Roehampton Dance’s Erica Stanton writes about being on research leave and teaching as a practice.
Being Out of Practice
Normal service has been suspended and I’m weighing up the peculiarities of being afforded the privilege of teaching relief when my practice is teaching. It feels odd to be out of the rhythm of regular teaching practice, particularly as I have been doing it for such a long time!
Teaching was my training, my means to exist through graduate school and the fuel, partner and necessity for much of my choreographic work, but how is it a practice? It feels much more than this. I practise the piano occasionally as a once-enthusiastic amateur, but teaching is not about doing, or the means to do something else, it’s about being.
This might seem like rather an odd thing to say, but I am the product of two educators. My mother was a secondary school teacher and my father a PE teacher, sports coach and finally education adviser. I was brought up on a diet of educational planning, arguments about the role of education (my mum was conservative in her politics and my dad was way off left) and the highs and lows of the teaching life.
So from January, I have been ‘locked out of the lab’ with no access to my usual materials. Other opportunities need to be sought. Teaching on the sly, maybe? In this time away from Roehampton, I prepare many wonderful opportunities to give workshops, classes and seminars with and for teachers, artists, student teachers and students of dance. I wondered if I would be rusty in this out of practice state? I was. Not in the dancing part, as I had been going to class and was taking care of my physical self, but the teaching – the verbalisation of the ‘what, how and why’ – was a bit creaky. It came back eventually, but it was a shock to know how quickly and easily it deteriorated.
Aside from the glitch with my teaching equipment, this time has enabled me to reflect on the profound difference between the ‘one-off’; the make-a-splash, big impact of the visiting artist/teacher and the important responsibility of a continuing teaching programme with familiar faces. The rituals of ‘home’ teaching with its cycle of offering and testing ideas, interpreting responses, and reconsidering possibilities feel more satisfying and infinitely more significant.
In this other world of the sabbatical where the spatial and temporal climate is less structured and the population of the immediate environment is drastically reduced, I am too solitary and I have time to think; to think too much. Where is the test bed for these ideas? It’s all very well writing them down for a later date and a different audience, but I am used to having immediate feedback from all of those keen researchers that we call ‘students’!
This change brings about new behaviour and at the other side of the world (New Zealand), I am surprised at how different it is to the UK. Here is a culture finding fascinating ways to weave dignity, respect for others, care for the environment and kinship into academic and artistic life. I was reminded of an important lesson; that alongside the self-actualisation and self-efficacy that we encourage in teaching our students, there are further more important possibilities for group developments – less of ‘what can I do?’ and more of ‘what can we do?’ This has a profound resonance in this most social of art forms – dance.
But maybe this is expecting too much? Could teaching be as simple as communicating the delight in what we do? Imagine this privilege – the joy of being able to spend some of each day dancing and sharing this with others.
Teaching provides occasions to share with others your deep affection for what you teach. There is a sense of contagion when your eyes twinkle with delight at the prospect of introducing students to what you love. Your love of what you teach is conveyed to them; it is the sincerest and most powerful invitation you can extend.
– Eliot Eisner
Image by Benedict Johnson.