I venture that every writing teacher on the planet would agree with the fundamental principle that we teach writing as a process. Not surprisingly, our classroom practices tend to emphasize writing as the development of skill over the long term. However, institutional perspectives (and ones often adopted by our students) tend to see writing merely in terms of the creation of a finished product that completes a task: take the prompt, complete the assignment in one sitting, and get the box checked off.
This “pedagogy of product” is positivist, procedural, and frankly, isn’t even that effective at producing a product. The dance teacher in me envisions a synthesis of process and product pedagogies in a powerful new perspective. If you haven’t had enough ‘p’s’ in this paragraph, I advocate for a pedagogy of performance.
As dancers, we know what it means to develop skills over the long term; we are experts at working within an interactive and recursive process rather than on anything stable or fixed (we can thank the inherent ephemerality of the art of dance for that). We are also very familiar with employing strategies to make a desired–or unexpected–impact upon an audience. We are performers. We learn, grow, and create ourselves for, within, and as a result of, our interactions with an audience.
Adopting a methodological principle that I refer to interchangeably by the terms “translational creativity” or “comparative performativity” (I haven’t settled on either yet!) invites us to place writing pedagogy into conversation with dance pedagogy (and the creative processes of each art form) in an effort to yield creative insights that might not otherwise occur to us.
Such a comparison between writing and dance and the teaching of each highlights a fundamental similarity–we strive not toward a stable and fixed product that exists outside, and independent of, human interaction. Rather we work to prepare for a particular moment of encounter, of presentation, of performance. The process of preparation toward that moment of the performative encounter is a particular kind of creative process that requires sustained interaction with the environment–most often, our audience.
Teachers of writing and teachers of dance don’t teach just any process; we teach the creative process–one that defies procedural knowledge and, while limitless in its possibilities, nevertheless provides endless avenues of frustration, stress, and the paralytic effects of anxiety. Open-endedness provides plenty of opportunities not only for innovation and growth, but also for losing one’s way. That’s why the teacher serves as an experienced guide–an artist who has been down the path and gotten lost plenty of times. One who can offer the student a venture into the creative process that provides valuable experience and avoids frustration just enough that the student isn’t pushed to abandon their trajectory of self-creation.
In writing, as in dance, there are no teachers and there are no students. We are merely writers and dancers and often, both.
In blog posts that will follow, I hope to continually bring dance pedagogy into dialogue with writing pedagogy. I hope to present examples of insights drawn from the teaching of writing and the teaching of dance and examine their applicability to the other. Sometimes noting parallels between different contexts expands one’s perspective to see any teaching challenge in a new light and affords inspiring and useful new approaches.
After all, creative innovation usually emerges not from within the heart of any discipline, practice, or person, but within the interchange that occurs “in between”–where differences encounter each other in a dialogic and dynamic way such that novel thought emerges. You’ll see this notion of the generative potential of the in-between throughout my work. You’ll also see examples from the dance studio that I hope will highlight my humor, my love for my students, and my passion for the art of dance. Throughout, I hope you’ll be reminded of the thrill of the creative process.
As I continue to work on insights for writing teachers gleaned from the dance studio, you can look forward to my next post which will explore my first emergent notion from a perspective of “translational creativity” or “comparative performativity: “keep them moving!”