In placing writing and dance and the pedagogies dealing with each into dialogue with each other–through theoretical processes that I refer to as comparative creativity and translational performativity–I propose that the synthesis of a new, cohesive approach emerges: the pedagogy of performance.
Such a pedagogy of performance would speak to and incorporate the following aspects and principles, all of which happen to begin with the Greek prefix “auto-,” which is not surprising since it refers to the sense of self. And that is what a pedagogy of performance seeks to develop.
Autonomy. Our students (writers and dancers in process) are themselves whole unities unto themselves. They are individual people unique in their perspectives and lived experiences, who exercise agency and who “own” (for lack of a better term at this point) their creative outputs (again, for lack of a better term). As autonomous unities, we as teachers cannot do their work for them. We cannot compose written texts on their behalf and we cannot venture out on the stage and dance for them. In order to grow, they must perform themselves so that the world–and perhaps as importantly, their own selves–see them do it. A pedagogy of performance is defined by a sense of doing, in front of others, such that the individual’s self and its creative output (understood as a performance) are inextricably linked in the eye of the observer (audience).
Autopoiesis. I explain autopoiesis at greater length in other posts, but the concept emerged from biological systems theory and found relevance and resonance in other fields such as sociology, business, organizational studies, and various systems theories, including those dealing with artificial intelligence. As a concept, it occurs throughout discussion within the emergent field of 4E cognition. Essentially, autopoietic systems are operatively closed (autonomous, maintaining their self-organization against but within an environment), and yet interactively open (engaging with that environment and are subject to changes incurred as a result of that engagement). Autopoiesis is a cognitive process that underlies evolution; it is how organisms, both as individuals and as species, incorporate knowledge of their environment and grow to increased complexity. Writers and dancers are autopoietic unities–autonomous (see above) but open to changes as a result of interactions with other unities in their environment (such as teachers as well as their audiences). Autopoiesis offers us a helpful and powerful understanding of how growth occurs over the long term. I see it as a liberating and transformative alternative to understanding learning as the acquisition of skill.
Autotelic experience. Deeply influenced by the inspiring work of positive psychologist Mihalyi Csikszentmihalyi (cheek-SENT-me-high), best known for his work on the concept of flow and its relationship to creativity, autotelic experience should be the motivating force in facing the page and the stage. In his writing, he emphasizes the importance of autotelic experience in accessing the flow state (an affective state in which an individual finds themselves pleasantly absorbed in their work as a result of meeting a productively optimal level of arousal). The Greek etymology of “autotelic” (“self goal”) invokes the notion of doing something for its own sake and not for any extrinsic purpose. It describes the joy, satisfaction, and fulfillment that one derives from being within the experience of writing or dancing for instance. Rather than being motivated by the production of any end result, an individual driven by autotelic experience does it because the doing is enjoyable. Students who come back to the page or the stage because of the autotelic experience it provides them are going to accumulate the time and experience required to develop autopoietically.
Autodidacticism. Consistent with the other “auto’s,” our students can rely on no one other than themselves during the performative encounter–the moment at which they face an audience. As I’ve said, we cannot perform for them; they are ones in the spotlight. The self-directed and self-oriented natures of the process of performance renders them as the center of their world as they prepare to face the audience and therefore their learning must also be self-propelled. Since performance is a powerfully and inherently affective experience (one that is not only a matter of cognition but of feeling), we cannot get into our students’ heads or hearts and give them what they need. They must seek the kind of growth requiring them to make cognitive and affective sense of their experience on the stage or page. We, as teachers, can offer advice and seek to facilitate the kind of meta-cognitive reflection that will result in self-driven growth, but again, we cannot do it on behalf of the student. Students of performance must be auto-didacts and embrace that responsibility themselves, although they can rely on our expertise and encouragement.
Automation. We all have limited cognitive bandwidth especially in the midst of stressful situations such as high-stakes performances. Therefore, we must engage in what I like to think of as a kind of internally distributed cognition by assigning as many cognitive tasks to the realm of habit and procedural memory as possible. The category of positive, productive habits can consist of what we refer to as technique in dance or as mechanics in writing. These are rules that are inculcated and internalized such that they become skills for the performer. In relying on their automated memory in the execution of such skills, the performing mind is effectively liberated to deal with the affective and higher-level executive cognition of the performative experience. When you’re on the stage, you want to be enjoying the experience; you want to focus on the affective effects you seek to render and enact. Powerful performers rely on the skills they’ve developed through practice to enact themselves (in “body memory,” for instance) without additional prompting. The more such details can be offloaded into the automatic and unconscious realm, the more liberated we can be in the experience of our own performances.
The recurring theme of all of these “auto’s” should not be surprising considering the etymology shared by each. Learning is a process of self-development, especially in the domain of performance. It is the self that stands there, vulnerable, on the stage or on the page and invites an audience to partake in that shared experience. Learning in these instances is a triangular relationship between student, teacher, and the act of performance. The teacher has an important role to play but the primary motivation must be brought by the student and the teacher’s task is to become less and less necessary, less and less relevant to the experience. Our goal is to produce lifelong learners and self-reflective performers.