Wednesday, April 25, 2012

A Shameless Rant on Students "Getting it." . .

Two weeks from the end of the semester and I wonder if my students "get it."   I am not talking about SLO's (Student Learning Outcomes) or assessment techniques.  I am talking about the learning process, the spark that fuels learning that goes beyond the curriculum. 

Teaching dance might be an exception. But I have determined that students today are terrible at taking notes.  I give short lectures on anatomy, dance theory and dance history in my classes and they look at me with fascination, nodding in agreement, frowning in concern or questioning.  But, not a note written.

Don't they want to remember? 

I admit I was a pretty damn good student in my day.  I was that (annoying) person in class who always took great notes, studied and completed homework on the same day it was assigned and generally got straight A's.  (Ok, I got one B+ in my life. Black Studies. And, I really tried hard, but to no avail.) So, bottom line, I didn't understand my fellow (slacker) students then, and I don't understand them now. 

Do they really expect to remember everything that is said in a lecture? Even a short 20 minute lecture?  Don't they want to get it? Or am I just that much of an overachiever?

If I could teach them one thing, I wish I could teach them that success is fun!  Achievement is rewarding!  It is worth the effort and the time.  There is greatness to be had, but you have to work for it.  Taking notes isn't just about having something to refer to, it is about staying active while listening, connecting your learning to a physical act of processing.  Taking notes help you record and remember.  Duh!

But, alas.  They look at me with their sweet smiles and momentary interest, and I fear that I have failed them, because they still will only do what I tell them to do because I tell them to do it.  They haven't learned that they drive their learning, They drive their lives. 

My dad has a great shirt:  "If I am talking, you should be taking notes." 

Collect ideas, reflect, process and grow. 

This stuff is important people!  Get out your pen and paper. . .

Friday, April 20, 2012

Dance Review: Choreographer's Showcase at the Pasadena Dance Festival

Last night Megill & Company performed as part of the 5th annual Pasadena Dance Festival in the Choreographer's Showcase held at Lineage Performing Arts Center.  The following are a few of my reflections on the wonderful performances given.

The evening of dance opened with a stunning work by Clairobscur Dance Company under the direction of Laurie Sefton entitled Obviam Somes. The five dancers were stunning dressed in blue and sea foam gorgette gowns that elegantly evoked the hospital and surgery themes of the dance.   The excerpts presented were varied and dynamic, at times soothing and serene as well as powerful, dramatic and athletic.  The dancers' technique was exquisite. Sefton's highly defined movements and fluid use of space was punctuated by moments of repetitive rolls and springs that were executed with finesse and power.  Overall I appreciated the narrative of the piece as well as the dynamic vocabulary and excellent use of the dancer's facility.

Nancy Even's Dance Theater presented SHIFT: Shifting Sands - Age vs. Time set to an original score by Blake Colie.  This female duet had a playful balance between modern dance technique and a more theatrical tone.  The female dancers were convincing in their at-odds-characters who battled over the grip of time and age represented with cloaks which they manipulated through the space with ease.  The swirling visual impressions of the cloaks is what will stick with me the most from this piece, although there were powerful moments of partnering between the two dancers as one dominated and controlled the other with a knowing attitude.  The piece ended with a theatrical moment in which one dancer grabbed her discarded cloak before exiting. Was it in resignation? Frustration? Defiance?  Whatever the impulse it was clear that she had been won, and she was not happy. 

87 Dance Productions stood out from the rest of the evening with its use of oral histories (spoken interviews) that underscored thoughtful and well crafted choreography that ranged from beautifully touching to playfully articulate.  Choreographed by Cara Hagan of North Carolina, the duet entitled Words Apart was performed by two sisters. Twins!  But, they were visually and energetically very distinct and offered a depth to the piece that brought additional elements of nostalgia and family dynamics to the work.  The partnering was precise and the storytelling never cliché or overwrought.  The dance and words flowed together seamlessly making for a dance that was perfectly balanced and always engaging. 

