Winter 2021 In Dance

and I’ve been Zoom-hosting all of them, I’ve noticed that something more sutle, yet perhaps more pro- found is happening. Classroom teacher and Exchange facilitator Kristen Burke said this: “Somehow there’s a container here, I don’t understand how this was cre- ated, but it feels like there’s a con- tainer where … you can just be in the mystery. And something comes out of it, even if I can’t articulate it. So I just feel grateful that there’s, there’s just the draw to keep coming back and be present, even if I don’t know why.” This sounds pretty mag- ical, and a little unbelievable, but it echoes my sentiments that something has shifted inside me after these con- versations, a door has opened, there is movement and real change. It’s not unlike how I feel after a group improvisation, and when I consider this, the magic of these Exchanges becomes easier to articulate. PLAYFUL PROCESSING As in a group improv, an Exchange emphasizes not the products that come out of it—the final dance or the list of best practices or big take- aways—but the process. And real processing of ideas and theories is happening. Unlike many profes- sional development (PD) workshops, Exchanges don’t deliver content. Inquiries are placed on the table like offerings from all the participants, without the anticipation of answer- ing them. Instead, together we tease questions apart, intertwine, ponder and chew on them, try out differ- ent responses from multiple angles, and apply theories we’ve read about to our teaching practice—just like we would capture someone’s move- ment in an improv, try it on in differ- ent ways, develop it, keep it or let it go. Dance teaching artist Sam Stone explained it this way: “It’s really nice to be in a space that is non-per- formative where you’re not try- ing to get in something wise to say,

pretty amazing to be part of that.”We hold space for each other, listening deeply, and out of that holding grows a trust which invites participants in. This trust is enhanced by the fact that all participants are dance educators. We don’t need to justify or explain the value of our artform as we do in so many other circles; we get each other, and feel like we belong, feel like we’re part of something bigger. “I love that I have complete and utter trust in the process,” teaching artist Maura Whele- han explains, “No one needs to arrive in any certain way, just showing up guarantees ... That trust … can really calm me down from ... all the frenetic places ... Just showing up can be vul- nerageous.” Vulnerable + courageous to arrive fully, to share, play, process, reflect, exchange and change. What am I learning from these Exchanges? I’m learning that these are creative spaces—we’re using the same creative muscles we use while dancing to connect, reflect, relate, collaborate, play, and be curious, and the same muscles we need to imagine alternate possibilities and realities different from what we’re currently experiencing. I feel changed after an Exchange: a little looser, a little stretched, a lit- tle lighter. It’s a micro-change, noth- ing flashy, but deep and opening, as if a blockage has shifted and new ideas can flow more freely. I’m learn- ing that we desperately need spaces like this right now, when so much feels obstructed, limited, overwhelm- ing and out of our control, to exhale and release so that we can look at the challenges in another way, or find our- selves again. JOCHELLE PEREÑA I s choreographer, dance teaching artist and Professional Learning Manager at Luna Dance Institute. Her work investigates the in-between liminal spaces, the discovery of the un- familiar within the familiar, and cultivating freedom and power through dance. She is a student in play and imagining new realities, led in daily discoveries by her two children. She hosts Practitioner Ex- changes monthly, and welcomes you to join. Find out more here .

capitalistic cultural norms. We have been trained to look linearly through a lens of progress, so reflecting on past actions and thoughts is “a step back- wards instead of a step forward,” as Sam describes it. But “that feels really different ... that feels nourishing, that feels like get back in, as opposed to what to do, where to go, what to what, what will feed me.”When we reflect, we spiral in, nonlinearly, and go deeper. In going deeper, we see a little more of ourselves reflected back to us, we see something we didn’t see before. It might be a filter or a bias, a habit that no longer serves us, or a practice that feels insignificant but has a big impact. As dancers we embody reflection: when we improvise we often discover something new in our very familiar bodies, and find our- selves again because we’re tuning in and listening deeply. In Practitioner Exchanges, reflection is often revealed with exclamations like, “Oh wow, I really needed to hear myself say that,” or “I had no idea why I was feeling this way. Thank you for letting me talk that out.” Classroom teacher Chris- tine Atkins articulates, “I’ve been to so many [district] PDs that just hurt my heart, just hurt my heart because I was like ‘Really? Can I just get [this info] out of my iMac?’ And so to come to a PD that just, I feel like I’m being devel- oped as an individual … I am getting developed, this is actually real PD … personal development.” COLLABORATIVE RECIPROCITY & COLLECTIVE CARETAKING There is potency in being witnessed in this development, in observing others observe you fumble around, try out an idea, figure something out. Instead of being trapped in a personal echo chamber, our reflective processing becomes more real because others hear it, and our words alter the space, offering a new path into the conversa- tion for someone else. When another practitioner responds, following that

