The 10 artists are based in France, Austria, Finland, and USA and most work transnationally. Our countries of origin include Italy, Haiti, Britain, Canada, Austria and five from USA. Our pedagogical practices include ballet (Panetta), yoga (Louise), Haitian dance (LaBel), Feldenkreis-influenced somatics (Manning), Contact Improvisation (Hennessy), Skinner releasing (Dorvillier), Authentic Movement (Dorvillier, Lacey), and various approaches to contemporary dance research, choreography, improvisation, and performance. Our primary sites of engagement include European dance schools and research centers, festivals, universities, waterways and animal migration routes (Monson), and independent dance and yoga studios.

Impulstanz is a vibrant hive of classes, performances, research events, parties, receptions, and encounters. Hundreds of students, scores of teachers, numerous dance professionals, and a Dance Web scholarship program for over 60 dancers from around the world swarm Vienna in this annual event. One, two or three nightly performances by both emerging artists and internationally acclaimed companies punctuate each densely scheduled day.

For seven days, ttt people engaged in personalized research and additionally met from 2-4pm each day. The goal was to observe, analyse, and discuss some ideas, practices, and histories of teaching dancing (and of course of dancing teaching). ttt concluded with Open Something, a collaboratively-structured and facilitated 4-hour class/event for approximately 30 participants.

Several people developed a project or research practice which focused their daily work. These projects included:

• observing classes and collecting data on how teachers teach, especially through the use of metaphor and other rhetorics (Lacey, Dorvillier, Monson)

• interviewing teachers about their teachers (Panetta’s Acknowledgement Project)

• collecting written descriptions of common practices (Desideri)

• focused study with one teacher for the entire week (Louise re: Faust)

• planning a class or research project for the following week (Dorvillier, Lacey)

• observing the festival itself, especially its performances, as a learning situation (Hennessy)

 Our daily meetings included casual conversation, focused debate, shared physical practice, and reports by individuals on their various projects. Hot topics of discussion included:

• the master – in both traditional and Modern dance forms, comparing one Master teacher to a smorgasbord of short-term teachers and self-directed learning

• the language of teaching – linguistic and semiotic analysis of what dance teachers say or do to direct students in learning

• teaching versus learning, or is teaching bad?

• transmission and evolution – How do we teach what we have been taught? How does ‘original material’ transform or even dissolve with repeated generations of teachers?

• definitions and labels – How we describe our teaching. How words change or vary in meaning, creating confusions and clashes of expectation. Consider: release, somatics, yoga, contact improv, contemporary…

The concluding event was a class/event called Open Something. A series of approximately 30 minute exercises included:

         • warming up by trying out various scores from Desideri’s collection

         • transmission and teaching, a little like the game Telephone, to see how an exercise or principle shifts with each evolution of teacher

         • walking exercises by Manning, into Forti’s collective circle walk

         • Gaigg facilitated group performance making using Impulstanz promo texts as prompts

         • Hennessy facilitated a few ways to respond including a question circle

         • Dorvillier facilitated a duet session exploring the four modes: Touch Move Talk Write

 The main class was complimented by two auxiliary events at the margins of the dance floor. One was a fake therapy site set up by Desideri and Lacey where people could use a set of cards to design ‘fake’ healing/therapy sessions for each other. Sample cards included: gather your partner’s energy to the center, place your hands on your partner and listen… In the opposite diagonal corner there was a viewing/reading station for Panetta’s Acknowledgement Project. People could read the printed transcript of the interviews or watch a short video with excerpts from each interview in which dancers talked about early influential teachers.


In defense of (the word) Teaching

Is teaching a bad word?

In my first meeting with the participants of ttt Vienna 2010, I recognized a kind of bias against teaching that I found both confusing and non-productive. It was as if bad teaching (dominating, exclusive, authoritarian, ideological) defines all teaching, which should be replaced by various strategies of non-teaching, facilitation, self-directed or collaborative learning. Despite my affinity with these ‘alternative’ pedagogical modes, I want to argue the case for teaching, that is, for the word teaching. When we split something into good and bad we run the risk of blindly accepting all that is identified as good, and rejecting all that is quickly dismissed as bad, without developing ongoing critical perspectives. 