Megill & Company (MeCo) was next and of course it wouldn't be fair to go on and on about my own choreography. Plus, I do enough of that in other blog entries. But it was shared with me by Lineage Dance Artistic Director Hillary Thomas that she enjoyed the "punch" of the choreography in the evening's performance.  I agree that the piece was unlike others in tone, quality and design. By contrast it was much more linear and contemporary (jazz) in feel.  So, I was pleased that it didn't get lost in the shuffle.  Although, it has brought me to reconsider my strengths and fears as a choreographer. More to come on that later. . .

Andrew Pearson presented a cool and hip female duet called Have I Made Myself Clear? that incorporated a folding table and two chairs.  The opening of the piece is what I appreciated most about it.  One girl taps her fingers on the plastic table top creating a live pulse for the other dancer to present the thematic material for the dance.  I enjoyed the simplicity of the moment and the gestural qualities of the movement vocabulary.  Playful sequences in which the two dancers interacted with their gestures was engaging and fun.  I enjoyed watching the themes and motifs be reused and varied through out the work.  The one question I had was about the role and purpose of the table and chair that got lost for me in the rest of the choreography after the opening sequence.  Perhaps because the components were spread out on the stage and thus lost their impact as a unit.

Return from HJ Junction by David Popalisky was a refreshing piece in the concert because it truly managed to transport me to another time and place.  In many ways I felt like it was a period drama done in dance.  The trio of dancers were passionate and engaging for me. In this dance more than any other of the evening, I felt like the dancers were truly dancing from the heart, letting technique serve them but not drive them.  In fact, this was the one piece in which I felt "technique" was unimportant and instead I was watching the story and the characters unfold.  This may be haven been due to the more classical modern dance vocabulary and story telling that reminded me of the works of Humphrey and Weidman.  Overall, I enjoyed the musicality, classical modern dance vocabulary and story telling aspects of this work. 

Soloist Lindsey Lollie performed a captivating piece set to spoken word by Paul Matthis.  The Next Step is To Go Back was an experiment in the physics of the body that was engaging and at times confounding to watch. Lollie performed her work with remarkable ease and control. Utilizing the most contemporary release techniques with a fluency I really admire.  Her opening inversion and subtle head movements set up her physical strength and agility that did not wane throughout the piece. 

Brian Moe's newly formed group, Inked Dance, performed a duet entitled Kinetic Residue. True to its name the dancers were in fact "inked" which made me wonder if someone wanted to dance with them who wasn't tattooed, if they would be shunned or forced to ink up! (haha!) But, tattoos aside the male female duet was an excellent study in partnering that was most enjoyable in its daring moments (like the counterbalanced penché with no arms!). The title idea of kinetic residue was less present for me than the more gymnastic partnering was, leaving me to wondering how the two fit together for the choreographer. 

I am so pleased, Megill & Company was able to perform with such outstanding artists.  It is always such a joy to see other people's work which inspires and drives me to explore more deeply my own choreographic endeavors.  Thank you and congratulations to all who choreographed and performed. 

(Please Note: I write this in the spirit of supporting dance and dance artists in the greater LA community. Any questions or concerns I express are merely observational and do not diminish the creative accomplishments of the works presented, but are simple reflections on what I saw and noticed.)

Please friend Megill & Company on Facebook to stay up to date on our latest performances!

Friday, April 13, 2012

When you get a bum knee. . .

I had a bit of a scare this past week.  Monday night I started feeling a very disconcerting, sharp pain just under my left knee cap. It was shocking and, while not throbbing, frightening to experience because it was unlike any other knee pain I have had (and I spent years with knee braces, wraps, tape and therapy as a teenager).  What was particularly scary was knowing the structures that exist under the knee and knowing how pain in any of them is NOT a good thing.

