Hello and happy holidays to you all. I apologize for the lack of posts, but have been busy with an internship at the MN Children’s Museum and getting some much needed perspective.
This time, spent partially observing children in active play and engaged in learning while creating, has opened my eyes to the skills of active choice making involved in creative play.
Playing is learning for children and is directly derived from their ability to make assumptions, try them out, learn from them and engage in the decision making process with others. It is their opportunity to learn from, socialize with, engage in and develop their sense of self and to context that self within their understanding of the world.
This doesn’t really change all that much when you become an adult either, though adults get far less constructive and creative play time than children tend to. Creative play is one of the amazing elements exemplified in contact improvisation.
The video below captures perfectly the duality of play, creative choice making and learning:
Immediately, we see active choice making from the little one. At :18 we see a decision to find a connection, seek hand holds and shift weight in an appropriate way to execute that choice. At :21, :25 and :32 we see her decide to leave that position – even using “safe arms” on her way out, to maintain a physical connection with her partner, make independence choices away from her partner, but re-engaging contact. At :38 there is a serious test of trust between the two partners – trust that is rewarded with a brilliant series of movement in :50, 1:43, 1:55 and 2:43 and carries over to her new partner at the end of the clip.
It may be difficult to differentiate between the desire of a young child to be picked up and twirled around by a dancer parent. But notice the cues she is giving to her partner’s body, notice her weight sharing (:50) and even the physical cues that let us know she is playing – but with purpose. The use of push and pull to indicate movement directionality and desires (1:22), the use of “safe arms” to link bodies and maintain connection(2:48), the lack of “grabbing” or “choke holds” that she even corrects herself on (1:11), the use of touch and weight as invitation to dance together (1:05), her comprehension of momentum (3:00). She is clearly an active participant, an active choice maker.
Contact Improvisation (CI) is a beautiful and fascinating technique. And it’s tempting to view the child’s choices as being nothing more than simple play with a “skilled” adult. But in CI jams, play is often the only guideline. Try, play, explore, create…are these not all part and parcel of the same thing?
Besides being a great example of the CI community, the implications of this video can stretch beyond simple admiration. In fact, they should challenge us to revisit how we teach children. Shouldn’t our pedagogy allow for and respect active choice making from our children? And shouldn’t we then cease seeing children as simply “cute” in their tutus and spangles, but rather begin seeing them as they see themselves – creators of their own vision. If we cease to see them as infantile, but instead as actively learning human beings making conscious choices, we may be able to engage their creative voices in more structured forms such as choreography, CI sessions, and even in more codified forms of dancing.
What the video shows me, more than anything else, is that we have vastly underestimated our children, and rather than engaging them as equal learning partners – we have tended to patronized them as cute playthings able to be adorable in a single bound! If we were to change our approach to children and our pedagogy in teaching children dance, imagine the possibilities for creative expression, deep lasting impacts with regards to education and self esteem, and what their additional voices could bring to dance as an art-form.