by Janet Neidhardt
Every year I teach my students about the history of modern dance. Each student researches and presents to the class the story of a modern dance pioneer. During this process of research and presentation I see various light bulbs pop on in my students’ minds as they come to the realization that movement has origins in history. They say things like “We do this movement in class!” and “This dancer had similar concepts about dance as we do in here.”
It’s so wonderful that videos of pioneer dancers like Loie Fuller, Ted Shawn, and Mary Wigman (just to name a few) are available on the internet for free and with such easy access. Watching videos of old dances and dancers is eye opening and creates great discussion among students about how dance has changed and how it has remained the same.
I find that my students appreciate learning and studying dance movement as an art form with greater depth after they learn about the history involved in the evolution of modern dance. Part of their assignment is to reflect on how their pioneer dancer connects or relates to our class. This often starts a conversation about the various dance forms I’ve studied that I am now passing on as well as what and how dancers study movement today.
I ask my students, what does it mean to research movement in the body and devote your life to it as opposed to learning movement from others? Can you do both at the same time?
It is difficult for them to understand the idea of researching movement in the body because they are so used to learning movement from others. This is one of the many reasons I value teaching movement improvisation and choreography in high school. I love to see students discover that they can make up and create movement that is their own. They start to understand that if they really want to be original they need to evolve from what they already know and ask questions about what they don’t know. It is this curiosity that leads them to great creations of authentic work.
We also discuss studying one technique of dance verses studying them all and how that can change a dancers’ understanding of movement.
When talking about studying one technique verses studying many we can see that as dance has evolved there is more of a trend to be able to do it all. This is clearly a huge topic all on its own, but within the context of modern dance history my students always seem surprised that dancers would study with one teacher for many years and then branch out on their own after only learning one way of moving. They are impressed with the commitment and passion for dance that the pioneers had and they realize that is what they need to have to fully embody all movement they learn and create.
I encourage all dance educators to teach their students about modern dance pioneers and relate them back to their own classroom work. Students’ appreciation for dance and movement is expanded and their perspective about what it means to study dance is altered in profound ways.
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.