The next morning I went to my Buddhist study group, and we reviewed the hindrances (those things that hold us back in our spiritual evolution), and I discovered that I was deeply invested in each in regard to my recent injury.  Here is the break down:

Desire:  I wanted to be free of pain. Immediately! I wanted desperately to NOT have an injury. I wanted to be healthy because I felt: "If only I were healthy, I would be able to to what I want to do, be who I want to be, accomplish what I want/need to accomplish."

Aversion:  I was afraid that this pain would be permanent and that I would suffer forever. I was angry at myself for not being able to stay injury free. I was afraid of what others thought and that I was going to have to let everyone around me down because I couldn't dance.

Sloth and Torpor:  This is actually the one hindrance to which I generally don't fall prey.  Whew!  But, the truth is I didn't ice the injury until day two. Yes, I put on arnica, wrapped it with an ace bandage and wore sensible shoes, but I didn't ice it when that is the first thing I tell any student with a joint injury.  So, there was certainly reluctance and sloth present.

Restlessness:  I was nervous (terribly worried) that this injury was going to have lasting repercussions.  I was anxious and irritable.  I couldn't stop talking about it to my husband. I was obsessed.

Doubt:  I seriously doubted that I had any control of my healing. I didn't believe that my body can heal itself. I doubted that I would get over/passed this. I doubted that I would be able to move forward, continue, do great things.

I was in the thick of it.  And, I suffered.  But, I am glad that I identified what I was experiencing while I was experiencing it. That, after all, is the first step to mindfulness (and ultimately moving beyond it).  I went through the list of hindrances as I did above and noted (with attempted non-judgement) to see the situation for what it was.  I was not suffering physical pain as much as I was suffering the emotional pain of mere potential repercussions.  I was torturing myself as I am so good at doing.  (Really, I could totally offer a course on how to make yourself suffer.  I'm a pro. I can guarantee great results.)

Four days of rest and a chiropractic visit later, my knee is significantly better.  But, I still don't push it.  I have given myself the entire weekend to rest. My mantra: avoid plié (a deep knee bend).  So, I might try a short walk tomorrow. But, no dance. No yoga. 

What I do know, is that you don't mess with joint injuries (knees especially).  The first set is free but the second costs a bundle (with a very slow recovery rate).  I am now feeling hopeful.  And, in someways, proud that I did the conservative thing and took a full day of rest immediately to allow any inflammation to go down before I put it at further risk (even treatment).  It was a tough week.  Hard to stomach, but I got through it and look forward to restrengthening my knee and being more mindful of its preciousness in the future. 

Love the knees.  Love them. 

Is there something you can work through with the help of addressing the hindrances?  If so post them here as a comment. I would love to hear about them.

Sunday, April 8, 2012

On being "just ok"…

I am very much ok with not being good at everything. I am not good at painting, drawing, trivia (especially pop culture), wearing daily makeup, rock climbing (ok, never tried it), fixing my own computer. . . the list goes on and on.  The point is, that I am perfectly fine being mediocre or just plain bad at some things.  But, it is hard to swallow when I feel bad at dance.  My art, my profession, my area of "expertise."

I took a great workshop today from San Francisco based choreographer Alex Ketley.  The style of dance is called countertechique (FYI this video seems doable to me, what we did today not so much).  Being completely new to the technique, I expected I wouldn't shine right off the bat, but I was wiling to put myself out there, to take the risk in order to learn.  The class was good.  He taught a total of 3 dance sequences (idiosyncratic choreography) and lead the group through a couple "habit breaking" exercises including one aptly named "a hot mess".  It was a mentally challenging and overall productive 3 hours of dance experience.  

And, I was ok at it.  But, I was not ok with being ok.  

I found it unnerving that I make my living teaching dance, and yet was struggling in this context.  On the one hand I tried to embrace the challenge, knowing that was what I signed up for, but somewhere in my gut, my ego was having a field day piping up at every turn with unhelpful comments like "You should be able to get this. You should be better at picking this up.  You should be stronger, in better shape, feel more confident."  I was aware of my ego spokesman and did my best to see it for what it was (just the ego) and refocus on the task at hand. 

