Post MA!

Well it’s starting to sink in that I have finished my MA. Although I had a backlog of paperwork to catch up on, never mind the housework, I have sat and cuddled my new grandson for hours, and watched a movie with my family without feeling that I should be studying! To those MAPPERS that are just starting out, or already in full flow, keep going – you will get there. But be prepared to make sacrifices like missing parties or family get togethers. Get your family on board – they can keep washing going, cook for you, give you a quiet space. My husband called it gate-keeping – he kept the family from disturbing me when I was studying, and brought me regular refreshment, and even told me to stop when it was past midnight and I was still buried in a pile of books! Another great help when I was struggling, was going for a drink or meal and simply discussing my MA. Often these chats would end up with me having an ah-ha! moment, clarifying a thought process or simply clearing my mind.

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PM Skype session 1st November

I really enjoyed the skype session last Sunday. As always I left feeling more connected to other MAPPERS, Adesola and Helen, and of course my own research. I did say I felt I was swimming through a pool of literature, and I can only liken it to doing a frantic front crawl, every now and then coming up for air! I had a slight feeling of agitated panic that there was so much literature out there, in books, articles and research, but none that said what I wanted it to say. Of course it didn’t – it comes from the perspectives of others, their story, their research. Only my writing will tell my story – and I need to find the confidence to trust that.
My data has led me to topics in education, mindfulness and somatics, and it is up to me to find links to my research question. Those links will come from my own thought and realisations, because my context and perception is unique to me.
Talking about my research also helps me come to realisations and understanding about the critical analysis section – it is like fireworks going off in my brain! As I talk, and discuss, bang! That’s it, of course! During one such conversation a couple of nights ago it dawned on me what my artefact needs to be. And I mean NEEDS!
As far as my work on Module 3 is concerned, I can now say that,as far as my literature review is concerned, I feel more like I am doing a gentle breast stroke, with my head out of the water, taking it all in at a pleasant pace. However, the pace has been slower than anticipated as while I have been writing this blog (from Belfast where I am on holiday) I have been pulled away from it to deal with a serious staff issue at work, a less serious time-tabling issue, and a phone call from my sons schools concerning bullying! Now I just need to find a way to have serious focus time – oh yes – switch my phone off! Dare I?

Going with he flow…..

Although the main body of my research methodology is based on interviewing adults, I am offering one workshop to children entitled ‘How Ballet Makes me Feel’. This will allow me the chance to observe how the children respond to the opportunity to express themselves in terms of the topic, as well as, hopefully, gain some kind of insight into their feelings surrounding ballet classes.
At the moment I have absolutely no idea how this will go!
I have spent many hours reading up on qualitative research and interview techniques, preparing interview questions and planning how I will sort the data I collect from those interviews.
I have done nothing in preparation for the workshop! How can I? I don’t know what feelings the children will want to express, what music they will want to use to accompany their feelings. Will they want to work alone, in pairs or groups? So I am going to go with the flow! I am happy to be led by the children.

As I said in yesterdays Skype chat, when I looked back on my reflective journal to see what I had written at the start of Module 2, I quote:

“Well, I am embarking on Module 2 with as much confusion and feeling of stepping into the unknown as I did with Module 1!”

I also embarked on the Summer Intensive with similar feelings, to use Adesola’s word ‘discombobulated’. However, by the end of the week I felt inspired, and excited to get my teeth into Module 3.

And I have a feeling of calm…….

I have no definite idea of what will come out of my interviews, other than presumptions my own experience tells me, and absolutely no idea of what will present itself during the workshop, but I feel strangely OK about that. And if this blog can reassure any other MAPPERS out there with similar feelings of trepidation, confusion, loneliness, or sheer ‘what on earth am I doing?’, then I have done my job!

Starting Module 3!

