This year my residency at Dance at Socrates occurred during one of the hottest weeks of the year. High humidity and high temperatures did not deter us from our mission to create new work. In fact, it made us work harder and faster. We were too hot to judge and the inspiration flowed. Continue reading…
In a roundtable called “Contemporary Ballet – global economies and cultural/national exchanges”, I presented my research and experiences producing CounterPointe for the last 4 years, alongside colleagues, Dr. Ann Nugent, Forsythe scholar (what super lady!) and the irrepressible Dr. Kathrina Farrugia-Kriel.
I had the privilege to take part in the Society of Dance History Scholars Special Topics Conference: Contemporary Ballet: Exchanges, Connections and Directions.
I participated in the Hackathon November 20-21, 2015 in the wonderful city of Prague with CIANT and Europeana. It was a chance to brush off my tech/digital/math skills and work with some terrific new artists and programmers and dancer/choreographers. This was a stimulating weekend and I am proud that my partner, Ivor Diosi, and I were one of the winning teams. (My other team also won – Aidan Boyle, Martin Zrcek and Mirka Papajíková!) Lots of intriguing ideas about 3-d animation, use of EEG and motion capture, playing with sequencing or captured material as part of a near-AI approach to interactivity. For more detail on my collaboration visit Ivor’s tumblr page. For more on this project watch the CIANT Prague video of the weekend.
I met up with Kaleidoscopic Arts Platform in London to talk about choreographic success for women. I shared some of my own experiences as a choreographer, teacher and producer. We had a lively talk about strategies to move our careers forward. My motto: continue to do what you do. Glad to have formed new contacts and to show support for this terrific organization. Continue reading…
This is the first post of a series of guest posts that will investigate a variety of issues that undoubtedly will circle back to pedagogy and professional issues. The following is a discussion with one of my former students Fenella Kennedy who is currently pursuing her PhD at The Ohio State University.
Julia K Gleich: I put to Fenella Kennedy who is doing her PhD at The Ohio State University, a term that I coined recently, Psychological Ownership, which I have witnessed in teacher-student, director-dancer relationships. I asked Fenella what her thoughts were on this new term and how she might define it.
Fenella Kennedy: Well that has a nicely abusive-sounding ring to it and If I understand you correctly, I would say psychological ownership is the practice of gaining authority over a student/performer etc, on the grounds of superior emotional knowledge. In training it might be directed both at the students themselves, or at other members of staff. You could use it individually, but usually you see it used cumulatively in order to justify a position of authority over the student body as a whole.
JKG: Yes, I agree it sounds vaguely abusive. I guess in the context in which I first used it, I was concerned about student independence. How do you think this attitude so easily gains purchase in dance training?
FK: Well it draws on ideas of holistic training: engaging with bodies and minds rather than “just” bodies. What it overlooks though is the fact that “emotional issues” are very easy to show engagement with without any requirement to show discernible improvements in overall learning. It’s also a very simplistic, overly-cartesian idea of mind/body engagement. Psychological ownership has little practical impact on what is done in the classroom, and is in fact a handy side-step to avoid addressing problems in teaching practice/student technique: I teach well, but my poor students just can’t cope with it. Any question of teaching methods can then be derailed into a discussion of the emotional needs of the students, rather than the practices of the teacher/actual technical values.
JKG: It seems to me this goes beyond emotional psychology and into power relationships. I suppose anyone in a position of authority runs the risk of falling into a pattern of interaction with students or dancers or employees(?) which might fall into this category. Do think there is any justification to how it’s used? What could be done instead?
FK: It may have temporary value to students: my issues are being acknowledged – but without an in-depth empathetic connection to back up this acknowledgement, can there really be any benefit to the student that staff simply know the issue is there? Do we have a duty as teachers to provide the semblance of empathy? A shoulder to cry on? ….I’m sure most institutions have staff specifically for this purpose in order to allow the actual teaching body NOT to have to engage with this?
I feel as if where psychological ownership manifests solutions are unwelcome, because they’d take away the authority given by the problem. The whole concept presumes that emotional issues are correlated to a weak mind and a weak body; that students with these issues will never achieve at the level of “normal” students and should not be asked to try. Teachers presume that students want their grading softened, rather than the achievement of their place in the standard system – I wonder what the students would say if you asked them?
