In my previous post, I spoke about teaching writing such that we emphasize process rather than product, and that, through a comparison between writing pedagogy and dance pedagogy, we can understand writing as an act of performance as well.
In performance-based art forms we learn through the lived experience provided by the performative encounter and, although we can see written text or a choreographed piece as a “product,” the pedagogical and transformative potential is enacted through the experience of the performative process rather than at that moment of completion when our work becomes a static object. The critical period for the developing artist is within the unfolding of the process rather than in its termination or abandonment.
As beautifully said by Suki Schorer, famed Balanchine ballerina and ballet mistress of the School of American Ballet in New York, ‘One lives the process, not the outcome.” (Suki Schorer on Balanchine Technique).
Our “products” (to the extent that that term is even applicable or useful) don’t exist until rendered before an audience in that moment of the performative encounter and then instantaneously evaporate, leaving behind only the effects of that experience. The existence of those products is only evidenced by changes incurred by the participants of the encounter.
Our products–in dance and in writing, in movement and in text, on the stage and on the page–are generated in spaces and states “in between:” in between inspiration and presentation, and completely within the interplay between brain, body, and environment. Our expressions (again, so long as the term is useful) live only between moments–if dance is the art of movement and movement is the fluid transition between positions, then dance exists only “in between,” within flux. Similarly, our words and sentences on the page guide the reader through a transitional stream of experience, a perpetual state of flux enacted by the act of reading.
If performance exists within flux and flux is a transition “in between,” it is movement that characterizes this state of flux. Movement underlies the process of creation and development: of the “product” and of the self. And movement itself is inherently characterized by change–changes large and small, local and global. The very nature of “streaming” is defined by change–from one image, one gesture, one word to the next in the formation of expressive units of meaning ultimately experienced by an audience. But these small changes and shifts accumulate into more significant and noticeable transformations at the level of the individual living through them. None of us are the same person we were before we read that book or attended that performance.
Performance is experiential. Therefore, like any experienced moment, performance is fleeting and ephemeral, transient and temporary. And yet, it retains tremendous power, for it is within moments of encounter that we are changed and transformed.
Thus, we best serve our students by inviting them to spend time within the experience of the creative/performative encounter. We need to offer them the benefit of “the living through” the transitory but transformative space “in between.” In the dance studio, this means keeping the dancers moving, keeping them within that state wherein they are seeing themselves moving in the mirror and proprioceptively feeling themselves moving. Furthermore, as I am learning, they benefit from watching me as I dance at the front of the room, demonstrating what I’m hoping for from them.
Unparalleled transformative potential is afforded by the unique subjective experience generated between the dancers’ observation of me and my movements, their visualization of themselves performing the ideal, their attempt at rendering that ideal with their actual movements, their visual feedback from seeing their rendering in the mirror, and their subsequent physical adjustment in response to that image in the mirror. The moment of learning is enabled and enacted within these ephemeral and temporary moments.
Analogous moments are incredibly helpful as well in the writing classroom. The nature of the composition of written text uses these same interactive and affective dynamics even if less synchronously than in the dance studio. The student writers benefit from watching me compose at the front of the room as I model my own process. They then reflect on my performance, hopefully abstracting some knowledge of process which then finds its way–perhaps even subconsciously–into their own composition process. Then, being asked to publicly share the result of their composition affords them the benefit both of reflection and of interpersonal feedback. Felt changes–perceived shifts in states–are the precise moments where learning happens.
Simultaneously doing and feeling, with synchronous input and output, crafts both the experiences of performance and of learning.
This theoretical principle, even as basic as it sounds, has revolutionized my teaching both in the dance studio and in the writing classroom. You do a tremendous amount of good work by simply keeping the students moving. Keep them dancing. Keep them writing. Even better is to keep them moving while you yourself are in motion. Worry less about rules, focus less on preparation for moving or writing, and emphasize movement itself. Keep the body moving: whether it’s the whole body in front of the studio mirror or our fingers on the keyboard, just keep it moving.
In “keeping them moving,” you seize the possibilities of transformative moments and offer your students the ultimate of learning experiences: one that is both transformational and transformative, momentary and momentous.