I would just like to share my excitement with those who might get it!! I have made contact with the interviewees who are going to take part in my research. We are planning dates and times for the interviews to take place. This now feels very real! I am continuing to read up on other peoples research in similar subjects, which is opening up links and avenues which I think will all prove helpful for my literature review and analysis. If anyone can suggest any reading material on the topic of children studying classical ballet at amateur level (after school) and/or its relation to education/learning, I would love to hear it. Good luck everyone, whether you are just starting out on Module 1 or returning to Modules 2 or 3!

Knowledge, Certainty and Body-Positivism

In attempting to tackle Task 1 in the Reader, to ‘take the body of work from a dancer and relate it to knowledge, certainty and body-positivism, and taking the approach of making my own personal interpretation of their work in terms of these notions and philosophers, I realised I needed a crash course in the history of philiosophy!
So, after many hours of trawling Youtube watching the most basic ‘lectures’ I could find on the most obvious philosophers, and reading the basics, I’m not sure I am any the wiser! I did, however, attempt the task, and focused on Isadora Duncan, as I had looked at her life and works many years ago.
I decided to write a very brief overview of her early life experiences, and any influences that could explain her own outlook on life and dance. These range from a grandmother, who had a trace of “a Spanish type of Irish beauty”, and who was said to “dance an Irish jig”, and an aunt who had a “talent for acting and singing” (Blair p.13), her mother who told her “There is no Santa Claus and there is no God, only your own spirit to help you.” (Blair p. 12) And her own belief that she started dancing in her “mother’s womb probably, as a result of the oysters and champagne – the food of Aphrodite.” (Blair 1986 p.7) From this very brief look at Isadora’s early life, it would appear that her knowledge of dance stemmed from the influences of her families’ interest in the arts, music and dancing. Her mother was musical, and dance must have been important as it was a means to earn a living for the family at that time, as they gave lessons in social dancing.
We could say that Isadora’s life experiences were the source of her knowledge of dance, as put forward by John Locke –who believed that fundamental human knowledge must come from the senses, that, at birth, our minds are a blank sheet that aquire basic knowledge of the world through the senses. Experiences can be categorized and stored in the memory. “Only then can the mind start to assemble it’s own new ideas and think independently from the senses“. (Robinson and Groves on Locke, p.64) Looking at Locke’s school of thought, it would seem that Isadora’s sensory quality in her dancing emerged from her life experiences, and then became her ‘knowledge’. Locke thinks all our ideas are derived from experience. However, he also says knowledge is fallible and that we can’t say for certain how ‘things’ behave. Clarke and Vaughan (p.128) say Isadora’s ‘first inspiration was the natural movement of the waves and trees’. Blair (p.14) says in DC, Isadora’s notebook, ‘Swaying poppies, soaring birds, sweeping waves – all seemed to be dancing, and she danced with them’. Many children experience the swaying and soaring of nature around them, but they aren’t inspired to create dance from those experiences. Why, then was Isadora? If Kant’s contributions are applied, as in ‘reality was in the eye of the perceiver’, perhaps Isadora’s childhood experiences caused her to perceive the objects, i.e. waves, leaves, flowers, with her sensory body.
Or was her Grandmothers feel for dance held in Isadora’s body as knowledge of generations? Darwin believed that the body held the knowledge of generations through evolution.
Another early influence on Isadora was the work of Francois Delsarte. Although primarily a student of music, a theorist of movement and a voice coach, studying anatomy had awakened his interest in the relationship between movement and emotion. Blair (1986 p.18) says ‘The young dancer was struck by his observation that all natural movements are expressive of something such as a thought, a feeling or a motive.’ Isadora was later to write “My dance is not a dance of the body but of the spirit. My body moves because my spirit moves it.” Initially, Isadora danced reflectively about the world around her, and I believe she embodied her life experiences and used them as a source of inspiration. If we agree with the notion that ‘experience is knowledge’, then the dualist approach, as in Descartes ‘reality through disembodied thinking’, doesn’t fit here.