JKG: Of course, you and I often speak about these ideas in the context of higher education/university level students and professionals. I acknowledge that younger populations have similar situations wrt the handling of emotional/psychological issues and the roles teachers should have in these personal interactions. And you have specialised experience with developmentally disabled populations as well. But in our dance context, how do you avoid engaging in a psychological ownership of your students and dancers?
FK: As I’ve said to you, I’m all about behaviour-specific action. Examples: tell me where you’re grabbing before you grab; make allowance for the fact I may be five minutes late on occasion (gasp); if you give a free combination in the assessment, give it with your back to me so I stand the best chance of picking it up… All of these kinds of things make the student think about what is going on with them and come up with practical ways of mitigating it – getting students to a place where they can take responsibility for that is a great goal! They might need to work with friends, mentors, mental health professionals to find that, but given the right resources I absolutely believe they can take that responsibility.
JKG: Thanks so much for your thoughts on this, Fenella. I hope we can continue to define this concept of Psychological Ownership in order to put a name to some of these less desirable even if sometimes well meant approaches to teaching, directing, etc.
Fenella Kennedy is a PhD student at The Ohio State University. She received her BA in Dance from Trinity Laban and is an expert in Labanotation who also excels in Laban studies including Choreological Studies and history. She has a unique experience in working with disabled populations, not only in dance, but as a carer and educator. My former student and a thoughtful friend and colleague, we have presented at conferences and frequently debate issues in higher education and in the profession, not to mention our unending interests in dance analysis and choreography. Our lecture-performance, “A Choreographer and an Analyst Walk Into a Barre” was presented June 2014 at the Performing Process: Sharing Practice at C-DaRE, Coventry University.
My esteemed colleague, Lise Uytterhoeven and I are putting together a discussion forum on the ghosts in dance – you know, those voices in the head of the academy, the “they” and the shoulds, etc. We hope to keep this a fun debate and discussion with a variety of voices heard. I am really looking forward to this.
Ghosts and Spectres in Dance Higher Education
Supported by DanceHE
Saturday 22 March 2014, 10am-2pm
Gallery, London Studio Centre
artsdepot, 5 Nether Street, North Finchley, London N12 0GA
We are creating a discussion forum for teachers of Dance in HE to foreshadow the forthcoming HEA Arts and Humanities “Heroes and Monsters: extra-ordinary tales of learning and teaching in the Arts and Humanities” conference (to be held in Manchester on 2-4 June 2014).
The HEA conference call, which addresses all of the Arts and Humanities, highlights concerns that are especially relevant to dance and we hope to create an opportunity to meet other dance educators in a focused environment to consider these. The HEA invites us ‘to explore the everyday business of learning and teaching through metaphor and narrative, and so transfigure the “taken-for-grantedness” of academic practice into fantastic tales of the unexpected’.
For the discussion forum, we are especially interested in “Ghosts and Spectres”, indicating that ‘pedagogical practices carry spectral traces of their disciplinary histories they at once inscribe and erase.’ Participants are invited to engage in a ‘ghostbusting’ process to reveal the unspoken assumptions, skills and processes that constitute the ‘disciplinary unconscious’ of dance education, so that we can enhance student learning.
We are inviting brief, perhaps playful, and/or theatrical provocations (10-15 minutes) from colleagues in order to share approaches to teaching and learning. We are particularly interested in the following questions:
- The ghosts of several influential dance artists “haunt” the discipline. Who are they? What are these ghosts saying to the emerging dance artists of today? In a role play, what kind of dialogue might we engage in with these ghosts?
- What is the value of teaching certain identifiable dance techniques? What are the alternatives?
- What kinds of creative processes are held in higher regard than others? Why are others considered less interesting?
- What is the relationship between dance history and HE? What role does HE play in the formation, validation and reification of dance’s history?
- What kinds of writing skills do we expect students to develop, and to what end?
We aim to shape the submitted ideas in a dramaturgical way that recognises key trends in what dance colleagues are interested in in relation to the above questions. We also intend to stimulate the exchange of different views/voices, rather than represent a unified point of view.
