• Brian Kelley

Status Quo or Possibility?

Published in 1959, The Art of Making Dances by Doris Humphrey tracks the evolution of choreography and offers suggestions to dancers about the decisions they will eventually have to make as future choreographers, mentors, and teachers. This isn't a book review. I have been reading books by creative types who have been willing to try and describe the whys and hows of their creative processes.


Thus far, at least of one of two common trends appear within this slate of reading:


a. educators aren't doing what creators say works; in other words, education traditionally immerses itself (and its students) in the status quo--the mistakes and unhelpful practices which creative, thinking people sprint away from in the opposite direction.


b. the status quo (rules, rubrics, traditions) suck the life and the possibility out of students.


In this case, while writing about the creative processes in dance, Humphrey may as well have been about the teaching of writing in 2019. You don't even have to revise any of Humphrey's words. The metaphor of dance choreography for writing instruction rings clear enough:


"One of the greatest hindrances to deviation from the status quo was the cold facts that the tradition in schools and ballet companies was crown supported and any rebel was out of a job (17)."


"...there are certain personalities who are at their best only in a given framework, and who feel most comfortable in a setting where they are told what to do (29)."

I fear unhealthy, neurotic codependencies on professional texts or workshops pitching clear patterns of successful teaching; if we long for our lists of MUSTS, do we risk passing along similar neurotic co-dependent habits of MUSTS to our students?

"...feeling, sensitivity, and imagination...have been pretty well beaten out of the average youth...(48)."


"...years of explicit instruction in the use of muscles, coordination, balance, centering, correct 'line'; he has learned lots and lots of 'steps' or sequences, and has been thoroughly disciplined in the right way to do these things by hundreds of corrections (48)."

What have we each (teachers, parents, students) been conditioned to believe about writing?

"To me, the really dull and unforgivable dance is the performance by the mediocre technician who has nothing to say... (110)."


All of these activities [opera, film, dance scores]...are frowned upon as inferior by his teachers, who are bound to uphold the tradition, and who know nothing about them either (149)."


It strikes me, the more I read, that education is more concerned with being a performance rather than a studio. A performance is for outsiders to passively view from arm's length--in order to judge, to support and/or fund (or not).


A studio is an active space. In a studio, mistakes, experiments, growth, failure all take their place alongside of imagination, freedom, and the possibility.


We we too often grapple with in education is not possibility but status quo.

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