Author’s note: I began working on this article just days before the tragedy at Umpqua Community College in Oregon. My heart and thoughts go out to the students, faculty, staff, and families affected by this senseless act of violence. There are many great things happening at community colleges—at all schools—and the students who attend are people who are there to learn and better themselves. I see the desire to learn in the eyes of my students, and the safety they feel when they are in the classroom; I only hope that can continue and be protected.
Dallas — A new semester has begun and even though classes are well under way, and we’re quickly nearing midterms—where did the time go?—I’m finding that my relationships with my students is continuing to grow and I’m becoming more well-versed in their desires, goals, and backgrounds. I am in the unique and wonderful position to be the first person to teach dance to a large amount of my students. I am the Program Coordinator of Dance at Eastfield College, and my campus is located in a part of Dallas where dance is not always promoted in the lower-level schools, nor do a majority of the student body have the means and opportunity to pursue an interest in dance until they arrive at the college. They come in as blank slates, a beautiful assortment of tabula rasas ready to be filled up with the power of art, and we have the opportunity to provide an education in the performing and visual arts that can open new doors to them.
When I first started teaching, I will admit that I entered into academia with a large amount of naïveté. I thought that I could change the world with dance and performance. That I would be able to show all my students that dance is the most beautiful and magical art form that they would ever experience, and that I would be able to turn each and every one of them into avant-garde, experimental dance makers like me. Instead, they changed me. They showed me that the natural movement of their bodies and their individual understanding of the concepts that I was teaching them was more beautiful and more true to the power of physical storytelling than any codified methodology.
Yes, it was inexperienced and raw, but it was how their bodies naturally moved and how they instinctively understood the connections between their body parts, their hearts, and their minds. I watched them transformed from quiet and shy novice dancers to confident, polished movers when they would “perform in their own style.” While in graduate classes at the University of Texas at Dallas, two of my performance professors introduced me to the idea of transformative performance, the quality and effect of ritualistic rites in performance and the power of immersive work. Connecting to the body, to your mind, and to the world around you can metaphysically change your understanding of your self and transform you into a new being. It was an idea that I had been individually and personally involved with from a young age, as a young dancer and actor, but it wasn’t until I began to study and train with expert practioneers, that the progress became more defined and tuned. I found a freedom in transformation, and it was something that I wanted to implement into my students’ learning—but they were beating me to it. They were somehow inherently already doing it. They were primed and ready; always already in the process of transforming. I just need to catch up.
One of the joys of working at my school is the freedom that my administration, and my division, has given us as instructors within our arts programs. It allows us to create abstract and innovative approaches to teaching and learning, and it allows us to implement methods that we have been taught, trained in, or are just simply interested in learning more about and utilizing. For me, this freedom has been instrumental in both expanding my students’ realm of learning, and my own understanding of the creative process.
Through collaborative teaching and learning with my peers and students, the work that we produce, both in class and for the stage, has cemented that idea that creativity with your body and performance is highly transformative. The dance faculty and I work toward implementing creative habits in our students that have been taught to us and that we have studied; thus, leading them toward a creation of their own creative habits and the recognition of their daily rituals. By doing this, we encourage positive thinking and create a supportive environment that demonstrates the individual potential that each student holds, and their power to create and achieve artistic freedom. Moreover, by using dance as a means to accessing creativity, we hope that our students will be able to reach a deep level of connection with the body and the self, uniting the physical, intellectual, and emotional.
The empowerment that comes from creating opens you up to the ability to shift into a different state: to transform. Creation exists in a plane separate from reality. A student in my choreographic composition class said the other day during one of our creative exchange periods that she had so much fun during an improvisational exercise that she forgot where she was. She left the studio space in her imagination, left the stress of the day behind her, and drove headfirst into the exercise and into create new shapes and stories with her body.
I recently watched a TED talk about arts and creativity in schools by Sir Ken Robinson, and a part of his talk has remained with me: “We are educating people out of their creative capacities. Picasso once said this, he said that all children are born artists. The problem is to remain an artist as we grow up. I believe this passionately, that we don’t grow into creativity, we grow out of it. Or rather, we get educated out of it.” There is nothing more rewarding than seeing what my students create both in and out of the studio space. But there is ultimately nothing more rewarding that discovering what my students have taught me about myself.
» Danielle Georgiou is a dance educator, critic and writer. She is the Founder and Artistic Director of DGDG (Danielle Georgiou Dance Group) and is a working dancer and performance artist. Her column Sixth Position appears the last Sunday of the month on TheaterJones.com.
Previous columns are:
- February 2014: Cash Choreography
- March 2014: Make the Fringe Your Future
- April 2014: Don't Freak Out, It's Just an Audition
- May 2014: You Love Dance. You're Not Alone
- June 2014: Persevering Through Movement
- July 2014: Sharing in Success
- August 2014: To the Barre
- September 2014: Method Act
- October 2014: Fear of Flying
- December 2014: The Editor Dance
- January 2015: Community Relations
- February 2015: The Fabric of Movement
- March 2015: State of the Dance
- April 2015: The Dance Mom Complex
- May 2015: Who Wants to Date a Dancer?
- June 2015: Figuring How Men Fit In
- August 2015: Creative Economy