June 1, 2016

The Art of Teaching


The Art of teaching

Art: the expression or application of human skill and imagination.
Teaching:The act, practice, or profession of a teacher.

As I get closer to finishing out my third decade of teaching movement, I can’t help but think about the phrase,“the art of teaching”. I have used it many times, and wanted to explore, and share, what this means to me. I teach many modalities, and participate in even more, and there is a profound difference between one who teaches a class and one leads it. I truly believe there is an art to the former. This is absolutely what I look for when hiring instructors for my own studio, and I have found that each of my instructors possesses a quality I could attribute to this way of teaching.

Art, in my experience, opens minds. Art can make you think differently about something, it can educate you about something, it can make you uncomfortable. Art is expressed by the creator to get a point across, to deepen the human experience, and hopefully create more joy in some instances. Art can bring communities together and it can enhance quality of life. I believe a great movement teacher can do all of these things.

I have thought a lot about what it means to teach. Teaching, in the world of movement, presents itself in many ways. There are different approaches, intentions, desired outcomes (including none at all), and definitions of what teaching really means. Is it just leading a class? Do you have projected learning outcomes, and if so, how do you measure them? What are the goals you set as an instructor, and what goals do you foresee for your students?

When I teach, there is thoughtful use of choreography in the class. My goal is to improve function and unlock an understanding of movement patterns, while finding joy in the expression of movement as a language. I am able to adapt, or improvise, if needed. I encourage thought processes and critical thinking as I pose questions and encourage the students to become movement investigators. I open a canvas to explore ideas, and not dictate. Everything the students brings to the room– their experience, their viewpoint, their bodies and their willingness to dive in deep, shapes their experience in the class.  I want to to unpack all of that, and reorganize it in a way that benefits the student. It is not the modality I am teaching. They can reach these beautiful places, and stumble upon incredible discoveries, no matter what class they are taking —  if it is taught well, without dogma, boundaries, or preconceived limitations. We can often heal our injuries or prevent them just by having a deeper understanding of our bodies and how they work.

In our studio, I applaud what I have come to understand as the art of teaching. I am less interested in boxed movement, sequences choreographed by others, copycat cuing – and the like. I invite teachers who have this passion to get in it with your students. Question what we have been told, watch how your class responds. This is how you will know. Are they improving in a few weeks- even if it is measurable only by you and may or may  not be noticed by them? Did they enjoy themselves? Were you able to sit next to the one struggling and help them while continuing to challenge another? Can you take your level one to a level two by doing the same movements, but going deeper?  Are you igniting curiosity?

Why do I care so much about movement, how it is taught and how it is perceived?  That answer could be another post, but in brief, I truly believe that moving well directly correlates to aging well.  I believe great movement education positively influences  the body and the mind, deepens  one’s life experience, and helps connect one with others. I have always encouraged curiosity and seeking of knowledge, no matter what the subject. The body is one of the few things that is truly ours- and what a gift to treat it well, understand it and move it if we are able! As a dance educator, I see the profound benefits of moving, reflecting, exploring and revising, and I want to bring that experience to everyone.

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