Isadora studied ballet briefly, but eschewed it saying “I am an enemy to ballet which I consider to be a false and preposterous art”. Admittedly, at that time, ballet could be described accurately in this way, as, in wishing to display technique, ballerinas would ‘interpolate pas de deux from other ballets without regard for either unity of choreography or of music’ (Blair p.28). Her belief that ‘toe dancing’ caused deformed bones and muscles, could be likened to Aristotles recognition of induction, that all of the ballet dancers she had met had deformities caused by the physical demands of their art, therefore she believed that all ballet dancers will have these deformities. Hume, however, said that findings based on observation and induction must remain conjectural and temporary. Induction can never offer you the certainty that logic can. We could say that, logically, if we dance on our toes for many hours a day, which we know is not the ‘natural’ design for the human body – it is a skill that is practiced and learned – there will probably be some deformation in the bones. However, these days, a healthy, well-trained ballet dancer’s body is physiologically well aligned, with muscles that work efficiently, creating a slender, lean shape, arguing that Hume was right in his thinking.
Isadora had always danced spontaneously, but later began to ‘analyze movement and re-examine everything she had learned about her art’ (Blair p.44). Her technique aimed at fluidity, and was based on the principal that the bodies’ centre of gravity is the solar plexus. John Martin, a dance critic, wrote
“she has described her search for certain key movements which should arise out of elemental emotion experiences such as fear or love…..the only possible means that lay within herself was memory……..A state resembling fear itself must be recreated to stimulate the impulses of suitable movement. This could only be done by recalling previous experiences of fear”.
Isadora’s search for a ‘school’ of movement doesn’t appear to have its grounding in separation of mind from body or Descartes’ ‘disembodied thinking’. She almost definitely uses a non-positivist, embodied approach. She was certain that the confines and restraints of other available forms of dance were not for her, and used her ‘knowledge’, gained by experience, to define a ground breaking dance form, not only in style, but in dress.
It is interesting to note, in Adesola Akinlye’s extract, that ‘Orphic priests required worship through movement’; Isadoras building of a technique involved influence from the culture and art of ancient Greece, and her costumes were usually flimsy shifts reminiscent of this time. Akinlye also mentions ‘Greek orgeia dances to Dionysus involved losing control of the body as part of the experience of devotion’. In discussing Isadora’s technique, Blair (p.49) says
‘it is necessary to pass through the stages of psychological and physical self-awareness to reach this stage of self-forgetfulness, of surrendering to the music and the prompting of one’s innermost being’.
I wonder if the ‘orgeia dances’ and Isadora’s ‘surrendering’ are synonymous?
It is also interesting to note that, at this time, the German philosopher Nietzsche died leaving a legacy that ‘God is dead…..’, and that ‘the ancient Greeks were superior to the modern Christian world’ (Robinson and Groves p.84). Was this another influence on Isadora?
I have struggled with the term ‘body-positivism’ and can only seem to relate it to Isadora’s own confidence in her body at a time when a woman’s body was always covered and considered corruptive. Her costume and dance style were challenging to the audiences of the day, and, coupled with the assumptions carried with dance and the female body, frowned upon by many. I believe her lack of formal education, and subsequent education by her mother, who herself held quite radical views about religion, would have influenced Isadora to be unaffected by the controls of society at that time.
Although Isadora sought to define her own unique theory of movement, her relationship with certainty in terms of her themes of choreography embodied her dramatic and tragic life experiences. The ‘thing,’ or message, emotion or inspiration she set out to convey was a constantly changing force throughout her career. Her ‘inspiration and movement came from the solar plexus’, but her own ‘drive and inspiration were not technically oriented’. (Blom and Chaplin The Intimate Act of Choreography p. 149). These themes were often reflected in her choreography, with dances of a pastoral and lyrical nature in the early years, such as ‘The Spirit of Spring’ and ‘A Dance of Wandering’, her dance Sonata Pathetique after the tragic deaths of her children, to revolutionary dances such as March Slave, in 1924 in response to her experiences in Russia and the Ukraine. (Blair 2001). She used ugliness in her dance, as in The Dance of the Furies, to portray an emotion not usually included in dance then.
I believe Isadora’s legacy has left a great impact on, not only the world of dance, in terms of ground breaking and innovative choreography, but also the sense that her work ‘changed’ the lives of those around her, and influenced those dancers and choreographers who followed her, such as Martha Graham. She had a ‘liberating influence on customs, costume and women’s moral standards’ (Blair p.400). I believe her knowledge has been defined in her work. It can be said that Isadora celebrated the body and emotions, opposing and challenging the current thinking in her era, and the legacy of Christian control. In terms of body-positivism, Isadora embodied her own life, and what emerged was a constructed and constantly changing ‘thing’ – the work of Isadora Duncan.
I’m really not sure if I have really understood Isadora’s work in notions of the philosophers, and knowledge, certainty and body-positivism, and would welcome any comments that might help my understanding here. Sorry this has turned out to be quite a long blog!

