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On Learning And Teaching

In 2004 I taught a group of masters dance pedagogy students who told me that I was a post-modern dialogical teacher. What I understoood this to mean is that when I teach, I improvise. I have an idea of what ground I’d like to cover but my choices about which exercises and what order to do them in are made much in the moment in relation to the group I am teaching. In other words, I listen for what a group needs and, by listening, I often discover new material as I teach.

For me teaching is a creative act and my excitement and enthusiasm for my material keeps it fresh and interesting for students. As a teacher I see my role as a guide. This means I know my way through the landscape but not every inch of it. Every student will take their own unique pathway through it and I acknowledge that they are therefore their own experts.

Learning to Learn

Whatever form I am teaching, people often say that what I do is “bring people into their bodies”. I’d say I stimulate people’s awareness of themselves through movement. What I’m really interested is how we learn by moving. By this I mean not only how we learn to move, but how through movement we learn about ourselves and our environment and how that supports our learning of everything.

All the forms I teach are playful in that they leave room for spontaneity and creativity. For me, learning happens at the edge where we have one foot on solid ground and the other dangling over the abyss of the unknown. Both feet forever on solid ground and we’ll learn nothing new. Both feet over the abyss and we’ll fall and hurt ourselves.I always encourage people first to identify and work within their comfort zones. This allows the senses time to open to all the sensory information that we need to begin to play at the edges of our comfort zones. I believe that this middle path between boredom and anxiety offers the optimal conditions for learning and, coincidentally, for having pleasure as we learn.

Teaching what I need to learn

I don’t know where I heard it first but for me it is certainly true. I think that one of the qualities that I bring to my teaching is that I am both teaching what I have learned and if I am doing it well then I am also learning in the moment.

Because I started out moving so badly I have actually learned quite a lot until now. And having consciously had to learn it I am quite good at explaining how I did it. I also have a lot of compassion and patience for those that struggle with my material and I can honestly tell them that if I can do what I do, then anybody can.

Read more about Malcolm’s teaching in the article On Teaching Contact Improvisation