From time to time, NDEO features guest blog posts, written by our members about their experiences in the fields of dance and dance education. We continue this series with a contribution by Ashley Goos, Adjunct Professor of Dance at Xavier University and Miami University. Guest posts reflect the experiences, opinions, and viewpoints of the author and are printed here with their permission. NDEO does not endorse any business, product, or service mentioned in guest blog posts. If you are interested in learning more about the guest blogger program or submitting an article for consideration, please email Shannon Dooling-Cain at email@example.com
Building a Culture of Can in the Dance Studio
By Ashley Goos, Adjunct Professor of Dance, Xavier University & Miami University
I have so many students who say they can’t. Can’t turn out, can’t leap, can’t articulate their spine, can’t count, can’t dance. I have students that haven’t even tried these things but already “know” they can’t. So in my class, I employ a radical approach: everyone can.
Students only get this idea about “can’t” from being told so. They are being told they don’t have the right body, or they can’t do a movement correctly until they “lose the weight.” I’ve had students who sit out of an exercise with an arabesque because they were told they “don’t have that line.” I’ve had very unfortunate conversations with colleagues insisting that some students aren’t worth their time because of the shape of their feet. Certainly, all dance students won’t go on to dance as a soloists for the Bolshoi Ballet, but a lack of flexibility in the lower back or “imperfect” feet doesn’t mean they can’t contribute to the dance field. It’s no reason to tell them they can’t.
For good reason, students get frustrated when, instead of a culture of can, they are consistently told, “You just can’t.” They come to either resent their teacher or worse, leave dance all together. Conversely, I’ve never had a new-to-dance student, who has been indoctrinated by a culture of can’t, come into the studio for the first time and tell me they “can’t”. So, what if we as a community develop the mindset that everyone can?
What does the dance field have to lose from assuming that everyone – in one way or another - can dance? I have taught adult students with differentiated learning abilities how to plié and how to roll on the ground. They shrieked and yelped with delight because they found out that they, in fact, can.
Long gone are the days in which a dancer can get a 52 week contract with a dance company, if they are talented enough and try hard. Long gone are the times when ability (and lucky timing) is enough. As dancers, we aren’t all competing for 2 spots in a big, New York company anymore. (Full disclosure: we never were – but that’s another issue). We are trying to keep our field alive: we are gigging, we are collaborating with digital media artists, we live in every size city, under every circumstance imaginable. Dance needs people who love it. We can no longer be an exclusive club for the limber and privileged. We need everyone. And that starts in education.
Because of this, I have adopted a “Culture of Can” in my classes. I assume every body that walks into my classroom can dance. I don’t accept the excuses that are rooted in past negative reinforcement, but I do accept less than a 90 degree arabesque. I make sure my class ends with a combination that makes each dancer feel successful to one degree or another. I never mention body shape, weight loss or gain, and I never use the same dancer to demonstrate more than once a class.
I assume that every student can dance, that they can love our field, and that they can contribute something positive and new. No one benefits from telling students they can’t. No one benefits from an increasingly shallow dance field; especially not those of us dedicating our careers to keep it alive. My “radical” approach has produced some very beautiful dancers, and some very passionate advocates. It has never shamed or rejected, and it certainly hasn’t judged someone’s pelvic width.
Every body can dance. And we need every dancing body we can get.
Ashley Goos holds an MFA in Dance Performance and Choreography from The Florida State University, and a BA in Theatre from Miami University (OH). Ashley has set work at the Bourdelle Museum in Paris, France, Missouri State University in Springfield Missouri, Miami University (OH), Moving Current in Tampa, Florida, the Cincinnati Fringe Festival, the Area Choreographer’s Festival 2018, and for Gallery 621 in Tallahassee, FL. Ashley has also provided administrative consultation and development support for non-profit arts organizations around the United States. Some of her administrative partners include See Chicago Dance, The Cincinnati Ballet, The Kentucky Shakespeare Festival (Louisville, KY), and Same Planet Different World Dance Theatre (Chicago, IL). In the fall of 2017 Ashley was a Full Time Guest Artist at Missouri State University, and is currently an adjunct professor of dance at Xavier University, Miami University, and is a Guest Artist in Modern dance at the School for Creative and Performing Arts.
Headshot by Emily Iva Photography. All other photos courtesy of Missouri State University Photo Services.