Expectations

The expectations of dancers on this summer programme were diverse. There were twenty participants with an age range spanning three decades. Some dancers had recently emerged from full-time training, other dancers already possessed a wealth and range of experience, including Nina Atkinson, Klara Burgess, Seri Hodges, Sameena Mitta, Kelly Sangiuseppe and Evelyn Tuul who had all completed the Professional Studies Programme at the Limón Institute in New York. Somehow, Alan and Geraldine had to draw this breadth of experience together over the course of two weeks. Alan remembers that, ‘the thing that surprised me is how many people I knew. I’d expected to come and meet 20 people and I knew at least 10 of them’ (Alan Danielson interview, 19/7/11).

The combination of Limón technique’s accessibility: ‘as if I had been dropped into some alternate universe that I didn’t know existed and yet could immediately speak the language’ [1] and the inclusive nature of the teaching approach which seems to go hand-in-hand with it, was important in making the programme accessible to all the participants. The expectations of the programme were, for some of us, based on our experiences of Limón classes over many years and the recurring theme of the organic relationship between the ‘how’ and the ‘what’ of the technique seems to have been sustained to the present day. In 1998, Doug Varone remembered:

A man named Aaron Osborne arrived at [SUNY] Purchase to teach a Humphrey Limón based class and my dancing changed forever. Osborne, a former Limón dancer possessed this amazing generosity in his teaching. It wasn’t just what he was teaching, it was how. He treated his students with respect and appeared to truly value the human being in each one of us.

— Doug Varone [2]

Over a long period of taking Limón classes and teaching Limón technique, I have noticed that the relationship between the movement and teaching style is mutual. Geraldine endorses this view:

[from] the way you are, it’s almost like I know how you’re going to be dancing … but it’s not conscious. I think that’s the fun part of being performers – no matter how much you read or information [you gather] you are who you are! You’re going to dance that way!

— Geraldine Cardiel (interview, 22/7/11)

Dancers have seem to be drawn to this particular way of moving partly through the ‘continuity, community and hope’ [3] found in Limón’s work and the individual experience which if offers, ‘[In class] I was a dancer because I was allowed to be an individual, an individual who was not afraid to put that conviction into my own dancing’ [4]. Alan observes that:

Certain people are drawn to this, and they are people that are drawn to moving as human beings and relating to each other as human beings.

      — Alan Danielson (interview, 19/7/11)

When dancers perceive the working environment of a class they are also acutely aware of its inherent ‘political, ethical and psychological climate’ [5] and often these values of a class are passed on through long exposure to an important mentor, or to a particular technique’s ethos. It is expected that a Limón class will be exploratory and challenging (physically, intellectually and imaginatively) and that equally importantly, the environment will be conducive to learning.

My first Limón teacher was Martha Partridge who demonstrated for Ruth Currier’s class in New York in the 1980s and was a member of faculty at Sarah Lawrence College where I was studying at the time. Martha’s attributes as a teacher, aside from her clarity and freedom as a dancer, were her gentleness, humour, openness and musicality. Her class marked the first time that I’d heard a teacher say, ‘See if you can …’ The emphasis was on me trying to find something out and not on the teacher specifying what I had to do.

— Erica Stanton (class observation, 25/7/11 )

Alan identifies Ruth Currier as an important figure in his development as a teacher: ‘I guess my approach to teaching I got from my main mentor who was Ruth Currier, who treated us all as equals’ (Alan Danielson interview 19/7/11). In taking classes at her studio, Alan noticed that:

‘This is exactly the information that I want’. She was an amazing dancer and she also had an analytic mind. She was able to translate what we were doing and feeling into specific principles and ideas which is how I learned the essence of Humphrey/ Limón dancing.

— Alan Danielson [6]

On the first day of the programme, Alan confessed that he was nervous. Of course, as participants we were all expectant and anxiety is always a part of that, but to hear this from the teacher was like a huge exhalation – an earthing of tension. We were on a journey of investigation together over the next two weeks. This emphasis on mutual discovery and the expectation of active engagement with learning (from both teacher and students) remained evident in Alan’s classes during the two weeks. In the first week, we had all struggled with a particular phrase of movement. Alan stopped us and said, “May I help you?” The class laughed spontaneously, but this simple question immediately broke the tension and pierced our expectations that we should just be able to accomplish movements successfully straightaway. The work of the class could be resumed as our learning was brought sharply into focus as the priority. Alan was making it clear that:

  • I am here to help you, what is it you need?
  • I see that you’re struggling with this, but can you identify the problem so that I can give you some clues as to how to solve it.