Please send expressions of interest and ideas for provocations (250 words) to firstname.lastname@example.org by Friday 14 February 2014. Please indicate your affiliation and whether you would be interested in joining a team of dance colleagues for an hour-long debate at the HEA conference (optional). If so, nearer the time, colleagues would have to ensure they are able to attend the conference in Manchester on 2-4 June 2014.
The event organising committee consists of Julia Gleich (Head of Choreography at London Studio Centre & Technique Faculty at Trinity Laban Conservatoire of Music & Dance) and Dr Lise Uytterhoeven (Senior Lecturer & Head of Learning and Teaching at London Studio Centre).
Attendance at this discussion forum is free, but reservation is essential. Please email email@example.com to book your place by Friday 14 March 2014.
Please note that we have submitted a proposal to the HEA for an hour-long debate about “Ghosts and Spectres in Dance Higher Education”. We will notify the DanceHE mailing list about whether or not this proposal is accepted to be included in the June conference as soon as we find out and clarify our approach.
So I have ideas about ballet and dance that conflict with everyone, yes nearly everyone. I change my own mind periodically. This makes it difficult to put ideas out there that are going to trigger flashes of disagreement that might lead to anger. Have you ever noticed how many of us walk around on eggshells in the dance world – especially the ballet world? We have these terrible clashes of ideology and fact, myths that are perpetuated as causal links (when they only sometimes are correlative). It’s shocking to me when for example, someone who thinks that Sissonne means scissors isn’t curious to discover that it doesn’t. It’s the name of some guy who probably liked to jump around from two feet to one…a lot. http://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/sissonne But point this out to someone who is convinced otherwise and they may attack. I remember one teacher telling me that the book from which I was quoting couldn’t be trusted because it contained Cecchetti terminology (and RAD and Vaganova…) but never mind. The Cecchetti was enough to erase any attempt to open up discussion and I was left dancing around the truth. Never mind that there is already a scissor step, pas de ciseaux. This ad hominem (actually ad librum) argument/fallacy is repeated all the time. And is related to the idea that ballet was right at a certain moment in time (argumentum ad antiquitatem), as though there is a ballet god that will rain lightening down upon any who don’t know the truth… (oops, that’s another, Argumentum ad verecundiam or ad baculum). (Logical fallacy info below.)
And so I hesitate to put my thoughts out into the world for fear that I will create enemies, that someone will discover my secrets and out me for disagreeing with them. In the studio there is a context for my ideas and my teaching. I try to be transparent about the sources of my ideas and create a unifying philosophy for education and creativity. Within the studio I can only hope that we understand our specific mission. This is why I think students need different teachers for short periods of time – in order to absorb a philosophy, a point of view. To get a complete picture of your teacher’s theories so you can make educated decisions as you move forward. But I digress….
So in the interest of education, of risk-taking and of progress, I am going to do my best to avoid pulling my punches. Dance people can be incredibly cruel (as Sam from Burn Notice said it, “a bunch of bitchy little girls”). I want to get out of this pattern and move onto a dance world where we can be honest and where women can be valued for their ideas and can challenge the norm. I have frequently fallen into the trap of wanting to please, be agreeable, don’t rock the boat, be liked. Some have called me subversive (but in a quiet way). I think I am done being quiet.
Some logic links and other stuff:
- Whyte, Jamie (2003) Bad Thoughts: A Guide to Clear Thinking, Corvo Books
- Baggini, Julian (2006) The Pig That Wants to Be Eaten: 100 Experiments for the Armchair Philosopher, Plume
The hardest part is getting started.
This is what I tell my choreography students as I attempt to push them out of the nest of controlled creation and into that wonderful chaos of risk.
And so, like my students, I am venturing into less familiar terrain. I have thoughts, reflections and certainly opinions. (You’d learn that in my technique classes which have been compared with an episode of Charlie the Unicorn… Thanks Leon!) However, this is the first time I will write these thoughts down in a public forum, without the aid of my face and tone to give context, without the excuse of spontaneity on which I rely for any bad jokes and mixed-metaphors, without the help of movement that gives me comfort and hides uncertainty, without… a net, or tulle for that matter.
And so I begin. No longer waiting for tomorrow.