path, we recognize that we have something to offer, we recognize our value. And we recognize the value of each participant in our listening, following, developing their ideas. I see evidence of this appreciation in the stream of Zoom hearts, shout- outs via Chat, smiles and hand ges- tures signifying applause and res- onance. Music and dance teaching artist Mara Beckerman shares, “Each time I come I feel nervous as if any- thing I say will be seen as strange, weird and NOT dance teacher-ish. And then each time I come I get great ideas and discover that what I share is appreciated and even welcomed ... I leave feeling that I have a commu- nity of like-minded people to check in with. I don’t feel so alone!” It’s a col- laborative reciprocity that is also cre- atively generative, building and spi- ralling and deepening into more than the sum of its parts. Christine elabo- rates: “It’s kind of like a good potluck … everybody brings something good. Like everybody brings something on the plate here, ... and it’s good food, and we all get fed, you may not all eat the same thing or taste the same thing. There’s such a richness in the dialogue and the acceptance …. of people diving in, and willingness to share that inevitably you’re going to come away with some nugget or something that’s just going to make the day better, the next couple of weeks teaching better. You know, just some good juju-flip to the spirit of self-care in many ways as an educator, as a dance teacher and as a person.” The collective caretaking of the Exchange conversation parallels how we cooperatively take care of the dance of a group improv. We consider when to enter and exit, when to pause, repeat, expand and enhance, when to solo, when to sup- port. “There’s such an absence of ego here that it’s kind of inspiring,” says Christine, “there’s just no ego in the room, and just straight, just com- passion and love and joy and that’s

There is potency in being witnessed in this development, in observing others observe you fumble around, try out an idea, figure something out. JOCHELLE PEREÑA

where you can fumble through things that you’re going through and have other people ... to see their nodding heads or adding to it, just to fumble together.” The casualness of meeting by Zoom has helped in honoring process over product. Artist educators can tune in from their homes, cozied up with tea or backyard in the sun. They haven’t battled through traffic or struggled to find parking, carrying an expectation of “this better be worth it”. The effort to show up is reduced to a click of a link, and instead they, well, just show up and be present. The conversations can then become connective rather than transactional. With kids, pets, and dinner-making happening in the background, this kind of PD feels more integrated with real life, and more relatable because we see each other and our- selves as humans in our homes, rather than “professionals” in profes- sional settings. The pressure of pre- ciousness and perfectionism is off, and fumbling feels permissible, even encouraged. Recently I read an interview with educators Hannah Beach and Tamara Neufeld Strijack in which they pos- ited that, for children, entertainment is replacing play. “There is nothing wrong with entertainment, but it is not the same thing as play. Entertain- ment is like an in-breath and play is like an out-breath. Many children are breathing in and in and in. Play

is nature’s way of providing children a place to digest and release their emotions …” Adults need play, too, real play that is not goal oriented. For me, Exchanges can act as play- grounds where dance educators work through and digest all the messag- ing we absorb from the media, social media and our inboxes—heavy, crit- ical messaging about our health, the environment, trauma, racism and anti-racism, and more. What do we do with all this messaging, this con- tent that we’ve inhaled? Are we just holding it in? Breath and the ability to breathe becomes, once again, political. As dancers we know we cannot fully move when we hold our breath. Often it is the exhale that drives the next movement, the breath that grounds us in more authentic movement. Are we providing ourselves with spaces to breathe, to exhale? In an effort to remind us of the power of breath, and to tap into our embodied know- ingness, each Exchange begins with a dance party that releases the exhale through laughter and high-charged joyful movement. REFLECTING IN Another quality of Exchanges that feels relevant is their reflective nature. Reflection is multi-dimensional. It’s related to the aforementioned pro- cessing, and, like celebrating pro- cess over product and releasing per- fectionism, it counteracts dominant


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In Dance | May 2014 |

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