Following our skype conversations yesterday I said I would blog something of my thoughts around our discussions of knowing and not knowing and the place of uncertainty in our journeys.
As a choreographer/researcher this feeling of not knowing but being curious to explore is definitely something that drives and excites me when embarking on a new project. It is the not knowing that offers the possibilities for something to happen, for experiences, for learning. Dance improviser Nancy Stark-Smith refers to this area of not knowing as ‘the gap’…
‘that momentary suspension of a reference point where the unexpected and much sought after ‘original’ material (in dance making) can be found. (Stark-Smith in Tufnell & Crickmay 2006:64)
Improvisation as a practice in dance offers a space for exploration. This is not to say that you simply enter a studio and ‘just dance’, but that you work with a frame or score of some sort, that offers some parameters, boundaries perhaps, but within which there is open space to explore, to experience. Improvisation is research, exploring the embodied experiences of mind-body through a frame of reference.
In teaching dance technique I draw on the work of Irmgard Bartenieff, and use her language of the body, the system she has developed (referred to as Fundamentals) as a frame for improvisation and a structure for building classes (Hackney, 2002) . The improvisation I guide by using anatomical reference points, an articulation in language of specific body patterns, allowing for/encouraging individual interpretation of these through movement. I do not consider that I am ‘teaching’ these body patterns in a traditional sense, rather my intention is to facilitate the autonomous learning of others of, (from within) their own bodies. Bartenieff Fundamentals offer a frame to this learning experience, points of knowing or points to connect with to explore the unknown.
Not knowing, being uncertain, feeling lost, I believe are all positive states of being, as a dancer/artist/researcher. They are the states that I feel need to be inhabited during any process of creation; be that choreographing new work, planning a research project, writing a paper, teaching a class. Life is largely unpredictable and that it is within the complexity of our capacity as humans that we are able to respond to change and accept it as a necessary condition of growth and progression. In teaching dance we are putting ourselves constantly in places of uncertainty. When we meet a new class of dancers for the first time (or even subsequently down the line) we cannot know entirely how they will respond to our teaching. We have to offer something (plan exercises, choreography) and wait (in the unknown) to see and sense their response…then we react. Our reactions, I would suggest, are largely intuitive (Atkinson and Claxton 2008), based on prior experience, in response to what we see and feel happening in that moment. We don’t know everything that will happen in that class until we are in it, but we know enough about our selves, our practice, our art form to be able to be responsive to the environment at any given moment and we trust ourselves in this.
Planning and conducting research isn’t that different. We have some knowledge (within us, our experiences…think module one), we are interested in and engaged with dance (embodied experiences), and we are curious about things we are seeing and sensing in our lives (professional practice). There are areas of the known and the unknown, a requirement for us to be curious, to have questions and to be open to and responsive to change as a process of learning. What is needed perhaps is trust in ourselves as researchers in the same way as we trust in our teaching?
Being ‘lost’ in the unknown is not a place of fear but of possibility. It does not mean you have no idea, but that you are open to other ideas. How you navigate your way through this journey relies on you, your sense of yourself, your practice, your feelings on learning, experiencing and knowing. So you already have an initial frame of reference – YOU.
As you enter each new module you are never completely lost, you have your sense of self, you have the module handbook as a reader/guide for the next phase of your journey, you have your professional practice. You feel/sense, you read, you observe and do. Each one of these trees (if you like – thinking live, slow growing, complex roots and many branches) talks to the others. You know because you experience things. If you rely only on one of these trees your journey may feel unstable, vulnerable, unclear. If you rely solely on intuitive knowing, you may feel a little removed from others, from a wider context of being with, for and of others (Sartre 1958). If you rely only on your observations and actions in your daily practice without analysis or evaluation of these within a wider context, you may feel stunted in your growth, restricted from moving forwards in your knowledge. Similarly, there is a tendency because you are enrolled on a module and because that module comes with a handbook, to seek your knowing from this source primarily, at this stage. Whilst the handbooks for each module are there to support your learning journeys they are not intended to define it…only you can do this. The handbooks, your advisor, your community as learners/practitioners on this programme at this time can offer you support, guidance, a critical eye/ear, a probe of thinking, reflecting but they do not carry the answers or contain a direct map to ‘knowing’.
I have blogged in the past (within this community) about roads being bumpy. I believe the more interesting, more fruitful journeys are along the bumpy roads. By travelling them you give yourself the chance to respond to their twists and turns, changes in direction, to experience patterns and landscape you would miss if you took the straight, high-speed route of the motorway.
The MA fundamentally is about you engaging in a journey. It is not about finding the quickest way to reach a destination. Being uncertain is a necessary part of setting off on a new journey, take with you your frame of reference – your self, others (literature, MA community, advisors) your practice, as you journey to explore the gaps between these known points.
Trust in yourselves.