There is an expectation in dance, as in many fields, that the teacher’s expertise takes priority over the creativity and innate knowledge of the student dancers. Although I’m grateful for the training and understanding that comes with maturing in a field, I’m always inspired and challenged by voices other than my own and strongly believe that we should be encouraging not just technique but also dance-making in our classes.
I was reminded of this today while watching my 4th and 5th graders in a hip hop class where the kids have made short phrases in small groups in addition to my own choreography for their recital dance. The ownership that comes with performing their own work not only boosts their confidence but energizes the rest of the choreography. My trio of boys attack their movement while another group explores gestural movement and another performs with such high energy that I’m desperate to transfer to the rest of the dance.
Making is not an easy task for everyone. We often take class desiring direction and rely on our teachers to move us forward. Although I think there are many positive aspects of this kind of relationship, the potential equalizing force that comes with encouraging students to be the makers should be harnessed more often. I find being with students, especially children, when they are making to be humbling and awe-inspiring.
It takes time and a deliberate slowness to create spaces where dancers feel comfortable to explore their own movement vocabularies. There is a pressure to do more and teach more and I have found myself not allowing for the deep time necessary to make and build except in some of my more advanced classes. I’m reminding myself that I can change this and that it’s worth making space for regularly.
I’m committed to giving creative practice more time in my technique classes. Although the push to share as much knowledge as possible is strong, the human element that comes with finding the source of movement has such power in deepening the artistry of my dancers, not just as choreographers but also as performers. The reasons for dancing and the purpose of movement are both simple and complex and our students deserve opportunities to deepen their personal and collective understanding of these feelings and ideas.