As I have matured, I have come to realize that for me to be happiest, I need a balance between physicality and intellectual stimulation separate from, or rather complimentary to, physical intelligence. Most glaringly, these usually come down in the following ways: heavy dancing/heavy writing, work hard/play hard, professional checks and balances/ family focus. Similarly, the more creative work I am doing professionally, the more structured and organized the work in my teaching must become and vice versa. Once upon a time, I prided myself on not being routine-oriented, and to this day I revel in being able to think on my feet. Yet, I have also come to realize that this ability is dependent upon the over-preparation I have done in quiet times versus the storm.
I live in layers.
Everything I do is layered with intent, meaning, and relevance to the rest of my world or the world I am seeking to create for my students. I love symbolism. I love relationship. I love color and texture. This is true of my choreography, my lesson plans, and my overall approach to life. I am not sure which came first- this attention within my creative work or the mere application of these qualities that were already naturally present. Is it dance education teaching me about life or real life informing my dance experience? I think it is a toss up.
Most excitingly, I also recognize that often the layering is a discovery and not pre-planned. Sure, this tends to enable my talent for over-analyzing. But isn’t it important to turn a weakness into a strength? Take “fat pants” for example. In most instances, the pants worn in heavier episodes of life cover some degree of embarrassment and potentially shame. But, post-baby, being able to fit into those same pants days after delivery may just make that same woman feel like a million bucks. I’m just sayin’.
My body’s form.
For years, I have spent grueling hours trying to perfect the instrument I inhabit. I don’t have the “ideal” dancer’s body, but I generally like the one I have. I like what it has been able to do, and again, as I’ve matured I have especially liked its limitations. I have spent years upon years trying to imitate others’ bodies, teach my own to look and play the part, and finally sought to train my body to recreate the intent and movement of others’ bodies but with my own reflection and inflection.
Among the most drastic bodily changes I have encountered over the years (weight, injury, etc.) the most profound have been my two pregnancies. My first was at 31, not long after completing graduate school in which I was dancing and performing heavily followed by teaching in the public schools in which the change of program philosophy demanded that I demonstrate a lot and thus danced my classes in addition to teaching them. The latter half of that pregnancy was spent directing the dance program at the college level and thus the frequency of classes and rehearsals lessened. During that pregnancy, I performed at 7 months and taught/danced up until 3 days before the delivery of my son. While pregnant with my daughter at 34, I returned to teaching at the high school and found myself again needing to dance/teach 5 hours per day. I also found that the students were leery of a pregnant instructor and were heavily concerned with what this meant for their own movement experiences. Thankfully, I had another smooth pregnancy and was able to keep dancing right up until the end, again until 3 days before delivery. Thankfully, I also have a lot of experience teaching in many different formats and don’t need to demonstrate everything in order to be effective. Many of these students have only had instructors that dance and don’t always get around to teaching. But that is beside the point. This experience was punctuated with comments from students such as, “I always forget that you’re pregnant” and “There she goes….still kicking and rolling and dancing all over the place.” High praise, indeed, and from tough critics.
My body’s function.
Of course the creation of human life is a miracle and a unique function of the female form. What has struck me as interesting during both pregnancies, have been attitudes toward the female body and its capabilities during particularly “female” experiences.
I often hear from students that they “can’t dance today” because they are on their periods, or have severe cramps, or in some instances, are pregnant. I am always a little surprised when parents write me excuse notes attempting to relieve their daughter of her academic responsibility due to cramps. Unless a medical note is included, I usually spend a few minutes mentally composing a humorous retort followed by a real response explaining that as a woman, I understand their daughter’s situation but do not excuse lack of participation for such reasons. It was extra fun when occasionally I’d meet the parents while being visibly pregnant and obviously still dancing. But I digress….
The part that has been most thought-provoking and the revealed layer of relevance, has been the opportunity to redefine the image of being a woman, for many of these kids. Pregnancy, usually an intensely private journey became a very public demonstration and subject to great discussion in my classes and I suspect in some homes.
For many, my identity as a dancer may not have been clearly understood as many parents and community members don’t necessarily ‘get’ what takes place in a dance class within a public school setting. Being new (ish) to the school, my role as a woman and that of a mother facilitated relationships to a degree that may not have been achieved as quickly had I just been the dance teacher. Being pregnant has offered some unexpected common ground. Who knew that my physical form would take on the function of community building? It fostered personal investment and the sharing of personal stories in a way that proved to be invaluable in class dynamics and community development. I think it helped me be perceived as accessible in a way that highly trained dancers in community dance settings tend not to be considered, no matter how nice they are.
Pedagogically speaking, it encouraged line/imitation-oriented students to use their imaginations to finish the movement puzzle. They were not provided with the visual answer but had to take control of completing the picture. Different students took on different leadership roles based on their success at these tasks. In some ways, it helped level the playing field from what the students had experienced before and reinforced my strategies for these lessons in a truly efficient way. They took these lessons differently than if I’d simply presented the material and then obviously withdrew from completing the work for them. They arrived at that ownership organically and more effectively. They accepted my pregnancy as a fact and not a hindrance. So did I.
This journey culminated, obviously, in the birth of my daughter last week. On day 2 of recovery, I was on my assigned hall-walk when I saw one of my students in the “pantry” of the maternity ward. Texting. Naturally. (I may not have recognized her otherwise). She was there helping her mom who had just given birth to twins the day prior. We were sincerely excited to see each other and she eagerly returned to my room with me in order to hold my daughter. It was really nice. This is a student that is in my class for the electives credit. She is not a dancer’s dancer. She is not even that fired up about dance. She has had some exciting “light bulb” moments this semester that I can clearly recall. In time, however, those recollections will fade. We spent quite a bit of time comparing pregnancy notes between her mother and me. It was a nice and quick way to get to know her background, preferences, and personal attitudes which supported my approach to teaching her. Now, however, she’s burned in my memory forever. We have shared valuable experiences together in and out of the classroom. Enduringly, though, we have shared a personal story through a connection made possible by dance. I hope it was half as meaningful to her.
If you are interesting in more personal connections through dance, check out the link to DanceBloggers.com.