Challenge: Teaching in the Face of a Pandemic

We are now living in a new world; a world of solitude and isolation. The pandemic which we are now facing has changed the way we live and it has changed the way we work, putting us each into our private box; both figuratively and literally. For most of us who are dance educators we have been charged with passing on our art form through a virtual platform. Our beautiful work, which lives in our bodies, minds and hearts, which has been lovingly handed down in the studio for generations, from teacher to student; has been exiled to a tiny box on “Zoom”.

I have been hearing from readers, colleagues and internet acquaintances about their frustrations surrounding teaching in this manner. Many teachers are finding that they can’t see their students well enough to give effective corrections. Those who are accustomed to giving “hands on” corrections (foundational to Russian methodology) are completely at a loss. I have shared many of the same frustrations and have spent many hours discussing, whining and complaining (I do love to complain) about teaching dance on “Zoom”. And then, during one of these discussions, I came to a realization: Teaching dance on “Zoom” is completely different than teaching in the studio and therefore, we need to become different teachers. And learning dance on line is completely different than learning in the studio and therefore, our students need to become different learners. It clearly can’t replace teaching and learning in the studio, but perhaps we can make it as valuable as we can.

As many of my readers know I still take class regularly, every day when possible. And has hard as I work, and as diligent and devoted I am, with each passing year my body continues to betray me. And as I get ever closer to 60, I have realized that if I am going to be able to continue to teach, and continue to grow, I must become an ever more skillful explainer. Russian pedagogy involves almost no demonstrating at all; all teaching is done through vivid, careful, brilliant explanation. And look at the result! So with the advent of virtual teaching we must, each of us, explore the richness of our language, the depths of our imagination, the vastness of our pedagogical knowledge to bring the verbal aspect of our teaching to the forefront of our work. 
I have also spent many hours reflecting on my own training, and consequently in my own learning. I trained completely in open classes, primarily with Gabriella Taub-Darvash and Luigi. At the time that I studied with Madame Darvash her classes tended to be enormous. It would have been impossible for her to correct everyone; in fact she hardly gave any individual corrections at all. The corrections that she did give, although often directed at one student, were judiciously selected to be of benefit to the whole room and were meant to be applied by everyone. Luigi gave no individual corrections. None. He believed that students should be exploring the technique, mining the work for what it “felt like”. His concept of “Dancing from the inside” applied to both the technical and artistic aspects of the work. He carefully EXPLAINED what everything felt like to him, what he felt when he danced, and urged us and guided us to search for those feelings. He did demonstrate, but it was his brilliant explaining that made him the masterful teacher that he was. And again, look at the result. 

This kind of training, this manner of learning, makes the student responsible for acquiring the education. I believe that taking responsibility for my own training was integral to making me the dancer that I was and the teacher that I am. Virtual teaching  is clearly not going to be as beneficial to our younger students (perhaps virtual learning may not work with our younger students at all) but it may, in our older students, awaken a whole new way of learning. In fact, they may find a whole new way of dancing.
Life is filled with challenges, nothing has ever come easily for me and I fought for everything that I received. Each time I found my way around yet another roadblock (and there are some that I never conquered) I came away a wiser, richer and ultimately happier person. Transitioning our teaching to a virtual classroom out of necessity in this very troubling time is a challenge to which we must rise if what we do is going to survive. We, all of us, have a responsibility to our students, to our art form and to ourselves find a way. And as each of us blazes a new teaching trail through this foreign jungle of virtual learning perhaps our work will grow deeper, enriched with with what we find on this exploration. Who knows? Perhaps sharing what we find will help us all grow a little, teach us all something and begin to combat the solitude and isolation that we are all experiencing. 

And when this over, when we return to our lives in the studio, and find our new normal (because I don’t see how we will ever be the same), and when our lives, our bodies and our art are released from their little boxes, who knows what we may find? This is how discovery is made. This is how change is made. This is how art is made. And I want to be a part of it.

3 thoughts on “Challenge: Teaching in the Face of a Pandemic

  1. yes
    I agree
    I am also searching the new way
    it needs to touch the concept of the butterfly effect and our connectedness from our little box to the person in the other box and yes to feel and express and move always move. lets not give up. lets find a new art form inside the one we already know. glad to search the way forward. it’s a challenge


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