Nurturing critical thinkers, makers, and movers
Dance is a cultural practice with culturally specific values. I contextualize values in every class that I teach to help students understand that their physical, artistic, and scholastic practices participate in the world beyond our classroom. As an energetic, inclusive, rigorous teacher, I foster the development of socially conscious artists, and I holistically nurture individuals who investigate, think critically, and problem solve. My teaching incorporates diverse ideas and embodied histories to make the content and methods relevant to diverse students and help learners critically evaluate power structures.
I ground movement technique classes, such as ballet, modern, and contact improvisation (CI), with somatic practices that help students explore their anatomy, weight, and momentum. For example, somatic exercises, such as body halves and spiral sit-ups from Bartenieff Fundamentals, can help students investigate weight, momentum, and head-tail connectivity while navigating floorwork and transitions into and out of the floor. The universalizing language of many somatic techniques, however, often leaves the cultural specificity of their values undiscussed. I help students contextualize and critically engage with a somatic practice’s values and frame somatic exercises as structures for self-discovery rather than as rules to follow. Students experiment, discover for themselves, and develop their own voices. We find multiple solutions to a single problem and value our differences. This investigative community promotes inclusion and belonging. In fact, in an end-of-term evaluation, a Latinx student wrote, “I always felt welcome, wanted, and loved every moment I was there or doing something for the class. I am so thankful for this positive ballet experience and for Brianna for being so kind, supportive, and helpful. It is because of teachers like her that I love to learn.”
I teach creative process courses, such as composition, improvisation, dance for the camera, and dance technology, with a similar goal in mind—to foster considerate, daring, and relevant artists. While incorporating screens and technology, I am committed to cultivating critical discourse around the ethics and possibilities that arise, such as the implications of mediating bodies and the power dynamics of interaction. While teaching composition or improvisation, I encourage students to examine the social implications of their movement, contextualize their stylistic values, and consider the ancestries of their movement languages. To begin a composition course, the students and I sit in a circle to introduce ourselves and an elder, and we share our gender pronouns. Through a nonhierarchical circle, acknowledgement of multiple gender identifications, and storytelling, we begin to discover each other’s unique identities, histories, and cultures. Throughout the semester, students consider their movement styles as languages that have politically and socially informed values, and I frequently prompt students to consider what makes their voices unique and relevant.
To teach to diverse perspectives, I use methods and materials that meet various learning styles and course content that reflects diverse identities. While lecturing on CI in a general education course, students read Nancy Stark Smith’s white, female perspective on the history of CI and an interview with a queer, black contact improvisor, mayfield brooks. In class, we watch videos of white dancers (Steve Paxton and Nancy Stark Smith), dancers with mixed abilities (DanceAbility), and black dancers (Ishmael Houston-Jones and Fred Holland). Using these materials as fodder, I facilitate discussion of gender, sexuality, race, and ability in CI. In class discussions, I ask students to select the approaches that work for them. Do they want to speak, write, move, or sketch? By offering multiple approaches, they take ownership of their learning. I also differentiate instruction to meet the needs of students with varied abilities. Dr. Nyama McCarthy-Brown recently nominated me for a teaching award based on my instruction in a contemporary class. She wrote, “The graduate instructor was outstanding in differentiating instruction [for] a variety of movement levels [and for] a student with cognitive and learning disabilities. I have seen few instructors, let alone graduate student instructors, teach with such thoughtfulness while maintaining standards of learning excellence.” Whether inverting for the first time, sharing their choreography, or challenging cultural assumptions, I believe that students learn from taking risks, so I create a community of persistence, mutual support, and lighthearted mistake making. Energetic, playful, and patient, I problem solve with students and value their input as they learn to engage critically and create bravely. Students tell me that they feel valued, respected, and heard in my classes and, although topics are challenging, they feel as though they are learning from a friend.