Ballet Pedagogy II
Ballet Technique IV
Ballet Technique IV
As a movement teacher I aim to serve as a conduit to successfully allow students to change their “minds” from their present confusion about who they are and what they think they can do, to a new vision of themselves as unaffected, proficient and adaptable whole movers. I am committed to an authentic style of technique whether it be French Ballet, Limon Technique or Klein release technique making sure that they are supported by a depth of somatic information from either Alexander Technique, Developmental Movement, meditation, and Bartenieff Fundamentals.
At the top of my present priorities is my interest in developmental perspectives and their importance in facilitating somatic integration. My research in how developmental movement coupled with Alexander Technique principles helped support the traditional aesthetic of ballet led me to investigate other developmental theories, in particular those of psychologist Clare Graves and his acolytes Don Beck and Chris Cowan who created Spiral Dynamics, a management method based on Graves’ idea of societal development. Their work coupled with the work of philosopher Ken Wilber clarifies my understanding of how developmental movement impacts the dance field and my teaching. My research collaboration with physical therapist Dr. Wendy Huddleston has also helped me understand neuroscience in relationship to developmental ideas. Our work had me revisiting the work of neurophysiologist Nikolai Bernstein whose ideas on the development of dexterity greatly explain how contemporary dance teachers have been deciphering the brain in the way they structured their classes.
Freeing the Aesthetics
Since being involved in somatic work (Alexander technique, Bartenieff Fundamentals, Dart Procedures and Meditation), I have been surprised to find that all my previous guiding aesthetic preferences could actually be supported by my explorations into developmental movement. For example, the use of the head in ballet is closely related to the way babies use their heads in movement. Instead of altering the particulars of my techniques, somatic work informed my teaching and strengthened my faith in a variety of “authentic” yet aware styles as the proper form of training for a dancer.
The work of Bernstein has also helped me understand that five levels (Tone, Muscular-articular, Space, Tasks and Communicative Tasks) reflected in structures in the brain, have to come together in order for a dancer to attain dexterity in dancing. According to Bernstein these structures a) do not talk to each other across levels and b) need to be calibrated and c) coordinated each finding support on the other before we can attain ‘dexterity.’ Techniques with specific aesthetics are equivalent to fMRI snapshots of the brain of certain time periods in history. I believe that the ballet techniques of one hundred years ago use to be much more somatic in nature as the bodies learning to dance ballet were still embodied movers who rode horses, danced socially, etc… Various somatic thoughts emerged as daily emphasis on physicality waned; I believe that in our post-industrial technological age, more than ever there is a need for somatic work to imbue our class teaching if we are to facilitate change in the classroom.
Conscious Process – Unconscious Change
My approach presently consists of observing my students’ personal point of view on dance, the way they approach their goals, the quality of their conceptual understanding and their ability to test this understanding in class. This style of teaching allows the students space for a lot of personal investigation and stays focused on results as one would a task.
Class time needs a frame of reference and guidelines that require full investment on the part of the dancers, but beyond this lies a lot of freedom. This is very important as it determines whether students will be able to observe their own patterns of mind and body -- their own approach to dance. This is the pivotal “why am I here?” place. My job is to find and ask the questions they are not asking themselves and to put them in situations that challenge their assumptions and perceptions.
As a teacher I am prepared to investigate and question all my previous concepts concerning dance technique. To “contextualize” a step or a phrase becomes my most important principle. This requires that we dance in relationship to what is happening in the moment and to commit ourselves to asking some simple questions in relationship to the form: “What is happening right now?” “Where am I falling?” (Bernstein - Space) “Am I succeeding?” Asking these questions promotes an awareness that has a quality, a brilliance, and a speed (Bernstein - Muscular-Articular) of mind that can be translated into the body but it first needs to grow from a devoted, calm place (Bernstein - Tone). Often, the simple act of looking attentively, positively, and calmly (i.e. of staying open) for an outcome can, by itself, fix sixty percent of any present and future problems. This calm awareness also allows a dancer to be unattached to a particular style, and to be capable of better discriminating between different choreographers’ styles.
As for the rest of what can go wrong, I connect with each individual in the class by:
a) The use of exercises that point to the relationship between everyday movement and more technical ones, (Bernstein – Task)
b) The use of imagery, anatomical or otherwise, and
c) The use of “hands on” work to learn of a dancer’s tone and use, and to pass on subtle re-direction.
From Patriarchy to Feminism
As a teacher I live to make available the tools needed to embody the “joy and passion” of our craft but I am very aware that this goal cannot be attained without my entering the class already acknowledging the patriarchal pressures often embedded in my favorite form. I believe that the only way to teach ballet in an integrated department is through the awareness of its connectedness as a whole to the rest of the dance field, the university as a whole and society. Feminist/Buddhist writer Bell Hooks guides me when she writes: “To truly love we must learn to mix various ingredients - care, affection, recognition, respect, commitment and trust as well as open and honest communication.” I continue to work on supporting my teaching through these principles on a daily basis and trust that this approach will give my students an opportunity of “knowing life through dance.”