A pedagogical edge to dance on
I am an early childhood educator with 18 years of practice in the field. Nine of them have included working alongside pedagogists*. I remember the first time a pedagogist stepped into our room at the childcare centre. I was uneasy and confused. I had never heard of a pedagogist before and had no experience working with the BC Early Learning Framework (BC ELF; Government of British Columbia, 2019) or common worlds thinking. It took time for me to build an understanding of the experimental complexities of working with a pedagogist and to appreciate my growth as an educator because of it.
I am also a retired dancer. My 38 years of experience within the dance community greatly influences my practice. As an educator, I was trained in a very different way than I am currently working today. As a dancer, I evolved from a classically trained ballet dancer to a professionally trained contemporary dancer, which is also very different philosophically. I feel so many similarities between deepening my practice as an educator and my transition from ballet to contemporary dance. In both cases I had no clue what was happening or what challenges, growth and discoveries would occur! Working with a pedagogist feels much like working with a choreographer in contemporary dance. A relationship is built on questioning, on pushing to think further, to research, to improvise, and to respond to current times while creating conditions for the unexpected to happen.
As I continue to deepen my understandings of pedagogy and practice, I am always intrigued by the many parallels I experience between my dance experience and my growth as an educator. These include a growing awareness of my responsibility as a settler living and dancing on colonized lands. More recently, through this time of COVID-19 restrictions and isolation protocols, I have been thinking about how to stay connected with dance during our social distancing at home, as well as thinking more deeply about how we are affected when we are unable to dance together. I am heartened by all of the home dance footage flooding my news feed. During these hard times, dance is proving to be an essential, collective, connecting and healing art. I want to honour the Lekwungen children and families whose dances were banned. I struggle with the messy and unequal privilege that allowed me to dance on the unceded ancestral territories of the Musqueam, Squamish, and Tsleil-Waututh Nations whose dances were banned. I seek to practice ways to dismantle these injustices. I have grappled with my history of training in colonial western dance and how I teach. As a white settler, what is my place in dance with children?
I am interested in learning more about common worlds thinking and connections with dance and pedagogy. While researching I came across a video of award-winning choreographer Crystal Pite, Body and Soul, a creation for the Paris Opera’s 350th anniversary. I had the privilege of learning from and growing while watching Crystal evolve as an artist over many years. As a young child, I fondly remember watching her dance at my ballet studio. One of my first experiences working with a choreographer was shared with Crystal at our old childhood ballet studio. I have followed her growth as an artist for many years, attending her work whenever possible. I have much respect for her as an artist, as I do with all of the pedagogists I have worked with. Thinking with Crystal Pite (BNP Paribas Foundation, 2019) reminds me of all the ways I have been able to grow by working with a pedagogist - “being-together” - in a way that pushes me beyond my comfort zone at times. She speaks to working in creation with dancers the way a pedagogist works with educators to open up space for something otherwise to emerge:
When I’m stretched just a little bit beyond what I think I can manage. Just a little bit past my limit, I’m in a good place. And I’ve got a good opportunity to grow and I have a good opportunity to discover something new. That’s the challenge of it, that’s the tension I have to create within myself, to just overextend. Because it’s much more comfortable to just keep doing what I know. (Pite, in BNP Paribas Foundation, 2019, 0:17)
While thinking with common worlds and dance over the past eight months in and out of COVID-19 self-isolation, I have been experimenting with my son to create a small dance for film. Set to the song “This Is For You” by the band Four Tet, the film depicts an inchworm that followed me home and “found a little edge to dance on” (Pite, in BNP Paribas Foundation, 2019, 2:00). We called this dance for camera “Inch by Inch” to commemorate the time it takes to learn and grow with more-than-human thinking.
Just as Crystal Pite describes in the video, pedagogists have given me many opportunities to create a place to grow from and deepen my practice. Opportunities to pull from others' influences. They have helped create “a little edge I can dance on.”
*Over the past nine years, Angie Simpson has worked closely with pedagogists Veronica Pacini-Ketchabaw, Denise Hodgins, Kirsten Ho Chan, Nicole Land and Narda Nelson, and atelierista Vanessa Clark.
BNP Paribas Foundation. (2019, October 29). Body and soul, a creation of Crystal Pite for the Paris Opera’s 350th anniversary. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=GXGzJpv-9tg&feature=youtu.be
Four Tet. (2020). This is for you [Recorded by Four Tet]. On Sixteen Oceans. Text Records.
Government of British Columbia. (2019). British Columbia early learning framework. https://www2.gov.bc.ca/gov/content/education-training/early-learning/teach/early-learning-framework