Throughout the school year I teach my students how to choreograph dances as works of art. We work on movement invention and manipulation, creating phrases, and finding form in movement. We discuss the elements of space, time, and energy, and how they facilitate the creation of climactic moments and communication within movement.
No matter how much we practice exploration and play as a class, when it comes time for small group choreography projects, it always seems that my students are so eager to get to the product that they pass by the process in the blink of an eye. I feel like a broken record sometimes when I say “explore, play, try it one way and then try it five more different ways to make sure you discovered what you feel to be the strongest way to dance it.” Placing greater emphasis on process verses product is something that I am constantly reinforcing with my students and the assignments given to them.
I try to create rubrics that are more open to interpretation however I find that if I do not give some specific instructions/structure then the students get confused. I recently assigned a small group choreography project to my students and while the rubric requires the use of various choreographic elements, it also said it had to be two minutes long. After one week of working in groups (they have three weeks to get this done) almost every group had close to two minutes of choreography done and they looked around at each other like “Wow we are almost done!”
This is when I stopped them and said “Now you need to explore, play, edit, and layer your movements with variety.” I told them week two needs to be about exploration and discussed what it meant to be in the process of dance making. I have started to discuss the studio thinking approach with my students in order to help them enter a fresh mindset of expectations.
While studio thinking is my frame of mind when approaching teaching dance in my class, it is not the state of mind for my students. When students go from class to class trying to get the right answer, to get the good grade, to get into the good college, they develop the inability to approach learning material in a creative manner.
I have found that this mindset and approach is something I need to teach my students right from the start. They should be thinking differently when they enter the dance studio. Instead trying to “get it right” they should be trying to “create as many ways as possible to do it.”
I now teach my students that studio thinking is a kind of attitude and perspective of how to develop and create works of art. It can also facilitate the development of students’ abilities to become inventors in all areas of life. When my students allow themselves to start to explore, envision, and reflect, their choreography becomes more fully developed and their ideas expand into new depths.
Below is a list of 8 studio habits of the mind which I present and discuss with my students when teaching this approach. (Studio Habits of Mind from Studio Thinking, Hetland, Winner, et al, Teachers College Press, 2007)
1. Develop Craft: Learning to use tools, materials, artistic conventions; and learning to care for tools, materials, and space.
2. Engage & Persist: Learning to embrace problems of relevance within the art world and/or of personal importance, to develop focus conducive to working and persevering at tasks.
3. Envision: Learning to picture mentally what cannot be directly observed and imagine possible next steps in making a piece.
4. Express: Learning to create works that convey an idea, a feeling, or a personal meaning.
5. Observe: Learning to attend to visual contexts more closely than ordinary “looking” requires, and thereby to see things that otherwise might not be seen.
6. Reflect: Learning to think and talk with others about an aspect of one’s work or working process, and, learning to judge one’s own work and working process and the work of others.
7. Stretch & Explore: Learning to reach beyond one’s capacities, to explore playfully without a preconceived plan, and to embrace the opportunity to learn from mistakes.
8. Understand Arts Community: Learning to interact as an artist with other artists i.e., in classrooms, in local arts organizations, and across the art field) and within the broader society.
Contributor Janet Neidhardt has been a dance educator for 10 years. She has taught modern, ballet, and jazz at various studios and schools on Chicago’s North Shore. She received her MA in Dance with an emphasis in Choreography from the University of North Carolina-Greensboro and her BA in Communications with a Dance Minor from the University of Wisconsin-Madison. Throughout her time in graduate school, Janet performed with Sidelong Dance Company based in Winston-Salem, NC.
Currently, Janet teaches dance at Loyola Academy High School in Wilmette, IL. She is the Director of Loyola Academy Dance Company B and the Brother Small Arts Guild, and choreographs for the Spring Dance Concert and school musical each year. Janet is very active within the Loyola Academy community leading student retreats and summer service trips. She regularly seeks out professional development opportunities to continue her own artistic growth. Recently, Janet performed with Keigwin and Company in the Chicago Dancing Festival 2012 and attended the Bates Dance Festival.
When she isn’t dancing, Janet enjoys teaching Pilates, practicing yoga, and running races around the city of Chicago.