And then there is the question that follows the conundrum of what I do.
“So what kind of dance do you do?”
Well, shoot- how much time do you really have?
Okay, so I usually say, “mostly modern and jazz, but I have a strong background in ballet.” In truth, I create modern dance works. I was hired to do mostly jazz. Ballet is something that the other person is most likely to understand and have a frame of reference for. But even those labels don’t really fit. They don’t tell the whole story. And as I see it, and have been exploring in my teaching recently- nothing is pure anymore.
Because we, as a field, don’t even really know how to talk about movement neatly. Consider the whole “contemporary” controversy. We can’t decide who the title belongs to, if it is a credit or an insult, if it is concert or commercial. “Modern” to dancers offers one notion but to a non-dancer, it is completely different. And yet, people insist on labels and primly packaged descriptions of dance (and well, everything else). Creativity-centered instruction to boost critical-thinking is a whole other post waiting to be written…..
I equally dread this at Meet the Teacher night and Parent/Teacher conferences there but at least for those I have a line: “all of them and none of them”. To which, naturally, I get very odd looks but I go on to explain that I tend to teach in a stylistically neutral way but that I teach the principles of dance that can be applied in any movement situation.
When I can see they don’t believe me, or may just not really know what this means, I explain that I teach the tools and then we explore how they are used in styles such as modern, jazz, and ballet. I provide a few examples of what I mean.
For some families, this is very exciting. A whole new world and understanding open up. They start taking over the conversation with how these concepts could be applied to other subject areas. For others, they are frustrated at what seems to be a non-answer and eventually they walk away. I always end up wondering what else could be said to help them understand or rather, help them feel included.
But I am further struck by conversations with people that, in theory, should have some something to contribute to the conversation. If this week has taught me anything, we seem to have shared baggage about body image and about identity.
Here is an anecdote about another topic many dance educators haven’t quite figured out:
One day my husband was talking to an acquaintance who has described herself as a dancer (studio, non-professional) and mentioned Pina Bausch (I love that man). Her facial expression indicated she didn’t know the name and she asked what style of dance Pina choreographed. The Hub said she was a modern dance choreographer. This woman screwed up her face and said, “oh we don’t like modern. My teacher is classically trained.”
WOW. So we *still* can’t encourage dancers to watch and value all dance.
The exposure required goes beyond those that don’t dance, it must include those that do.