  I got through class but now I feel a need for deeper reflection… What was actually going on there...

The challenge of the class for me was in the complex sequencing and coordination.  Even while watching him show the material, I felt like I couldn't focus enough to actually see what he was doing. He moved with such intricacy, specificity, nuance and speed that I literally couldn't see everything clearly enough to replicate it.  (Plus, in this style there was no "instruction" on the sequence, just occasional word prompts and physical demonstration).  I did my best, and, by the end of the three hours, my brain hurt as much as my body-- maybe more.  

I clearly see the disparity of what I often do in my classroom and what we were doing today.  I appreciate this knowledge and that insight alone made today a worthwhile experience.  But, I wanted to be better-- as a dancer. I wanted to leave feeling accomplished rather than shell shocked.  I was proud that I never gave up. But, I see more clearly than ever that I fall in the realm of average for this style of dance, and I am not satisfied with that.  Now that I am out of the classroom context, I don't think it is my ego piping up as I sit here to reflect, so much as something else. Something deeper calling me to improve, to put challenges before me so I can experience growth.  

But, in the meantime, I know that I need to be ok with being "just ok" for at least a little while.  I see myself where I am, and I need to honor the process and the effort that will go into making lasting change in my performance.  I have to remind myself that I didn't train this way in college.  This is new. As much as it uses the same alphabet.. it is a new language.  Just because I can identify an arm gesture doesn't mean I know how to use it in this context.  I need to learn it.  And, I need to trust that I can learn it.  

Trust it is possible. Trust it is worth it.

PS Special thanks to Elyse from MeCo who came with me to the workshop today.  It was nice to be a hot mess with someone I knew.

Tuesday, April 3, 2012

On Being a Razor Babe. . .

I'm not sure exactly how I fell into this group of people.  It all seems like a blur when I think back.  But, after tonight there is no denying that I am a Razor Babe.

I guess it started with Sandra Hunter and my need to do something other than dance.  But, I never suspected it to go this far.  I mean. . .  A poetry performance group?

I never dreamt in a million years. And, yet, here I am, having completed my very first debut performance as a Razor Babe. 

We performed tonight at the Artists Union Gallery in Ventura. You could feel the damp ocean air and smell the briny tide at the door only a stone's throw from the surf.  There we were, in our new Razor Babe t-shirts, with our Razor Babe Chapbook, and videographers and photographers and me!

Surreal to say the least.  Of course performance in nothing new for me, but this venue, this format is very different. I am used to a world of movement, music, lighting, costumes and dance. This performance was about baring you soul as is no persona, no illusions, no tricks.  Pure. Simple. Human.

Yes, we perform poems, but I learned tonight that we are more than poets, we are storytellers.  There was something about our performance that made me feel connected to ancient civilizations.  Just as the orators of ancient Greece and Rome told their stories, we were telling ours. Words put together to create new worlds. I felt the Razor Babes transporting the audience to and from these worlds of  hopes, dreams, desires, and tragedies.  Moments of hysteria, laughter, excitement and poignancy wrapped up into one amazing trip.

We were telling our stories, yes, but I couldn't help but feel we were telling everyone's story. The story of being human, one poem at a time. A kaleidoscope of images and sense memories.  This ancient art of storytelling, engaging in who we are what we share, intoxicates me. 

Standing at the back and looking at the group, in our matching shirts with the edgy razor blade logo, I couldn't help but think: what a motley crew we are.  A mishmash of ages, races, stories, lives.  But, we come together and all of that disappears as create a safe space to share our poems and stories with each other and with the world. 

I am a member of a precious tribe of artists. 

I am a Razor Babe.

Here is our write up in the Ventura County Star:

For more on Sandra Hunter's Workshops and Razor Babe events: