NDEO’s Guest Blog Series features posts written by our members about their experiences in the fields of dance and dance education. We continue this series with a post by Heather Acomb, Visiting Assistant Professor of Dance, Nazareth College. Guest posts reflect the experiences, opinions, and viewpoints of the author and are printed here with their permission. NDEO does not endorse any business, product, or service mentioned in guest blog posts. If you are interested in learning more about the guest blogger program or submitting an article for consideration, please click here.
For the past several weeks, like many of you, I have been deep in thought surrounding the question, “What can I do to meet the challenges of our current very uncertain times in order to be most supportive of my students’ needs as well as my own?
It is in these seeming moments of crisis that I return again and again to the Bill Evans Method. This approach to teaching dance has guided both my teaching strategies and my life. It is truly transformational, meaningful, and now more than ever, very relevant. My intention for writing this is not to sell you on this value system, but to share with you how it has been supporting me and my students during this time.
The Bill Evans Method, affectionately referred to as “BETI Pedagogy” because of its birth inside of the Bill Evans Teachers Intensive (BETI) over the course of many years, is infused with elements of Creative Systems Theory, Transformational Learning Theory, and the framework of Laban/Barteneiff Movement Analysis. What makes this value system so unique is its ability to help us cultivate community, embrace change, make meaning of how we relate to ourselves and others, and honor the individual uniqueness of each person in the room. Since beginning my professional work with Evans, I have been studying, teaching, and practicing this work in a way that has helped me to make sense of my own life, build strong bridges in my classes and communities, and allowed me to really see the individually unique offerings of each person I interact with in any situation.
For ease of contemplation and consideration, I have put the BETI Pedagogy into list form. I invite and encourage you to reflect on how these might serve you and your students during this very challenging time.
1. EMBRACING CHANGE…
=> Change is constant and new circumstances can be welcomed with openness and resiliency
=> The physical body is in a continuous process of change, constantly re-organizing.
=> The larger natural world around us is constantly changing, growing, dying, regrowing.
=> What kind of change are we noticing and embracing in: ourselves, our relationships, our families, our personal and professional communities, our nation and the world?
=> Take a moment to reflect on how you as a person have changed (and keep changing) physically, mentally, emotionally, and spiritually, AND take a moment to reflect on all of the individuals in your life that have helped to shape your changing self.
2. HONORING PERSONAL UNIQUENESS…
=> Allowing and inviting each person’s individual lived experience to be expressed and valued.
=> Offering the freedom to explore, to “be me,” using the element of improvisation.
=> Acknowledging and embracing the idea that everyone might be part of the same in-class experience, but each person is having a very different individual experience within it.
=> Can we truly listen and witness without judgment in order to cultivate compassion and empowerment in our students and ourselves?
=> Take a moment to reflect on how personal uniqueness shows up for you as an artist/educator/human/student.
3. UNIFYING BODY, MIND, AND SPIRIT…
=> Using our craft as a means to discover and celebrate the joys of being alive and the experience of the human spirit.
=> Recognizing and accepting that sometimes “the rain comes” and there are life events that diminish our spirit. (See #1, Embracing Change.)
=> When we allow ourselves to live more fully in our wholeness, we can “show up” more and we can understand that we are part of something larger.
=> Take a moment to reflect on how you live in your wholeness. What does your human spirit look like? Is there a part of you (body, mind, or spirit) that could be attended to?
4. SEEKING SPECIFICITY…
=> Consider the following chart:
* options = choices = decisions = clarity = specificity
=> Allow for and invite many possibilities and multiple inroads to discovery; “variety is the spice of life.”
=> Invite active and engaged teaching and learning. Students contribute to choice-making, become decision makers, find a focus, take ownership and agency, become empowered and not enabled.
=> Take a moment to reflect on the voice of your own specificity. What do you value in your craft and in life, and how is this conveyed to your students?
5. CULTIVATING COMMUNITY…
=> Choosing to use the classroom environment as an opportunity to build a community (one that is special and unique to each class in its own way) of connection through dance where everyone’s voices are heard and respected. (See #2, Honoring Personal Uniqueness and #3, Unifying Body, Mind, and Spirit.)
=> Transformation begins at home; does the classroom/environment feel like home?
=> How do we relate to ourselves, others, and the larger world?
=> Take a moment to reflect and consider how your role as an educator/facilitator aids in the creation of a safe space for active learning.
When I reflect on how BETI Pedagogy is serving me now, I realize just how grounded I am within our current situation. The natural world around me is changing as spring emerges, and I am comforted by that. I am doing a lot more improvisation in my virtual technique classes, allowing my students, and myself, to be guided by the inner impulses that are speaking most clearly. I am engaging my students in the learning process- what do they want to come away from this unique semester knowing? I approach each day like a new and ever-changing structured improvisation. And more than ever, I am offering moments to share and express. My physical connection to my community might look different right now, but I remain connected as much as I possibly can online, whether it’s in my zoom technique classes or Tuesday tea times with my students, or my living room yoga youtube classes. I have every faith that we as a greater community will get through this and many of our bridges will be stronger than they were before COVID. I would love to hear how it’s going as you celebrate successes and navigate challenges while maintaining role model status for your students and your neighbors.
Heather Acomb is a Visiting Assistant Professor of Dance at Nazareth College in Rochester, NY. She has performed and had her work shown in venues such as Jacob’s Pillow Dance Festival, American College Dance Festival, Core Project/Going Dutch, Rochester Fringe Festival, WAX Works, and Midwest RADFest. She has danced and toured nationally with the Bill Evans Dance Company and is a Certified Evans Teacher, well versed in the Laban/Bartenieff framework. Heather teaches with Evans annually in his summer workshops, and is a founding member of the Evans Somatic Dance Institute (https://www.evanssomaticdance.org/). She is also a hatha yoga instructor registered through Yoga Alliance, a Pilates mat instructor, and a certified holistic health practitioner, specializing in nutrition and natural healing. Heather holds an MFA in Dance from The College at Brockport, SUNY.