Thursday, February 3, 2011

Divided Loyalties?

In the process of exploring the intersections between math and dance I find that I seem to camp out in one subject for a while, and then pack up and move on back to the other camp.  Frankly, it leaves me feeling a bit fractured, which is interesting since I have declared in the past that in Math in Your Feet the two subjects come together 'seamlessly.' 

Maybe for the kids, yes, but not for me.  So let's focus on me for a moment.

This issue shows up in my teaching.  When I am thinking too closely about the math, my feet don't move in class.  They don't talk.  I forget to use the one great attention getter I have that nobody else does -- my tap shoes!  I forget to start our sessions with the art and instead hurry forward to the math. 

My most recently completed residency at Christel House Academy has made me think of this.  The residency was part of a pilot project by Young Audiences to evaluate the structure of their new Signature Core Services and the elements that interact to create a quality arts learning experience.  They wanted to know if and how these elements were brought out in this particular arts-based programming.  But me? I was worried about how I was teaching the math and was surprised that they didn't even care about that (for the purposes of the pilot).  That shows you where my mind is these days, doesn't it? 

I've also spent a lot of time overly focused on the dance (mostly in the first few years of developing the program) but these days?  These days, as I teach, I have mostly been taking the dance for granted.  I am quite surprised and somewhat alarmed to realize that I've been seeing dance as a means to an end.  I'm horrified, actually! This is not really supposed to happen in an integration and I'm really supposed to be on the side of the dancing right?  Yes, we're dancing and moving our bodies at least two thirds of each workshop, but I am realizing now just how much my mind has been over at the math camp.

I think this might be because I've been spending much of my creative work time this fall focused on learning about math.  I've been trying to figure out what math means:  What is math really?  What other kinds of math are we doing in this program besides the ones I know about already?  What kinds of conversations are these kids having about the math while they're dancing?  The learning I've engaged in, I believe, has been a full out creative process, one full of questions, dead ends, frustration, problem solving (What don't I know?  Where do I need to go to find out?  What sorts of questions do I need to ask?  Am I asking the right questions?) and 'aha!' moments. 

My intellectual explorations have affected my teaching in the past as well.  Earlier in the development of Math in Your Feet, when I was still trying to figure out how the dance and math fit together I was deeply engaged in exploring the integration aspect of the program and  my teaching at the time reflected this.  Although I did have questions about the value of teaching the integration (and still do; mostly I think it's a good tactic) I was working it out in the classroom none-the-less.

So here's a question: If the basic flow of the residency content stays the same, does it matter if my interests bias our focus, even if slightly?  Does it matter if I'm over in the math camp while teaching a dance-based program?

Maybe my loyalties to both camps are like siblings vying for their mother's attention.  I am essentially acting as the content specialist for both camps simultaneously and it's hard to pay attention to both equally at the same time. 

Maybe I embody the reality of integration and the inherent tensions therein?  It's interesting to reflect on this question because, since it's just me responsible for both content areas, we can't blame the tension on personality conflicts between teaching artist and classroom teacher.

Maybe none of this matters because one's best teaching comes when you're enthusiastic, engaged and truly interested in the subject matter. 

Maybe it doesn't matter which camp I'm in on any given day or year because the truth is the kids are moving, they're dancing, they're thinking intensely with their bodies and they're learning a whole lot of math, all at the same time.

I've been told on numerous occasions that I think too much, but who was it that said an 'unexamined life is not worth living'?  (I just Googled it, it was Socrates.)  I think it is important for me to ask questions about where my loyalties lie even if, in the end, it doesn't matter.  I'm a process person, I live in the moments between.  And, I know I'm a better teacher when I'm inspired, whether it be by math or dance or reading Carla Hannaford's book Smart Moves like I did in the Fall of 2009.  Hopefully my dance friends will put up with my math obsessions for a while.  I'll be back soon!


  1. Your father says: There is a duality in all of us. It is a biologic imperative. If we had perfect balance between the two then we are either dead or a robot. Its the seeking of balance that I believe is the creative spark that drives us to achieve what we want.

  2. Yes Malke that all sounds familiar. There are a few that can live comfortably with both to what ever balance makes sense to them. It is not necessarily important what you feel about either camp (and that is difficult because we care about the people that live in each camp) They are in different places and the distance of separation is comfortable for them. As long as moving back and forth enlarging your understanding the distance between will lessen for you.

    It is the students that need to see without separation, to move with complement. Students need demonstration and instruction of how one supports and enhances the other without conflict. Traveling between camps is often difficult but must be done by someone, and you have signed up for the job. When you live outside of both camps there is a freedom to move back and forth to the extent that you will be accepted.

    Math camp is not easy, it seems everyone has a different idea on what the rules are, but you must follow them. At art camp the rules are never quit stated but are expected to be broken. I know that sounds cynical, but only for the moment.

    As long as you are dancing on the road between the two you will be in good shape.


Thanks for reading. I would love to hear your thoughts and comments!


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