Thursday, November 17, 2016

External Events and Internal Processes

I’ve been collecting ideas for this blog over the past couple of weeks now but it seems to me that something that lies at the heart of this theme has been on my mind for quite a while.  Alanna writes in her blog about her teaching practices, and how she is finding her own practices (and her own identity maybe?) in the world of possibilities.  Ideas that hit me in her blog- ‘overlapping’, ‘multiple layers’, ‘non-linear’- could not take my attention away from the first idea of ‘the binary’.  This idea seems somehow a block for me and it returned me to my own blog.  We talked about external events and internal processes at the beginning of the month as almost being in a dialogue, as if they were two separate, clearly defined realities staring at each other across a physical boundary.  I find this way of seeing troubling, particularly so, because the longer I look at it, the stronger the image appears, even if my gut feeling is telling me that this is not how I experience the world.  And once again it appears because it is almost impossible for me to conceive of myself as anything other than separate and contained within the world I am experiencing.

For my inquiry I’m looking at the dancers’ experience of music in the dance studio.  I set out in my Module 2 proposal to explore it through the lens of the ‘intersubjective’, what we consider as ‘subjective’ experiences but that are formed out there in the world, through participation.  The personal and the collective forming as one whole, but encompassing multiple, overlapping experiences.  And all of these experiences are co-dependent.

We could see music and/or dance as being at one and the same time both an external event and an internal process with their origins not always clear.  We can question the extent to which we can see musicians as engaging in a complex and intimate dance, and dancers as creating moving images out of the many rhythms and melodies they hear within them.  A rhythm is most certainly an internal process as well as an external event and I would imagine most people can conjure in their memories the magical sensation of when these realities merge as one through dance.

These things are very difficult to talk about (as I have found through my interviewing) or write about as I am struggling now, but I feel they can been understood through other mediums, such as dance, which does not necessarily rely on a binary in order to define meaning.  Sometimes the eagerness to  define and understand can get in the way from me experiencing the overlapping realities of which I am apart of but nevertheless seem contradictory and confusing. 

Saturday, April 16, 2016

The Research Process: Uncovering one’s own Assumptions

 Doug Risner in the article ‘Politics of Personal Pedagogy: Examining Teacher Identities’, writes that ‘...critical pedagogy is an approach to teaching that seeks to help students question and challenge assumptions and practices that limit, marginalize and disenfranchise human agency and freedom’ (p95, 2008).  As I embark on planning and undergoing a research project, the inspirations of which have grown out of my own experiences as a dancer, my own pedagogical practices and the many activities and interactions that populate my immediate environment, I am noticing that in researching around a particular theme (as Risner, who is looking at the politics of gender in dance pedagogy)and reflecting on my own ideas and approaches through conversation with associates, and engaging in literature, I feel that a lot of these early stages are involving an uncovering of assumptions, my own and other’ around me. I am curious to see if this continues throughout the project. 

Having taken quite a while to Blog on this theme since the months’ skype discussion, I feel I could now add many more loose ideas and impressions.  One that I seem to be coming back to is the extent to which ours assumptions are compounded by language, when we resort to clich├ęs and tropes, when we rely on short hand terms to express our ideas and feelings without being really explicit or clear through our language about what we mean. 

What does it mean when we say someone is not dancing on/with/to the music?  Is this short hand for saying someone is not dancing on the beat of the music?  What about saying someone is dancing musically?  Would music have to be present within the environment for someone to be seen to be dancing musically or could they be dancing musically in ‘silence’?  Is ‘musicality’ simply a way of listening and interpreting music through the moving body?  I don’t know.... 

From a slightly different perspective I was brought up on the correction ‘pull-up’ through all the countless ballet teachers I experienced, but never really understood what I should be feeling or aiming towards.  It took me a long time to recognise the extreme tension and inability to breath that that remark inspired in me, and a much longer time to understand that to feel balanced and ‘centred’ required the co-ordination of many elements one very helpful for me being giving the weight to the floor, pushing down to spiral upwards.  Each person seems to respond to and is inspired by different ways of relating to the body.

When I teach I feel acutely aware of the importance of the language I use.  Sometimes this sensitivity feels like a stumbling block.  It is something I am working on.

Friday, March 11, 2016

Finding continuity


The evening conversation on Sunday brought up many topics for consideration and I very much enjoyed its variety and hearing so many voices.  Through starting to think more specifically about creating a plan for a research project and the newness of ideas surrounding qualitative research methodologies, collecting and analysing data, I have been struck by my need to look for areas within the module that are familiar and that provide a sense of continuity.  Happily some of the more philosophical aspects of the module are not entirely unknown and have given me the excuse to raid my bookshelf in search of all the books I’ve been meaning to read for a very long time.  We talked about continuity between the three modules and I brought up the topic of reflective practice, so important to module 1.  Currently reading some of the chapters of ‘Dance in the field: theory, methods and issues in dance ethnography’ (Theresa Buckland, 1999) and some of the work of Drid Williams (for example the article ‘Self-reflexivity: a critical overview’ where the issue of reflexive versus subjective is given voice), reflexivity and reflective practice, seem to be linked in my mind with research.  However as a conscious, daily practice it has recently taken a back-seat, lost in the newness of module 2 which was a concern for me.  Helen suggested that reflective practice can be seen as a tool that can be returned to and used when needed.  We also talked about how it can be interwoven into daily life.

