In pursuit of pursuing.
gerund or present participle: pursuing
2. (of a person or way) continue or proceed along (a path or route).
engage in (an activity or course of action).synonyms: engage in, be occupied in, practice, follow, prosecute, conduct, ply, take up, undertake, carry on
- continue to investigate, explore, or discuss (a topic, idea, or argument).
synonyms: investigate, research, inquire into, look into, examine, scrutinize, analyze, delve into, probe
Another summer sees its end and here we are, preparing for fall—whatever that means for each of us.
For young dancers, it means more than just back to school; it means back to a regular schedule of spending any and all spare time at the studio, squeezing in homework and filling after-school hours with every dance class under the sun. Fall means dance season is upon us, and there's no easing into it; it begins at full speed. And here we are.
For me, it means preparing to teach said dancers, and this year, I'm taking on a fuller teaching schedule than I have in the past as I find my voice with growing clarity in this realm. Being at the teaching end of the relationship has proven to be not only fulfilling, but informative in ways I never could have expected.
I think stepping back a bit, even I could have pegged myself as fit for teaching from the start: One of my greatest joys is contemplating various avenues for articulation when giving direction, whether artistic or technical in nature. When I was solely a student (to clarify, I'll never not be a student, but this is just to emphasize that I was not yet teaching), I found myself mentally de- and reconstructing feedback I received from teachers and directors—and this wasn't unfamiliar to me; even in academic classes, for as long as I can remember, I've always taken information and processed it in a lengthy manner—not because I felt it was most efficient (clearly, it's not) but because I felt I needed to process it from every angle before having a firm enough grasp to proceed. The world has always appeared to me as a web, and so any bits and pieces I take in have always seemed crucial to the findings of whatever might come next. They're also imperative to understanding whatever came before, whatever occurred separately but simultaneously, whatever could have happened but didn't, or shouldn't have but did, and so on.
(Perhaps I should have seen the signs earlier on to realize that a classical ballet career was never in the cards for me; it's obvious how/why I found my soul's home in contemporary dance.)
All this to say that when I'm teaching, I'm doing the exact same thing—de- and reconstructing information for the sake of process—but because I have to communicate the information in a way that resonates with someone who's not me, I have to transcend the mental layer and verbalize or physicalize (usually both) whatever it is I'm trying to say.
I know it sounds relatively complicated, but I assure you it's not—especially when it's the only way you've ever known how to function.
Every year, I step into the teacher role with a single intention. I keep it broad in order to allow for some flexibility in approach depending on what I'm teaching in terms of genre, age group, and purpose (i.e., recreational, competitive, preprofessional, etc.).
After some thought about where I am personally as an artist as it corresponds with what I can give my students, I've found where I'd like to put the focus: This year, it's about curiosity.
To be fair, my teaching usually caters to curiosity anyway. But especially since I'll be working mostly with older dancers this year (middle school and high school age), I want to make sure it's at the forefront of what we're doing. I want them to know from the get go how important it is to be curious, and that the moment they feel devoid of curiosity, they should check in with themselves to see why.
Clearly, I'm not the teacher that yells at dancers for asking questions. I'm not the teacher that gets frustrated when a dancer doesn't understand something. And I'm not saying this to sit myself on some immaculate pedestal—quite the contrary, actually.
What I'm saying is that I make sure my students know that I'm really no different from them, save age and so some experience. I make sure they feel safe to be curious by seeing that I'm just as curious as they are; because I've noticed the pattern in my own life that feeling lost usually corresponds with having no questions to ask, I try to instill in them a certain hunger for the exploration of questions to which the answers are merely more questions. I try to ensure that they understand the process is never-ending, and that this is actually a good thing—both for themselves and for the art.
After all, how could one spend an entire year, much less a career, pursuing a question with a tangible end? What happens when it's decided? Where does one go next?
I know these concepts might seem a bit large to present to children/adolescents, but I talk about it anyway. Why? Because while some aren't yet mature enough to know they can "go there," a few are. I know because when I talk about these things with them, some hear me loud and clear. And then I see something. A difference. Slowly but surely, things transform. Movement gains clarity, even if it's fleeting. It's there. Planted. Growing. Their own budding webs of understanding the world and their place in it.
That's not to say I talk all this mumbo jumbo with them and—voilà!—they're suddenly brilliant dancers ready for a professional career. It's merely the spark that reminds them of their potential for learning. Some of them take to it with a hunger so fierce, it's remarkable. For others, it takes a little while. For most, it doesn't happen in the studio. Some people just aren't born with that wild need to play with information and communication within the context of a physically demanding art form.
But some of them—some of us—are. Some of us are here for the pursuit of pursuing, and to that, there can be no end.
As a teacher, I place myself in the middle of all the learning and processing and good days and bad days. I do everything I can to show my students that I'm going through it too, not because I want to, but because that's the nature of what we do. That's dancing: Being in a whirlwind where art meets athleticism, impulse meets decision, communication meets barriers, and those barriers meet curious beings who will work relentlessly to either remove or work around them.
I am in it with them. I ask them as many questions as they ask me, some days even more. And no matter what, I strive to make it clear to them that these questions may or may not have definitive answers. How do you maximize your turnout? Well, you could use certain muscles, but you could also ensure that you're letting others relax. You could consider the alignment of your unique bony structure from head to tail, scapulae to fingertips, seat to heels, and heels to the back of the head again. Maybe you need to breathe. Maybe your body isn't meant to stand in a perfect fifth position. And maybe that's not that big of a big deal if you stick with the questions of how and where and with what intent instead of stopping at "my body can't stand in fifth position and that's that."
I don't throw all these things at young dancers at once. I give them one piece at a time if they show an interest in digesting it. I do it carefully. I do it from a place of sincerity. I do it to show them that every question—no matter how basic or simple it seems—is both product and producer of other questions.
And I do it to show them that I've asked all the same questions. Still do. Always will. Every single day.
So yes, this year is for curiosity. In the name of art. In the name of real, challenging, meaningful learning. To teach that we're not here for the pursuit of any one achievement, but for the pursuit of constant pursuing. For doing so consciously. For being aware of what we ask and realizing that why we ask is the very reason we come to the studio day after day, year after year.
We engage. We investigate. We explore. We never stop asking. We grow with the web.
Here's to a new season. Happy dancing.