MY TEACHING PHILOSOPHY
“Urging all of us to open our minds and hearts so that we can know beyond the boundaries of what is acceptable, so that we can think and rethink, so that we can create new visions, I celebrate teaching that enables transgressions–a movement against and beyond boundaries. It is that movement which makes education the practice of freedom.”
—bell hooks, (Teaching to Transgress, 1994)
I do not see a rigid dividing line between my roles as a working artist and a teacher; being both make me a stronger mentor and passionate teacher and advocate of dance. I believe that good teachers need to be at the forefront of recent innovations in their field, in order to help students see the import and dynamism of our life’s work. It is important for students of dance to see that concert dance in general, and Africanist expressions of concert dance in particular, are not stagnant, non-evolving art forms that are somehow outside contemporary society , but rather, alive with puzzles, contradictions, and new areas of inquiry that reflect today’s culture- their culture. For me, dance for the stage is a platform for social commentary and for promoting social change; the performing arts are the vehicle through which to viscerally engage with the culture of which we are a part. I believe that this is applicable to both my approach to teaching and to my professional activity.
I strive to create artistic learning communities where student and audiences engage in something they understand to be a sacred, shared struggle. In other words, I embrace dance and the teaching of dance as opportunities to inspire and empower. As an African American artist-scholar working in academia, promoting an understanding that social and cultural forces shape the construction and utilization of both art and knowledge is central to my philosophy of teaching and art-making because it helps students and audiences to see boundaries, whether personal or social, as constructed and affords them an opportunity to challenge and move beyond them. It is this movement “against and beyond boundaries” that both empowers and transforms learners and artistic communities.
The French poet Henri Michaux warns that “before being a product, thought is a process” and that the pursuit of knowledge often requires that we “pass through difficult, undignified places.” This idea has reassured and inspired me both as an artist and an educator since I first encountered it and informs my approach to workshops and lecture demonstrations. I believe—passionately and firmly—in the ways that intellectual curiosity and imagination can cooperate in the studio, on the stage and in the classroom. Whether leading a master class in afro-contemporary physical practices, a lecture/demonstration on kinetic storytelling, or a pre/post performance discussion of a dance theatre X project, I believe in asking complicated questions, of myself and of the community in which I am engaging. Teaching and community engagement is igniting transformative learning; empowering participants to take responsibility for their learning, inspiring courage to grow artistically and intellectually, cultivating curiosity, providing opportunities for developing relationships, clarifying values, uplifting the spirit and igniting action.