PAF founder Jan Ritsema is described in the ttt Stockholm 2010 notes as “an extreme non-teacher” who “opposes teaching as a form of instructing and the teacher as someone who owns the knowledge, knows better, and imposes their own history and experience on the student.” [i]I am in solidarity with Ritsema’s sharp institutional critique and my teaching is inspired by radical and popular education movements. Like Ritsema I have an extensive resume of both institutional teaching jobs and more independent, artist-instigated or student-centered, pedagogical projects. But after trying to replace the words teacher and student with facilitator and participant, I have found it more useful to reclaim and rewrite teacher, carving a space in and around institutions for experimental, experiential and collaborative education. To expand the conceptual space around teacher, I alternately use the terms teacher, facilitator, researcher, and mentor. And I refer to classes as labs, experiments, workshops, and social sculptures (after Beuys). I recognize the performative aspects of the class, both in the role of teacher and in the group’s role as active participants in culture making.

Without trying to limit the details of what teaching might be, I consider a teacher as anyone who facilitates contexts for learning. To instigate or construct an environment in which people learn is teaching.

With these basic frames for teaching we can critically talk about teaching rather than cutting ourselves apart from (bad) teaching and then repeating many of the controlling, authoritarian, ideological, and narcissistic aspects of teaching that we don’t like. All teaching is always already ideological because style, form, content, process, and performance are always already embodied theory. Just by calling our leadership or role facilitator, we do not immediately escape structures of authority and power. Using circular forms and offering independent research opportunities within a class, are tactics favored by many people who are employed as, or who self-identify as, teachers.

The anti-teaching position often patronizes or assumes the lack of agency of the students. Most dancers make decisions to study with particular teachers. That choice is only one of the ways that students perform as individual and collective co-creators in a shared power dynamic with the teacher. (Starhawk, among other anarchists and feminists, calls this dynamic power-with, to distinguish it from power-over.) Of course when a teacher has institutional weight, and is representing a certain kind of knowledge and a certain kind of political and aesthetic obedience, it is difficult to recognize a student’s agency. In Stockholm, Benoît Lachambre challenged Ritsema’s total critique by citing his own experience of gaining privileged access to a teacher’s knowledge, and not being repressed in the process. Jeremy Nelson spoke to the collective knowledge that a class can generate. Destabalizing the idea that a teacher is the sole source of knowledge, he said, “everybody in class is providing information to each other.” In the power-with context of student-centered or community-centered learning[ii], a teacher recognizes the desire, will, and intelligence of the student as a foundation for collaborative learning.

In the US, I continue to meet extraordinary people who work in public schools and other institutions as teachers. Many of them are at the forefront of libertarian projects that prioritize students as individuals who ought to be guided but not controlled, inspired but not packaged. They teach (or inspire the learning of) ideas and practices that critique authority and domination, despite the larger institutional contexts in which they operate. Often these teachers use those institutions as negative models for a broader social critique. By claiming an identity of teacher, I attempt to situate myself in both solidarity and collaboration with these activists who see schools as a crucial site for structural critique and liberation pedagogy.


[i] http://www.jardindeurope.eu/index.php?id=44

ttt is a project of Jardin d’Europe, instigated by Jennifer Lacey in 2009. ttt Sweden occurred March 1-6, 2010, and was structured around the question, “What does a dancer need to know?”

[ii] Student-centered or community-centered learning identifies the teacher as a library or resource but not as an authority or guardian of the status quo. With Ritsema, this practice is advocated by John Dewey, Paulo Friere, radical feminists, anarchists, collectives, Summerhill, and many of us inspired by the anti-authoritarian, anti-capitalist, anti-colonial and anti-institutional ideas and projects since the 1960s.

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