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Diving Deeper

Suggestions for engaging a feminist pedagogy in the studio By Jennifer Bolt
  • Photo by Joy Real, courtesy of Unsplash

In The Dance Current’s July/August 2018 issue Jennifer Bolt wrote about designing a feminist dance pedagogy (“Diving In: A manifesto for a feminist pedagogy in dance”). As a continuation of this article, here are some practical tips for how to enact these principles in your teaching practice.

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Feminist pedagogy embraces multiple and diverse ideas of what feminism entails. The body is the perfect place to begin the process of designing a feminist pedagogy.

  • Consider that feminism can be of value to everyone, not just women. Inclusion of men, trans and gender non-conforming folks in feminist discussion and in the process of designing a feminist pedagogy is critical. How might the dance community model for the world how to inclusively and proactively honour equality across gender and sexual orientation?
  • How might our collective body wisdom inform the process of designing a feminist pedagogy? How might we inspire other disciplines to do the same?
  • Consider that evolving a feminist pedagogy is not only of value to those who teach! How might evolving a feminist pedagogy support creation and performance? How might a feminist pedagogy support dance companies and their leadership?

 

Feminist pedagogy is culturally pluralist and open to exploring ways of breaking down systems of oppression that segregate and divide based on sex, race, class, age and ability.

  • Consider who populates your dance spaces, but also who does not populate your dance space and why. Consider how diversity across many communities can enhance the learning space. What proactive steps can you take to break down existing barriers?
  • Consider how dance pedagogies segregate and divide. How might we shift our pedagogical approach by reconsidering language use and how we position technical and artistic content? By doing so, how can we honour and respect diversity?
  • How might a critique of our dance heritages inform our varied roles in the dance community? Consider that such a critique is an ongoing reflective process.

 

Feminist pedagogy honours the life experience of both student and teacher, (creator and performer, dancer and artistic director).

  • Consider that we experience multiple transitions in our personal and professional lives. By viewing these shifts as three-phase processes (separation, transition, incorporation) you can begin to tailor questions and pedagogical content appropriately, to honour the challenges we all face at different critical junctures of our lives and our lives in dance.
  • For example, you and your dancers could each keep a journal to record their experiences inside and outside of dance. Consider providing weekly or bi-monthly thought provoking questions or themes – linked to technical and artistic content in your class – for your dancers to proactively reflect upon.

 

Feminist pedagogy balances concern for both process and product.

  • How does your work in dance honour both process and product and what impact does this awareness have on the dancers and community that you work with?
  • Feminist pedagogy is interdisciplinary and draws upon the latest educational theories, brain science, somatic education and mental health initiatives to enlighten how we teach, coach, create and perform. Here are some ideas to consider:

     

     1. Educational Theories:

  • Theorist Carol Dweck identifies the difference between a growth versus fixed mindset. A fixed mindset views talent and intellect as inborn and fixed traits, while the growth mindset considers talent and intellect as malleable traits directly linked to effort.
  • There are potential links between a fixed mindset and debilitating forms of performance anxiety and perfectionism. How might your feedback in the teaching and learning space inadvertently exacerbate self-oriented perfectionism? How might the growth mindset instead promote persistence and resiliency – internal rather than external motivation?

 

     2. Sports Psychology:

  • Consider the fine art of goal setting. Professional and amateur athletes have been using a concept called SMART (an acronym that stands for specific, measurable, assignable, realistic and time-related) to set goals. In essence, this system is designed to support goal achievement through a thoughtfully deliberated process. How might this help students succeed in dance?
  • Resource: The Inner Game of Tennis (1974) by W. Tim Gallwey. This seminal work explores a self-coaching mindset that speaks the concept of an interconnected mind and body. The title may reference tennis, but it speaks to anyone who works with the body.

 

     3. Mindfulness and Mental Health:

  • How might promoting mindfulness and integrating a guided meditation before a class or rehearsal help dancers find mental and physical well-being and inner calm? How might mindfulness practice support the teaching and learning of dance?

 

     4. Brain Science and Psychology:

  • Technologies like cell phones pull us toward involuntary attention that requires little effort and results in short bursts of dopamine. Dance is the ultimate example of voluntary attention. It requires great effort and results in longer, more sustained flow of dopamine. It also promotes executive function, which has been considered a stronger indicator of student success than an IQ score. Consider the value of our art and advocate for our profession as a way to develop powerful brain functioning.
  • The value of metacognition requires one to consider not only what you learn but how you learn. Lucy Jo Palladino, PhD, suggests metacognition requires high levels of self-awareness and honesty. How might you promote what I call “metacognitive embodied scholarship” in dance?

 

     5. Somatic Practice:

  • How might somatic practices promote metacognitive embodied scholarship in our students? How might we link somatic practice to goal setting inside and outside the classroom?

 

Sources and Resources

Gallwey, T. (1997). The Inner Game of Tennis. New York, NY: Random House Trade Paperbacks.

Dweck, C. (2006). Mindset: The New Psychology of Success. New York, NY: Random House.

Kabat-Zinn, Jon. (2012). Mindfulness for Beginners: reclaiming the present moment- and your life. Boulder, CO: Sounds True, Inc.

Noddings, N. (2003). Happiness and Education. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press.

Palladino, L. J. (2015). Parenting in the Age of Attention Snatchers. Boston, MA: Shambhala Publications, Inc.

Shapiro, S. (1998). Dance, Power and Difference: Critical and Feminist Perspectives on Dance Education. Champaign, IL: Human Kinetics.

Stinson, S. (2011). “Questioning Our Past and Building a Future: Teacher Education in Dance for the 21st Century.” Journal of Dance Education, 10(4), 136-144.

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