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Teaching Philosophy

Pedagogy for the 21st Century

As I begin a course with a new group of students, I first work to "Set the Atmosphere," as Black gospel artist Kurt Carr writes. I want to create a supportive milieu, within a wider sense of plurality. I aim to make an environment of respect, acknowledgement, and joy.

I am warmly invitational. I invite different kinds of cultures, races, faiths, bodies, minds, knowledges, abilities, genders and sexual identities into the room. I create pedagogical settings and structures that help this sense of hospitable, joyful gathering: circling up, sharing, getting to know one another as peers. We discuss modes for classroom discussion and interaction. We take time to acknowledge differences and similarities. We "do the work" to set the atmosphere.

We live in a time where, to paraphrase South African jazz composer and educator Nduduzo Makhathini, we might aim to create not a university education, but a pluraversity education. There is not one kind of way to learn, nor one thing to learn about.

The beautiful thing about a dance program in a liberal arts setting is that it can function as a "pluraversity." A dance program is unique in its aim to educate the whole person: mind and body. I endeavor, both in the classroom and curriculum planning, to give students this alternative experience in education, one that values their kinesthetic and intellectual effort together.

Along with a sense of invitation, I work on clarity. I set out clear expectations on syllabus and in discussion about "what we will do together” — daily class, assignments, and grading — as we all go on this journey together. This combination of invitation, warmth, and clarity is what I find allows students to relax and go about the job and experience of learning.

I facilitate an awareness of the particular form with which we engage, with understanding of the validity of all cultural movement practices. No dance form comes out of a cultural vacuum, nor is anyone "foundational." For instance, I see the need to locate the teaching of ballet within an expansive, decolonized context, as one possible technique a student can study. I never say, "This is the only correct way to execute this bend of the knees," nor do I place aesthetic value judgements on ballet in relation to other forms. I also give the trajectory of ballet as a cultural form, including its history in colonialist agendas.

I believe in questioning, re-evaluation, and debunking of so-called "high" and "low" art distinctions. If the last century of American dance has shown us anything, it is that new developments come from hybridization, from push and pull, from social upheavals of class, race, and gender identity. They erupt out of necessity; they shake up aesthetics and institutions.

I believe dance should be an educational experience for all, not exclusively for dancers. The improvisation, composition, and technique classes I have taught at University of Vermont and elsewhere were attended by a wider student population. I was told by several students that they thought my improvisation class should be a university-wide requirement. I enjoy facilitating a range of students, who can enrich my classes with their diverse fields of study.

As a teaching artist and a scholar, I am also a lifelong student. I seek to help awaken in my students a sense of curiosity, investigation, playfulness, and self-motivated discipline. I hope to demonstrate, through my own experiences, that an artist takes risks. Making mistakes — and sometimes utilizing them — is an inevitable part of that risk-taking, and of being able to grow, shift, to change. A dance classroom, for me, is a place to safely play with and experience these curious, investigative risk-taking and mistake-making skills. It is a place to cultivate imagination, a place where radical change — "otherwise possibilities" as Black Studies scholar Ashon Crawley writes — can develop and move out into the world.

Teaching/Directing Site Work Project at UVM

Setting an atmosphere of joy and inclusivity.

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