When we began to work together, one of us had no idea that dance could inform composition; the other had for several years been using writing metaphors and writing itself as a way to teach dance composition. But neither of us had ever considered teaching a course together on theories of movement and writing or of pairing a course in choreography with a writer's seminar called "Writing the Body." We certainly had not anticipated collaborating on an article about writing and dance teaching. Yet, our work together has so surprised and delighted us that we have.
What follows, then, is what we have learned about ways to teach writing and dance that draw from each discipline to the enrichment of both. More important, however, is the way that our discovery can serve as a model for finding connections among numerous disciplines, even those that appear to have nothing pedagogically or intellectually in common. As Howard Gardner and other researchers in psychology and education keep reminding us, we need to remember how many ways people learn and we must incorporate that memory into our teaching. Thus, using dance to teach writing and using writing to teach dance makes for exciting, good pedagogy.
We're suggesting that our partnership represents what a liberal arts education at its best can offer students and faculty. Our collaboration has not blurred or dissolved disciplinary boundaries, ideas so popular in the academy today. Rather, it has respected the disciplinary distinctions as it has demonstrated ways to help students see principles that cross disciplines and so make their education coherent. Studies at our institution have shown that students hunger for educational coherence, which becomes a factor in retention, again something of deep concern to private liberal arts colleges. Our partnership emphasizes difference and similarity. First, then, a two-part introduction, solo dances if you will, of how each of us came to this project, before we provide the details of our collaboration.
Cheryl: A Writer's Perspective
Recently, I took a class in beginning modem dance technique. I had expected to learn how to think through my body, to use what Howard Gardner calls kinesthetic intelligence (see Frames of Mind: The Theory of Multiple Intelligences, 1983). The first few weeks humbled me, for I learned that thinking through my body was harder for me than I had expected -- harder to the point of almost impossible. I watched other students in class understand and imitate immediately the dance sequences the instructor demonstrated, and I couldn't remember the first few minutes of our warmup, much less what I knew to be a fairly simple dance routine.
Each Monday, Wednesday, and Friday morning I left the studio with sore muscles and a fervent desire to do something I could do, which means write. Specifically, I wanted to write about dance; fortunately, Donna demanded lots of writing -- journals, personal process papers, and dance reviews. She had a commitment to writing because she knew that a student could better understand any process by writing about it. Hers was a dancer's variation on the writing process model composition teachers value.
As I wrote about my dance process or lack thereof I made two discoveries. First, while in the studio I hungered for paper and pencil. If only, I thought to myself, I could take notes. If only I could write down what we were supposed to do, so that later I could read the words: study them, memorize them. At least then I could go through the movements in the right sequence.
But we weren't supposed to take notes; we were supposed to train our body to remember, which is another way of saying to think. I could not use writing to learn, as I always had. This stymied me from the start. I began to mutter words to myself, things like, "first we're going to swing our arms up, then bring up the right leg -- no, that's the left leg -- no, wait, we're working on the left side, so it's the right leg. …