A vision for a new undergraduate programme in Dance

I see the programme integrating dance practices, somatic practices and critical dance studies. The programme works hard to continually break down hierarchies, between dance forms, genres and styles, between dance artists, between histories, between the canon and the popular, between theory and practice, between mind and body, between doing and looking. It sets up a series of encounters with and adventures in dance in its multiple facets. At the heart of the programme is a de-centred critical practice that takes account of the transculturality of dance in Britain and beyond, and the complex historical processes that shape its many forms.

Students interrogate labels and fixed genres and terms, for example contemporary dance. They experience and research influences on this fluid, slippery genre from dances of the African diaspora and Asian martial arts and philosophies, and increase their understanding of the ways in which bodily knowledge and movement practices are transmitted globally.

Students engage in critical thinking and discussion about the ways in which the body, identity and culture intersect in dance. The programme equips students with useful concepts and models that they can use to critically engage with dance and life, but does not offer easy answers. Rather, the programme encourages students to find new ways of questioning, of inquiry. It cultivates an open, curious and receptive mind and body.

Students develop their own responses to continually shifting insights into dance through creative practice and writing. They find new and innovative ways to integrate theory and practice. Dramaturgy is developed both as collaborative practice and as fundamental to spectatorship and analysis.

Students develop approaches to navigate the tensions of the dissemination of dance via digital and online spheres, and critically and constructively address writing, photography, film, and social media. They develop ways in which to participate effectively in these public spheres as citizens.

The programme enables students to develop the skills they might need to negotiate complex and tense situations with agency, agility and confidence. Working independently and working with others are both important. There are opportunities to work collaboratively in a team, to create dance collectively, and to develop leadership in dance.

Like a spectator who might engage with dance works in dramaturgical ways, the student engages independently with the learning opportunities in the programme, and makes sense of them through her or his own subjectivity. Rancière also pointed out this parallel between spectatorship and education; his work on the emancipated spectator stemmed from his thoughts on the ignorant schoolmaster. Through reflective practice, the students develop their awareness of the skills they are building and the ways in which their mind sets and approaches are transforming. They become resilient and able to make adjustments to their processes where needed.

The programme facilitates transformational learning; it invites students to step out of their comfort zone and creates a safe environment in which they learn to rake risks. In this, I’m influenced by Paul Kleiman’s approach based on chaos and complexity theory: on the edge of chaos, where things threaten to be pushed off-balance, is where there is tension, where there can be anxiety, but also where creativity happens. As dancers, the metaphor of going off-balance works really well. We understand that creativity cannot arise from stasis.

The programme would prepare students for a wide range of possible careers. It enables them to develop their own voice, vision and processes as dance practitioners. In order to build a career in dance, graduates need a broad knowledge of different dance and movement practices and an understanding of their role in culture and the community. Above all, they need the ability to engage independently with new styles and approaches.

Students also develop transferable skills, which are valued by employers in dance, the arts and beyond, and are based around communication and working with others, creativity, problem-solving and risk-taking. A strong emphasis on developing research skills encourages students to develop related personal qualities such as openness, curiosity, dedication and tenacity.

In summary, the programme enables students to develop independent learning and increase their sense of autonomy and confidence. Overall, the teaching team works together with students to discover different ways in which dance can fulfill its potential for social change, and what individual agents can do to make this happen.

A vision for a new undergraduate programme in Dance

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