Teaching Philosophy, Goals, and Practices

 Both Martha Graham and Albert Einstein described dancers as,” athletes of God.”  Based upon this definition, the athlete needs coaching and the otherworldly facets of the dancer must be allowed life and breath. Providing the opportunity for multi-dimensional learning for young dancers fuels my passion as a teacher. Helping to strengthen the technical expertise of these athletes while creating space for their emotional, physical and spiritual expansion becomes more exciting with each rapidly evolving generation.

The very nature of contemporary dance is based upon expansion and progress. No longer can dancers rely on knowledge in only one style of dance. While I encourage dancers to seek out specificity within a foundational technique to which they are best suited physically; within the university setting I have experienced a need to incorporate vocabulary from classical modern augmented with currently trending material in order to prepare students for real-life experiences outside of academia. Fluidity in the torso, ability to utilize inversions, athletic floor work, balletic line, hard-hitting gestural specificity and boundless traveling, all factor into exercises practiced within my classes.

My lifelong background in Graham, Horton, and ballet has created the technical foundation from which my technique class arises. I have created a warm-up that borrows from these traditions as well as from Limon, and Gyrokinesis to facilitate a well-rounded, contemporary learning experience while providing an aerobically stimulating launch into class. Tailored to suit varying skill levels, I have witnessed the principles of contraction/release, spiral, shifting of weight and flow; increase dancers’ strength and technical mastery while intensifying their kinesthetic awareness. Employing anatomical knowledge coupled with attention to the energetic meridians of Traditional Chinese Medicine has shown me that dancers reach their fullest potential when their physical and energetic systems work in harmony.

 I believe that visceral initiation is one of the keys to honesty within ones dancing and that authenticity of movement is an essential tool for clear communication as a dancer in every style. Observing the newfound finesse and excitement as students grasp how to create suspense within their own bodies by using lines of tension between physical points thrills me. Passing on the exploration of other physical concepts such as the juxtaposition of extreme tempos, scale, dynamic and rhythm, brings me tremendous joy as a teacher. After accomplishing a combination with set timing, the dancers are urged to find their own phrasing, allowing their personal choices to dictate the flavor of the exercise. Encouraging dancers to test their physical limits, create whirlwinds through space, suspend time, become rhythmically active and make discoveries through dance that will enrich all areas of their lives is the bedrock for my teaching All of these experiments are made possible because of a deeply held respect for dancer’s curiosity. 

Anna Halprin, Alwin Nikolais, Simon Fort, and Susie Allen were my guides in improvisation and I seek to mirror their gentle invitations and nurturing attitudes when sharing improvisational experiences with students. Referring to the book, Free Play by Stephen Nachmanovitch, allows my students to understand that improvisation is not only found in dancing, but within every art form, including the art of living.  Teaching from a cross-disciplinary perspective further supports my passion for collaboration between various artistic traditions and exposes students to possibilities that reach beyond dance. I seek to provide exercises that create a familiarity between each dancer and his or her individual technique. By strengthening their ability to access the tools of dancing, students in my improvisation classes become increasingly more comfortable and capable at being present within their dance experiences.

The benefits of educating the next generation of dancers about the inner workings of their instrument through anatomy and kinesiology are endless. Students have better access to their muscles in technique class because they understand their specific origins and insertions.  This has dramatically improved some of my students’ performance. My hands-on approach encourages students to locate the muscles on their own bodies and through exercises, and stretches, allows them to understand their actions both intellectually and physically. Workshops covering fascial release techniques and other somatic therapies provide a variety of injury prevention methods for my students.  If an injury should occur, students have the vocabulary to communicate with instructors, choreographers and the medical profession with efficacy. 

            These ideals apply, not only to studio courses, but also to my Dance in Culture class where I seek to create an environment of deep inquiry. Initially met with panic and horror, my practice of utilizing critical thinking exercises, interactive learning and kinesthetic exercises has born fruit.  “Lisa is a wonderful professor and I had an amazing time stepping out of my comfort box in her class. The one thing I will say though is that her test/quizzes are hard but that is only because she wants you to know and understand ideas not just memorize the content. However, while this took a few bad grades and some getting used to once I learned how to understand the ideas and formulate my own it became second nature. I honestly think her test/quiz style has helped me become more of a "critical thinker" and even helped my writing in other classes.” This student evaluation and others like it provide fuel to my passion for delving into the difficult issues of culture: race, religion, sexuality, and politics, through the lens of dance as a historical barometer.  I believe that learning about these physical manifestations of culture is just one small way of encouraging honest discussions of historically divisive topics in an effort to encourage a more open understanding of global society.

As a professor, my deepest desire and highest goal is to foster not only accomplished students/dancers, but also fully realized artists who are able to think critically in order to clearly unleash their passion into the world.