In many ways reflection is to me one aspect which makes an activity research.  All opportunities of life can be opportunities to find out more, see new things and be touched in new ways.  As everything is in constant change, in many ways the process of ‘knowing’ never ceases.  As Adesola reminded us research is an opportunity to find out more about something.  Maybe it can also be shining a different light on something already in some way known.  The early beginnings of my research plans seem to be routed in the landscape of my work and home life and the people directly in my vicinity.  At the same time I have felt that this is a good opportunity to focus attention on aspects of my practice that for a long time have caused me discomfort, perhaps because of the sense that I don’t yet know enough about them.  In this way I hope to reach out to the new.  At the moment however it’s still a very, very open field.

Sunday, February 14, 2016

Beginning Module 2:  Threads of interest appearing

Module 1 was a wonderful challenge for me especially as I was inundated with work and travel.  I am looking forward to spending time exploring as I begin module 2, and especially reconnecting with everyone on MAPP DTP because I have felt quite absent. 

These are things that have preoccupied me over the past few weeks that may or may not be connected but that could never the less be interesting to some of the themes that the beginnings of module 2 seem to be touching on.  I have also included links - possibly interesting.  I would love to hear from some of you. 

In the interim of study I had time to once more engage with literature, and aspects of culture that always interested or engaged me but with once again fresh eyes.  I love the variety of resources to be found on youtube.  The flavour of January were definitely Sam Harris’s videos:

The break was an enjoyable relief especially from the final pressure of compiling my portfolio for module 1.  Now that I am moving on to the next module, it is lovely to be able to find themes within it that may provide a feeling of continuity not just with personal interests but my work as a dancer, performer and teacher. 

I decided having read the Handbook to take on what seems like quite a challenge of starting to formulate my own ideas surrounding dualism/monism, embodiment and perhaps look at Task 1.  I took a look at my book shelf and found Nietzsches’ ‘The Birth of Tragedy’, Sartre’s ‘Nausea’ and felt these were the entry points for me to then engage with some of the set texts.  I am currently finding ‘Nietzsche's dancers: Isadora Duncan, Martha Graham, and the revaluation of Christian Values’ (Kimerer L. LaMothe, 2006) very helpful for drawing relationships between the beginnings of phenomenology and early modern dance.  It's giving me an opportunity to look further afield – maybe this will help for finding a theme to research (although I have some ideas).  It flows beautifully on from my January’s work as I was involved as a performer in a dance-theatre production of Sophocles’ ‘Oedipus’:

Oedipus, through solving the riddle of the sphinx and so breaking the curse, is the infinitely wise (unsurpassable in logical reasoning) saviour, and as a consequence, king, of the plague stricken city of Thebes.  The tragedy follows his journey, from blindness to full realization of his true nature, that he is the murderer of his father and husband to his mother.  His final enlightenment is symbolized when, at his own hands as an act of self-revulsion and despair, he is physically blinded (and thus absolved into the world of the unseen/unknown, Nietzsche’s ‘Dionysian abysses’ p89, 1967), and his banishment from the city of Thebes, and subsequent journey back into communion with nature.  Nietzsche talks of connection with nature as knowing reality, with this achieved through the figure of the Dionysian satyr (‘..the image of nature and its strongest urges...and at the same time the proclaimer of her wisdom and art – musician, poet, dancer and seer of spirits all in one person’ (1967, p65-66)).  Nietzsche writes passionately of the unity of all living things and primordial nature as reality, with experience of these coming not through critical reasoning and understanding but through experiencing transformative art.  In critique Nietzsche  writes of the ‘divine’ Plato that he ‘only speaks ironically of the creative faculty of the poet, insofar as it is not conscious insight, and places it on par with the gift of the soothsayer and the dream-interpreter: the poet is incapable of composing until he has become unconscious and bereft of understanding’ (1967, p85-86).  To me Nietzsche implies that understanding once translated into conscious thought, into knowledge gained through reason acts merely as an illusion to the reality of the world experienced through artistic impulse.  He writes:

