The Inspired Teaching Artist: Use Your Community

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Late spring brings a slew of new classes to my schedule and often allows me freedom to revisit old ideas and push some of my regular students into new dance territory. Although I incorporate improvisation and dance-making into my school year studio classes, I enjoy making space in the spring to focus a series of classes exclusively on the craft of choreography. This past week I was basking in the curiosity of a group of 6th-12th graders (sometimes age differences are divine) building manipulatable movement phrases out of shared actions words, when I found myself dreamily reminiscing about times in my life with my artistic practice felt rich and center in my life. 

It’s easy to romanticize the days of long studio hours and playful rehearsals where practice was as much (and usually more) about investigation than perfection, but instead I’m more interested in what it means to practice my craft within the varied and full context that is my current life. As teaching artists move from schools to studios, community centers to home, and arts-rich to arts-starved environments, we become incredibly adaptable at meeting the needs of each place. My choreographic process and products are continually shaped by the environments where I am practicing my teaching. But what inspires us when we make space to practice our art for the sake our own creative curiosity? How do you make space in your positively diverse and rich lives for inviting your artist-self to lead the way? 

Here are a few strategies that are currently helping me practice and get pumped: 

The 13 Minute Car Ride: One of my regular commutes is 13 minutes inside the vehicle. After I waste the first 3 minutes unaware that Wee Sing is still blasting and I am traveling childless, I often get down to business. I use this time as a mental meditation on dreams, intentions, and next steps for creative projects or gatherings. I have come up with new improvisation activities for rehearsals, themes for writing, and even outlines of phrases while still staying focused on the road ahead. This timed and focused thinking often proves more productive than laborious planning sessions for school residencies. 

Dance Date: I have always been interested in collaborative art-making as it pushes my limited understanding of what the body is capable of on the dance floor. Every couple of weeks I gather with two ladies who put up with excessively long movement experiments. These are not the daily rehearsals of my fabulous imaginary dance company or whole afternoon lingering in a quiet studio, but the time still creates good creative and enthusiastic energy. It fuels my fiery desire to keep making dance that’s about more than whatever my workplace is requiring from me and also keeps me in tune with the other dancers (trained or not) who want to make dance a part of their lives in this small town dance scene. 

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Supporting Creative Friends: A few of my friends have started playing out regularly in a band called The Break Maids. I’ve been spoiled to have some of their children in dance classes and that personal connection is related to my awe of their adventures in songwriting and performing. A live show with these local heroes who take performing seriously leaves me breathless and ready to sit in the dark playing with new movement ideas (after a good session of getting to dance in public with my partner). I am grateful for any opportunity to catch an act in the city, a local tour of a big name, but find that right now, being able to consume art by others who are committing time to making while piecing together their lives inspires my own creative life.

How are you re-imagining your relationship to making art and using your current situation to encourage art-making? How are you making space for personal practice while still allowing yourself to thrive in the community that shapes you?