Alan observes that ‘ … to dance you actually have to learn it by doing it. I can’t teach them. I can put them in a situation where they can learn it. As we approach a class, we approach the students as human beings. This is a human experience that we are doing here in a group’ (Alan Danielson interview, 19/7/11). Since half of our group was already familiar with Alan’s teaching, it is fair to surmise that a number of us were enrolled on the programme in anticipation of the generosity and joy which are central to his teaching style and also because of the seriousness with which he commits himself to participants’ learning. It is possible that this how of Alan’s teaching was a stronger influence on our expectations of the programme than the what of contemporary Limón as a subject of study. Robin Lakes has written potently on the pedagogical legacy of modern dance and it makes a strong case for the impact of the how of learning:

When dance technique is taught, much more is going on in the room than just the subject at hand. There are actually two subject matters in the classroom. Unconsciously or not, ideas about many aspects of life including power, gender and equity – and about how the teacher believes learning takes place – are being conveyed in that room. No matter how liberating the subject matter may be, it can be undermined by oppressive ways of working in the classroom.

— Robin Lakes [7]

So, in talking to the participants on the summer programme, we start to realise the detail of their expectations and their responsibilities and to ponder whether they are specific in any way to this technique, or indeed, to their past and present teachers?

[Alan is] a fantastic teacher and really makes you aware of how you’re using the principles in the different movements … And the depth that he’s gone into, particularly with timing and rhythm and music, has been really, really interesting – just a very interesting way of using the music and the phrasing. … I trained as a pianist when I was younger and so that’s what I love about Humphrey and Limón – it’s very musical. And also the way that he’s teaching is really showing how you can use that, how you can use the accents, how you can use the phrasing.

— Kate McMonagle (interview, 22/7/11 )

Well, [I’m here because] I miss dancing! I work so closely with dancers and I worked so closely as a dancer myself, that I missed learning and exploring technique principles. I missed that interaction. … I’ve been to other release-based technique classes where I liked the teacher but maybe there’s something a bit too loose perhaps about what’s framing their approach. And I guess different things work for different people. But definitely there’s something about the Limón principles underpinning how both of those two teachers [8] [teach], who are teachers that have always been at the forefront of my mind when I teach. I’d like to embrace some of their modes of practice, definitely.

— Edel Quin (interview, 20/7/11)

I was really interested in doing it because it’s contemporary Limón and so basically it’s bringing it into modern day. Because I feel that [in] what I teach sometimes, I’m a little bit stuck in the past. And so this way it can just give me some more tools to use. Because it’s all the same principles, which is wonderful. But to bring it into ways that [are] more useful to the students and with what dance is now.

— Kate McMonagle (interview, 22/7/11)

I just wanted to understand it more – understand the style more and one of the things that I was saying to Alan earlier is that when you take classes all the time, you don’t often have a chance to ask questions. Classes are very drop-in based and you get to learn but when you have an issue you never get to focus on it. You just don’t have time. It’s not part of the class. So [by] taking this workshop … I’m hoping to have some of those questions answered (which is probably why I ask way too many questions). I’m here for that opportunity. I want to have that time that we don’t often get.

— Sameena Mitta (interview, 19/7/11)

In the course of the two weeks we began to notice the relationship between expectation and frustration. As we became accustomed to the rhythms of our daily practice and noticed the peaks and troughs of our achievements, we began to consider where that frustration originates? Why is it that when we dance, we judge ourselves so harshly?

Oh, it’s definitely me. And it’s funny because somebody else had actually picked up on it before I did. She said to me partway through that last hour: ‘Are you beating yourself up today?’ which I thought was really interesting. And I thought: ‘I guess I am!’ Because nobody else is doing it, for sure. People are very supportive and the role of the teacher is not to just tell you how great something was. It’s obviously to push you and keep you going in a direction of learning and getting better and better and better. And so, with that, you never feel like you’ve achieved anything. That’s the way that I felt, I guess. … It was strictly a whole internalised discussion I had with myself about why I’m not getting something.