Planning my research project

It was great to get back in touch via skype on Sunday. Now I need to get back into ‘the zone’, after focusing on the beginning a new, and very busy, term at my school. I have been mulling over numerous ideas for my research project since starting Module one back in October, but, never having attempted anything like this before, I wasn’t sure if my ideas were suitable for this MA. I am very interested in researching whether, as dance teachers in local dance schools, we can provide a safe and creative environment for ALL children, regardless of body shape, physical facility, and rhythmic and memory cognition, to gain confidence and self-esteem, as well as enjoy, and gain skills in, varied forms of dance, specifically classical ballet. My concerns are, that against a background of curriculum, examinations, competitions and auditions, in a ‘world’ where aesthetics are paramount, that we are setting children up for disappointment, or the feeling of ‘never being quite good enough’.

After the skype on Sunday, I realised my ideas were relevant, and the discussion that followed opened up more angles that I could approach this subject from.  We discussed how I would have to challenge my own perceptions of what being a dancer means, as well as look at the perceptions of pupils and their parents. I could also look at how or if there has been a shift in values, and can dance be a more embodied experience in this environment?

I am now very excited to get going! I’m not really sure how to start though – probably do the tasks in the module handbook and order some books on how to plan a research project!

The Tip of the Iceberg!

Whilst dealing with (yet another!) staff issue, I was reminded of a sentence I had read in Gillie Bolton’s Reflective Practice, “Culture is an iceberg: we are aware of differences, but they are even greater and more significant than they appear (Sellars, 2014)”.

The issue I was dealing with involved two members of staff complaining to me about each other, and, in fact, I felt they both had relevant points to their argument. Both members of staff have, or have had, ‘problems’ in their lives, like many of us, and these ‘problems’ do often play out in the arena of work. One of them, I shall call Jane, had become particularly upset, but didn’t want me to intervene. She felt she didn’t need the stress of a confrontation at this time. I acknowledged her wish, but still felt it had been left like an open wound – susceptible to infection.

An opportunity arose for me to casually mention some of Jane’s concern with the other staff member, let’s call her Janet. Janet immediately became defensive, and worried that I thought she had done something wrong. She assured me she was just doing her job. I realised that both Jane and Janet were reacting from issues far bigger than just the ‘job’. The presenting problems were just the tip of the iceberg.

I questioned myself as to why I was hesitating to confront either one of them, and realised that, not only was it my own struggle with confrontation, it was also because I knew a lot about each one’s personal life, and thought I was protecting them. I was seeing the iceberg below sea level, the significance of the greater expanse of their life experience, and how it affected their relationships in the workplace.  It dawned on me that culture is not just what part of the world you are from, it is about the differences between us all, our upbringing, family, life experience. Even if we all share the same religion, ethnicity and values. Another saying comes to mind: ‘There’s a lot more to this than meets the eye’.

I now need to learn how to apply this learning to managing my staff team!

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