TEACHING PHILOSOPHY

My teaching is informed by a combination of experiences: my university dance training, my field research that involves engaging communities nationally and internationally, and my performance-making which centers social justice. I also draw from my distinguished professional career as the Founding Artistic Director and Choreographer of the Washington, DC-based EDGEWORKS Dance Theater. Ultimately my pedagogy aims to enrich students’ views of their potential as artists and citizens, and to shed light on contributions made by artists of color, particularly African American dancers and choreographers.


As an educator, I create an atmosphere that allows students to discover connections between what they experience within the classroom and their lives outside of classroom walls. I do this by honoring individual perspectives while also establishing a sense of community. More specifically, I facilitate discussions and guided improvisations which create opportunities for choice-making. My commitment to movement as vital pedagogy is informed by the joy of daring dance. Undergirding these activities, I emphasize courage as a pathway towards vulnerability and creativity. I use current events to encourage students to activate their curiosity and to experiment, question, feel, think, reflect, and communicate their experiences with honesty, compassion, fluidity, and strength. I view our physical languages as aspects of our human experiences, and use them to make sense of the world around us and the role of artists as citizens.


My movement practice is inspired by, but not limited to, studies in Limon, Cunningham, Hawkins, Horton, ballet, martial arts, and improvisation, and being an athlete (basketball and track). These inspirations become access points for considering the trajectory of movement evolution and, at the same time, opportunities to question and challenge norms and conventions. Within my contemporary dance technique courses and master classes, I practice FRAMEWORK, a rigorous practice that transforms technique class into a laboratory for examining, exploring, and discovering bodily movements in real time. Inspired by architecture, FRAMEWORK is a contemporary technique practice that centers space and one’s orientation to space as the means to explore and deepen skills essential to gaining presence and a refined execution of movement material while performing the personal. At its core are four guiding themes – community, agency, individuality, and recovery through activity. Learning and taking risks are achieved in this practice through the creation of a grounded community. To this end, the process begins with participants forming into a circle where they are lead through a series of personal introductions (“What is one word to describe how do you feel today?” “What is one word to describe how you hope to feel by the end our session?”) that then unfolds into simple spatial change directives to reconfigure the circle, therefore reconfiguring one’s relationship to space and to others.  Once the practice begins, it becomes an ongoing process in construction. Sensing and feeling the space, I build and offer verbal prompts that continue to develop specific design, time, and effort modules for participants to navigate within. The class moves from this structured improvisation, into learned exercises that are then transformed through improvisational agency within the fixed temporal and spatial forms, leading ultimately to phrase work that offers room for student individuality, memory recall, and performance presence.

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My composition and theory courses are fueled by my creative research, namely how geographical and architectural landscapes influence shifts in our personal positioning––and by extension our identities. I build creative research strategies by melding text with richly physicalized ritual and memories. I use remembering as a way to piece together and liberate Black identity through performance. Through my personal research I channel confidence and a sense of groundedness, and this leads me to construct environments for students to be brave and courageous, and to find empowerment in their own identities. Frequently I watch students participate in explorations that lead to new insights and new pathways. I often observe how my methods give young artists opportunities to feel free to create and to challenge what may be perceived as the norm. Through analyzing space, time, movement, and meaning, bodies become vessels of communication, sharing new ways of seeing, understanding, and reinventing.


One of the distinguishing characteristics of my pedagogy is my background as the founding director of EDGEWORKS Dance Theater. This company, which I directed from 2001 to 2014, developed think-tanks and focus groups to investigate barriers and obstacles faced by communities. I draw from these experiences when I teach history and theory courses. More specifically, I construct environments that use multiple perspectives and team-based learning to uncover content and deepen analysis. I often group students into teams with a variety of representations to emphasize community building, collective work, and individual accountability. My pedagogical emphasis is on process, meaning students are discovering ideas rather than having a teacher dictate information. As a result, students are able to interact with a range of peers from different backgrounds, and I can aggregate ideas to activate spaces for collective growth.


As a choreographer and performance artist active in the field, my work is informed by my roles as a scholar and instructor. It is my belief that artists are life-long students, and I am deeply committed to learning. I learn from my peers, from my students, as well as from artists and teachers who have come before me and who have made extraordinary contributions to the field. As both an artist and teacher, I am in a continual practice of translating, seeing, training, constructing, and deconstructing systems, choreographic methodologies, theories, and cultural practices as a means to create meaningful experiences and tangible tools for the students.

Photography by David Dowling. Copyright 2014.

Supported by: Fiscal Sponsorship for Helanius J. Wilkins is made possible by the Boulder County Arts Alliance (BCAA)

 

Photography (unless otherwise specified) by Christopher Michael Carruth. Copyright 2019.

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