discussion of the work is imperative to its full understanding.
More concretely, students will leave my class with an arsenal of improvisation techniques, many of which are derived from William Forsythe’s improvisation technologies – Arc and Axis, Parallel Shear, etc. In concurrent contrast and harmony, students will also depart from the semester with a deeper knowledge of anatomy as it is relevant to the movement; they will be able to identify what muscle group is responsible for any given movement, and which muscle groups can relax. In a similar vein, students will acquire the ability to isolate muscle groups for the sake of movement efficiency by way of seated and supine strengthening/isolating exercises. Finally, students will complete the course with an evolved ability to move in and out of the floor through an understanding of Doris Humphrey’s fall and recovery methodology.
Ultimately, I believe it is my duty as a teacher to provide students with an information rich, challenging class that does not burn them out, or belabor technical correctness or gratuitous academia. I wish above all else to keep the joy of dance alive. I do this through encouragement of presence, emotional and physical groundedness, and maintaining an open discussion of the work at all times. I hope that students are eager to return to my classroom with the expectation that they will be reminded of a simple yet potent tenet: Dance is Now.