 — Sameena Mitta (interview, 22/7/11)

I really want to get something and understand it, and I go go go. And then I hit a wall. And I don’t know quite what to do, so I sort of stop and I keep banging my head against the wall … I think I had expectations of myself in terms of being slightly more capable than I experienced myself being during the two weeks. But that in itself has been a very interesting learning curve, I suppose. So, no, I didn’t really have many expectations of the course itself. And therefore everything has been something that I can take away. No major surprises, no major disappointments because I had very few expectations

— Edel Quin (interview, 29/7/11)

They’re bumping into their limits and the difference between what they understand and what they can get their body to do. These are very clear concepts but it takes a long time for your body to be able to actually do them. I can tell them what this is, but then it takes them a lot of physical doing, for them to really have a physical knowledge of it, experiential knowledge.

— Alan Danielson (interview, 22/7/11)

 We noticed how being less goal-orientated, being patient, or resigned to the fact that learning takes time, made for a more productive learning experience.

I think all you need to do is to trust that one day it comes when you’re studying something, and when you’re teaching. I think you shouldn’t force your students to do [things] right now and then. I think you need to give time and encourage them to trust their own body, and it comes when it’s the right time. So it clicks.

— Evelyn Tuul (interview, 22/7/11)

I am not sure how much we anticipated our deep learning to emerge as it did over the two weeks. Perhaps being immersed in the doing of class, workshops and tasks allowed us not to view the programme as satisfying a need or desire, but as an experience to savour and one which would not necessarily synchronise its benefits?

It goes to the way that we educate people. Do you teach them, ‘You’re doing this wrong. Look, I’m going to do it right?’ Or do you find the pleasure in it and then from there we go (which is kind of the Feldenkrais approach)? Because in terms of science it has been said that learning happens when the brain gets a message of pleasure [9] (pleasure meaning something that is comfortable, feels fine). Not when someone tells you, “You’re wrong! … There are just very different ways of learning.

— Geraldine Cardiel (interview, 22/7/11)

Suggested citation for this page:
Stanton, Erica, Simon Ellis, Gemma Donohue & Lil Boyce (2012). ‘Limón Project: Expectations.’ Retrieved <insert date>, from http://roehamptondance.com/limonproject/expectations

References:

[1] Varone, Doug (1998) ‘The Fourth Generation Speaks’ in Mindlin Naomi (ed) ‘Doris Humphrey: A Centennial Issue’, Choreography and Dance, Vol 4, part  4. Amsterdam: Harwood Academic Publishers, p.118

[2] Varone, Doug (1998) ‘The Fourth Generation Speaks’ in Mindlin Naomi (ed) ‘Doris Humphrey: A Centennial Issue’, Choreography and Dance, Vol 4, part  4. Amsterdam: Harwood Academic Publishers, p.117

[3] Maxwell, Carla (2009) ‘Interview with Carla Maxwell’ published on February 18, 2009 by Christy Tennant available at http://www.internationalartsmovement.org/podcasts/IAMglobal/episodes/381-interview-with-carla-maxwell-artistic-director-of-limon-dance

[4] Varone, Doug (1998) ‘The Fourth Generation Speaks’ in Mindlin Naomi (ed) ‘Doris Humphrey: A Centennial Issue’, Choreography and Dance, Vol 4, part  4. Amsterdam: Harwood Academic Publishers, p.117

[5] Lakes, Robin (2005) ‘The Messages behind the Methods: The Authoritarian Pedagogical Legacy in Western Concert Dance Technique Training and Rehearsals’, Arts Education Policy Review, vol. 106 May/June, New York: Taylor and Francis, p.3

[6] Danielson, Alan (2010). ‘Finding Your own Voice’ In Ingo, D. & Lampert, F. (eds) Dance Techniques 2010 – Tanzplan Germany. Liepzig: Henschel Verlag, p.33

[7] Lakes, Robin (2005) ‘The Messages behind the Methods: The Authoritarian Pedagogical Legacy in Western Concert Dance Technique Training and Rehearsals’, Arts Education Policy Review, vol. 106 May/June, New York: Taylor and Francis, p.4

[8] Edel is referring here to Sonia Rafferty who currently teaches at Trinity Laban and to Erica Stanton who taught Edel when she was an undergraduate on the Dance programme at the University of Chichester.

[9] For more on this topic see Zull James E. (2002) The Art of Changing the Brain: Enriching the Practice of Teaching by Exploring the Biology of Learning, Virginia: Stylus Publishing