‘The idyllic shepherd of modern man is merely the counterfeit of the sum of cultural illusions that are allegedly nature; the Dionysian Greek wants truth and nature in their most forceful form and see himself changed, as by magic into a satyr’.  1967, p62
Nietzsche’s description of the satyr is of a being absorbed in their sensory reality.  For the central figure of Sartre’s ‘Nausea’, a tree in a city park, experienced from the perspective of his embodied self, one immersed within the sensory world, comes to represent to him the reality of existence in its entirety.  In the presence of the lived reality, the word ‘tree’ becomes absurd in it meaninglessness (‘I was thinking without words, about things with things....I am struggling against words’ (1965, p185)).  The distance between words, the symbol of the thing and the reality, creates an unsettled disturbing sensation (like Nietzsche’s contrast between the image of the idyllic shepherd in common culture and the reality of one directly experiencing nature).  In this state the inanimate world becomes to him unstable, filled with movement (the tree ‘floats’, ‘shrivels’, ‘crumples’, ‘penetrates’ (1965, p191)), consciousness through the subjective experience becomes everything, and ‘knowledge’ of the world slips away, ‘...neither ignorance or knowledge had any importance, the world of explanations and reasons is not that of existence.’ (1965, p185).  Interestingly, whilst explaining what seems to be an understanding of life through an embodied awareness, a sensory consciousness, Sartre nevertheless still posits knowledge as separate, as belonging to the mind, and like Nietzsche, the realm of logic and the written word.  If what the embodied self experiences and understands (intuitively, instinctively or by some other process) cannot be rendered in words without something of its essence being lost or distorted, what do we mean when we say that the body can be a site of knowledge?  Perhaps we could see knowledge simply as a way of experiencing/understanding the world that can be passed on/communicated to someone else.  Dance therefore becomes a means of transference from individual to individual.  The dancing of a contact improvisation jam for example immediately comes to mind as a direct non-verbal form of communicating understanding.
‘The Triangular Clock’, Salvador Dali from:Penguin Surrealism
This has been the starting point for me to think about how I relate to embodiment, knowledge and dance and I am really inspired to develop this further.  Merleau-Ponty’s ‘Phenomenology of perception’ would be interesting as well as most books on the reading list although as a distance learner I am concentrating on resources that I can access online first. 

I am currently thinking about the possible need for ‘entry points’ into the sensory world and the consciousness of our moving reality.  That entry point may be a movement motif in itself, touch or physical contact with something or someone, a rhythm.  For the protagonist in ‘Nausea’ it is the image and feeling of the tree.  The smell of coffee in the morning enlivens and awakens me into dynamic movement.  Memories are awakened – an image used in a piece of choreography or technique class can evoke memories of past sensations, emotions and ideas, which in turn work to intensify the present experience.  Sartre’s protagonist sees the black colour of the tree as ‘...melted into the smell of wet earth, of warm moist wood, into a black smell spread like varnish over that sinewy wood, into a sweet, pulped fibre’ (1965, p187).  I am currently thinking about ideas for research surrounding the relationship between music and dance but from a personal, individual perspective.
Thank you for taking the time out.
Nietzche, F., (1967), The Birth of Tragedy and The Case of Wagner, Toronto: Random House.
Sartre, J.P., (1965), Nausea, Middlesex: Penguin Books



Sunday, October 18, 2015

Looking back, changing perspectives, finding questions from within

My first weeks on the MAPP DTP have been exciting and at times quite overwhelming.  Exciting to be engaging in such new ideas, but overwhelming to be embarking once again on education and all the formalities that accompany it and that need to be understood.  I have spent time focussing on my CV and thinking very carefully about the day to day activities of my work.  It has been a process of looking back and re-assessing the past from the fresh perspective of today.  But it has also been a process of noticing when and how, over the years, from project to project my perspective changed, the catalysts for these changes and how this changing perspective influenced my work as a whole.

My career so far has been built up of continuity highlighted with periods of great diversity.  I work with long term associates, both through my performance and teaching work and with some training methods that remain a constant (perhaps a daily ballet class, or devising for creation).   However I am always working on diverse projects with diverse collaborators and working with new teaching colleagues, all opportunities to reassess a certain perspective out of which grows new inspiration for new approaches to longer term working habits.  I feel that often deepening my learning has been a lot to do with experimenting with approach rather than in drastic changes in learning material. 

 Looking back over the past weeks in order to annotate my CV one aspect that became clear to me is that in almost every creative project I have been involved in initially as a dancer and now as my performance work becomes more diverse, a performer, developing expressivity in movement has been one focus of learning and development.  Now that I teach, this preoccupation informs my teaching.  I appreciated hearing from Suzie and Amanda about their approaches to using expressivity in dance during this months skype chat.  I have noticed that my desire has always been to learn greater expressivity but the approach to how I achieve this has changed considerably.  This change in approach may sometimes have been conscious, for example by choosing to experiment through the lens of a new technique that I have learnt or a new concept I have been introduced to, but it may also have come unconsciously as a result of a change in my perspective, a change brought about by any number of countless life experiences many of which may be quite unrelated to the point of investigation or to even dance (maybe this latter point links in with Amanda, wanting to use difficult life experiences as inspiration for her choreography?)  As my ability to communicate with colleagues has also deepened over the years I have also noticed that experimentation in approach has become more dynamic as I am much more able to welcome feedback from others and use it positively to support further development.  In this way I have noticed that changes in approach can open up new points of investigation surrounding the theme and new questions.  Even with some colleagues that I have known for years, I am surprised by their opinions and advice – I forget that they are also in a constant state of development and change.

Now that I am beginning to feel more involved in some of the ideas surrounding our study I am looking forward to the November skype meeting but also it would be great to hear from anyone in module 1 just to get an idea of who else is out there.  I am really open to any kind of contact.  Hope you have a lovely day.