My role as an educator is to draw out the talents that lie within each person that comes to study with me, and to give them the tools to recognize, explore, and pursue their own interests, for which we all need continued support and encouragement. I understand learning as a transformation of self-discovery through a process of uncovering and revelation and it is my belief that all people hold the potential for great creative achievement.
My classes simultaneously nurture the individual artist, foster a sense of collective responsibility, and introduce and refine strong technical dance skills rooted in the use of momentum, weight, and alignment principles from my work in the Alexander Technique and Aikido. I provide students with basic fundamentals of movement that they can apply to a broad range of dance forms, while at the same time offering them approaches to improvisation that activate their own individual creative selves.
It is widely recognized that a child begins life with a natural sense of profound curiosity. Through a process of trial and error the child discovers an innate movement awareness that leads to sitting, standing, walking, running and eventually talking and communicating. The child is not “taught” how to do these things, but she/he learns through absorbing and responding to her/his environment. It is painful to see that once children enter into the process of formal education they often lose touch with this ability to reside in curiosity. They stop asking “why” and replace questions with concepts they are taught, shifting their attention to performing well in tests and getting ‘good grades’. It is hard for us all to shift these early patterns of learning. Improvisation is one way in which people can be helped to rediscover their hunger for autonomous learning, which is for me the necessary ingredient for true success. I aim to do this by employing a series of defined steps, principles, and techniques in my teaching.
Trust is the first lesson that people experience in my classes. Imagine an exercise where a student is asked to release the weight of her/his body backwards into the waiting hands of a classmate. Initially, the student can react with fear by contracting her/his muscles to control the fall. But, through positive experience, the student begins to express awe at the sense of release and trust that is found with the partner’s help. This discovery is internalized resulting in a growing sense of confidence that permeates every level of the student’s being.
We build from these seemingly simple yet profound exercises to attain feats that people would never have believed were possible—for example, supported lifts and falls in which they learn to harness and ride centrifugal force. The intimacy of this kind of work brings about a change in the dynamic of the group as a whole, which facilitates the relinquishing of fear in approaching new challenges both individually and within the group. This leads to a desire for collaborative learning where usual power structures begin to shift. Individuals are encouraged to participate fully by bringing their own experience and expertise to the group as they embark upon projects where they negotiate the creation of improvised dance works and perform them for their peers. A sense of satisfaction often ensues as the overall arc of the performance is discovered in the process. Working within this atmosphere of trust, the groups are eager to pursue their assignments and discover confidence in their own choices and decision-making. The importance of the end product does not out weigh the working process and what is discovered is a language that is unique to each group. Being accountable to a group in this way can be a motivating factor for individual success, resulting in a healthy and respectful learning environment within which each student can flourish.
I devote considerable time to self-reflective discussion that stresses the importance of making connections between class experience, life outside the studio and to people’s personal interests. For example, an exercise where a student with eyes open guides another with eyes closed around the room allowing the latter to discover objects in the space through touch alone. The students are fascinated to discover minute details through their experience of touch that otherwise often go un-noticed. This kind of practice positively benefits them outside class, through the development of an increased sensitivity to others and their environment. An accumulation of these kinds of experiences through such practices, naturally leads to a greater sense of wellbeing and involvement in life. Over time these kinds of explorations have a cumulative effect and promote expanded kinesthetic and empathetic awareness which benefit every aspect of their lives and relationships.
Teaching has always played a major role in the development of my work. I teach by example and always dance fully in the class alongside participants, which allows me to be present with them physically, and positively impacts their learning experience. I have been fortunate to support my artistic research through my teaching work. It has been a conscious choice to be self-sustaining in this way because it allows me artistic freedom to develop my own investigation of dance improvisation without external pressure.
The continuous demand for me to share my work in a multitude of contexts as a master teacher and performer, traveling widely throughout the world, are evidence of my standing in the field of dance. I am invited repeatedly to teach in prestigious international and national venues including educational institutions, private studios, dance centers, and with professional companies. My interest is in engaging all people in the experience and vitality of pure creation in moment-to-moment virtuosic improvisation. What inspires my work is the constant rediscovery of how such education can serve as a catalyst for learning opportunities that will benefit the individuals for the rest of their lives.
In 2008 I was invited to take up a full-time position in the dance department at the University of Illinois. My teaching has developed considerably in this context due to the unique opportunities the University of Illinois campus offers for the exploration of interdisciplinary teaching alongside professors of outstanding caliber in dance and other departments. I bring to the table my extensive knowledge of collaborative research to benefit what I believe to be the way forward in education. Interdisciplinary learning equips young students with the necessary skills to negotiate a constantly changing workplace, where more and more emphasis is being placed on collaborative negotiation and innovative thinking. At UIUC, my classes not only serve students in the Department of Dance, but also a large number of students across campus are benefiting from my interdisciplinary practice and approach.
Alongside my responsibilities as a Professor of Improvisation at the University of Illinois, I am grateful for the opportunities to be able to continue to pursue my independent artistry as a performer and teacher of Improvisation throughout the world.