Wednesday, 17 February 2016

Opening doors...Allowing space...

Letting things simmer before they change.
Finding comfort in the uncomfortable.
Accepting uncertainty before expecting transformation.

These were all themes that emerged for me from our last groups Skype on Sunday Feb 7th.

Tara shared with us an experience of a past teacher who would pose questions and leave (what felt like a very long, uncomfortable) amount of time before a response was offered.  I felt as though many of us have had this, or a similar experience.  Allowing space in teaching I believe is crucial to nurturing independent thinking, learning and growth.  It is in that 'time' which can feel like hours, that  'space' which can feel like a barrier in the distance between student/teacher or students and each other, that we reach a real state of not-knowing.  In the process of learning (seeking new knowledge) we need first to recognise what we know of ourselves (module one - reflection).  We need space to do this.  Time to reflect.  The uncomfortable space Tara recounted offers that space for growth through self-regonition, time to think and feel a little lost, rather than being fed with an answer to move on.   It is perhaps our expectation of teaching/learning and being 'fed' that makes this space uncomfortable.  It does not meet with our expectations.  It offers an alternative and we need to take time to consider this in the context of the MA.

The role of the teacher (I would argue in any capacity) is not to feed but to open and hold spaces for independent learning.  In the context of teaching dance, whilst there may be a codified language in the movement, a vocabulary of steps, a discipline of the body to be learnt by the student dancer, I would still suggest that this learning is most valuable when it is owned by the student.

In posing questions, and allowing space for responses (not answers) to emerge the teacher is opening what can feel like an uncomfortable space where the student is faced with uncertainty, a need to 'know', a sense of their own response to openness in learning.  Much learning takes place in this space.  The student may or may not attend to, but will likely notice thoughts that come into their mind, notice the space around them, others in it, notice reactions in their body.  This noticing offers the ground for reflection later on in their journey.

Accepting uncertainty, being unfamiliar with something in order to get to know it better is all part of learning.  I will share here an excerpt from a previous blog I have written on this theme as it seems relevant here also.

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 mutual 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 a frame of reference – you. 

As you enter each new module you are never completely lost, you have your sense of self, constructed here through your portfolio claims and ROL from module one, 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 quite content but perhaps 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’.

Allow space...see/feel/sense what you think.


  1. Hi Helen, Thanks for this blog. For some reason i find it quite comforting. Cant remember who i was talking to but the conversation was about not being able to read body language through technology (email, text etc) and then because one cannot see an expression either or hear a tone, sometimes information can be misinterpreted.

    The tone of this blog (if I could hear it) would be gentle comforting but firm (Dont burst my bubble!)
    Thanks Tara

  2. No bubble've sense the tone I intended through my writing : )

  3. Hi Helen,
    Thank you for this blog and that I still get to read MAPP. The cites below from your writing are like poetry to my ears and I will revisit them. It is very relevant to me right now in the transitions I'm experiencing.

    "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" and "Being ‘lost’ in the unknown is not a place of fear but of possibility...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 a frame of reference – you."

    One thing I have found very recently is to allow myself for this gap state or space of unknown to develop. Even knowing then changing and a surprising way is ok. I suppose having trust in it.
    I don't say "work" at things anymore as I'm good at "working". I change it with the word I'll "chill" at that! Makes me giggle but it's true, for me tension/striving not really feeling right with something in my thoughts equals tense in the body writing or my creativity. It's a chill in progress!