I'm recently increasingly preoccupied with the question, of artistry in teaching. What is it? Where is it? Why should we have to be talking about it?
My practice and research regularly brings out the reoccurring issue of an imbalance in our priorities between knowledge of best practice and rationale, and the artistry that underpins our delivery in community dance.
Francois Matarasso recently discussed this issue in relation to our current focus on health benefits and outcomes in community arts and the effect this has on our practice in his article 'Both Sides of the Coin'.
In my research, I have organised the practice of dance in the community and in particular when dealing with health contexts into three strands:
- Rationale - the specific knowledge we accumulate as a way to tailor our practice to the different groups we work with - the human being and all that it means to be human (socially, emotionally and physically)
- Best Teaching Practice - the communication skills, use of resources, set up of space and environment that make the session inclusive to the group and tick the boxes of good teaching (in dance this means our verbal language and physical language, use of touch, music, image, space etc)
- Artistry - the intention of your practice driven by your specialist art form - dance! Drawing out what your intentions are is the process of defining your artistic practice which shifts, changes, develops and expands throughout your career as an artist. In dance these could be bodily, conceptual, narrative, musical all of these or something else entirely...
I was recently invited by New Adventures Re:Bourne to lead a workshop on this topic for their fantastic group of emerging community dance artists involved in their Overture Programme.
What we discovered together was that by focusing on best teaching practice and rationale, emerging community dance artists are less attuned to their individual artistic values and skills and too concerned with methods, and models of 'good teaching practice'.
At many CPD courses these young artists are presented with best practice models initiated by other artists from a specific set of values and priorities. Without a strong foundation of belief in their own processes of making, creating and delivering, these emerging artists are led to believe that models should be replicated rather than expanded on through their own lens of artistry.
Together we explored, discussed and re-framed the process of teaching by using their own artistic interests and questions as a starting point for delivery. The artistry in the room was rich and varied - from storytelling to bodily exploration such as opening and closing to the use of the spine and its rotational axis on all planes.
The artists were able to see that their creative values and the principals that drive their dance practice are what form the centre of their making and delivery process, and are therefore the most important tool they have at their disposal when planning and delivering in community dance.
For me this experience and my continued research draws up many interesting questions - including but certainly not limited to:
- Identity: How do we encourage emerging teachers in community dance to see their practice as ART and therefore identify themselves as artists, enabling them to infuse their teaching practice with individual methodologies devised through exploration and questioning?
- Professional Development: How do we re-frame CPD practice so that we reduce the focus on Rationale and Best Practice, and place the support of dance artists self actualisation and confidence at the forefront - facilitating them to identify and prioritise their own artistry in their practice?
- Teacher versus Artist: How do we close the perceived gap between what makes an artist and what makes a teacher - whatever the dance style or genre, how do we place the art at the heart of teaching practice?
If you're interested in discussing these issues further please do get in touch with me!