The Fate of Dance

I was diagnosed with Myasthenia Gravis July 2019. By that time, it had generalized throughout my body, greatly limiting all that I do physically. As a way of coping with this change, I joined a Facebook group devoted to people coping with this illness. Quickly, I realized that I was one of the lucky ones that was diagnosed through bloodwork. Many others on the site have gone through the mill trying to get diagnosed only to be told that their symptoms were in their heads or it’s something else. It seems to me that there are some medical professionals that prefer to pass the buck rather than help with solving the problem…failure of imagination.When I taught dance to the 5th graders at The Paul Robeson School in Brooklyn, my objective was less about teaching them how to dance and more about teaching them how to solve problems as a group. I did this by using the scientific method to solve problems to questions using movement…MOVEMENT, not DANCE. If a form of dance was required through discovery to solve a problem, then it was up to me to provide what was necessary for my students to learn the dance form to solve the problem. It was a living, breathing unit plan that ebbed and flowed based on creativity and imagination.

I’ve discovered that with dance in the public school system, there is nothing that states that we as dance educators should meet every person where they are. Instead, we are expected to treat our students as empty vessels. On the contrary, I believe that we should step into the dance studio with the assumption that our students already know how to dance. Our responsibility is to use what they know, provide them with what they don’t know and guide them on how to use this knowledge for the betterment of their future. Right now, we are just teaching them forms and they are repeating these forms on stage so that their parents and caregivers can be happy, the teacher can earn the coveted highly effective rating, and for the bureaucracy to say that dance is working. When the children graduate…where do they go…what do they do?

Going back to the beginning of this posting, some medical professionals suffer the same fate. They are forced fed information without the ability to take the patients knowledge into account, synthesizing it with what they know and taking it a bit further to see what the cause of illness may be even if it falls outside of the prevue of their expertise…failure of imagination.

In the forward written by Thomas C. Shelling to Roberta Wohlstetter’s book, “Pearl Harbor: Warning and Decision,” he states, “There is a tendency in our planning to confuse the unfamiliar with the improbable.” In our teaching as dance educators, dance is not taught as a tool that students can take with them through adulthood but as a requirement, something to do, an extracurricular activity. Today, most students that take dance in public schools, non-dance majors taking dance classes in colleges to fulfill credit requirements, and some private dance studios, move on with their lives and leave dance at the doorstep. Dance needs to be viable, meaning that it needs to be, “capable of surviving or living successfully, especially under particular environmental conditions.” In other words, for dance to survive after students graduate from school and into a person’s adult life, Dance Educators, Public School teachers and administrators, The Department of Education, Private Dance School Owners, and whatever entity that will listen, need to imagine another way of presenting Dance Education that may be unfamiliar, but not dismissed as being improbable for the viability of dance.

Before I became disabled in 2019, I created and implemented a movement class that was part technique/strength and part problem solving using the scientific method to solve a problem using movement – I called it Dance Lab. The class was broken up into 4 groups and they initially had the opportunity and freedom to create their own works. I was the Artistic Director and would interject and facilitate where needed. One group that needed some work and at times a referee, was my 5th grade boys’ group. The boys wanted to create a Kung Fu scene. Initially it was chaos – it just looked like a bunch of boys beating each other up (and sometimes it was a bunch of boys beating each other up). After observing the group, we had a discussion and devised a central question, “How do you create a Kung Fu scene that is safe and can be repeated exactly the same each time it’s performed?” I provided the group a few Kung Fu scenes and documentaries on the making of selected action films. They learned how the actors practiced the moves repeatedly and how they can safely perform the scenes the same way each time. With that information through research, the boys were able to repeat their scenes but for a short duration. At the end of their Kung Fu scene which lasted around thirty seconds, they reverted to free form fighting…yikes. I then proposed that we extract some of the best moves that they created and teach them to each other. This resulted in three movement phrases of good length in which to form a dance in which all the movement came from the students. As a result, they learned how to work together as well as how to repeat an experiment to come up with a solid conclusion to a central question, “How do we create a Kung Fu scene that is safe and can be repeated exactly the same each time it is performed.” 

Unfortunately, when the administration learned of this class because it was “unfamiliar,” they dismissed it, deeming it “improbable” so Dance Lab was shut down.

Dance Lab was not, “capable of surviving or living successfully, especially under particular environmental conditions,” which was the failure of imagination from an administration unwilling to see the possibility of how dance could be used to facilitate other subject matter as well as how dance could extend beyond public school and into adulthood. However, I believe that it was going in the right direction in terms of teaching dance so that it is a tool that a person can use beyond school and not as it exists today…a requirement, something to do, an extracurricular activity.

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