When I began working with Donald McKayle as an undergrad, I was eager to prove myself as a dancer. I felt unseen in my department, and Mr.McKayle was one of the first educators to see me truly. During our first week together, I sensed his intense gaze. I desired to prove myself and, yet I didn't realize that we were all visible in his space. During the rest of my time with him, I performed works that reflected the Black American experience. I started to embody these stories, which allowed me to transcend past mental and physical barriers. I also began to find a sense of community within the ensemble. By the end of our season, we were all different artists. We had shared an experience that only the nineteen of us could understand. I continued to work with Mr.McKayle as a stager until he passed in 2018. My relationship with him, his work, and his creative process shaped the educator I am today.
When reflecting on my pedagogy and course objectives, I value cultural-historical approaches to teaching, community-centered learning, individual freedom of expression, and acknowledging African aesthetics as the root of all Western dance practices. I view these practices as the many layers of a well-rounded artist. I implement these practices by integrating educational and real-world applications. The structure of my current Jazz courses demonstrates examples of these applications.
At the beginning of the course, I ask my students three questions:
How do you define technique?
How do you characterize a technical dancer from a non-technical dancer?
Do you consider yourself a technical dancer?
I then have students read four pages from the book Jazz Dance: A History of the Roots and Branches, edited by Lindsay Guarino and Wendy Oliver. The sections Racism & Technique and Countering come from the chapter Jazz Dance and Racism written by Carlos Jones. The reading explains how Jazz dance is missing its ties to African aesthetics. Due to segregation, racial privilege, and cultural hierarchy, the Jazz technique is now defined by Eurocentric standards. The students are then asked to share their thoughts on the reading and if their opinions have or have not shifted. This assignment is the foundation of the course content that is seen throughout the rest of the year. Its purpose is to deepen students' understanding of how and why they have certain beliefs, specific biases towards cultural dance forms. It allows them to express their opinions in a nonjudgmental way while acknowledging that, like Jazz, the students are evolving constantly. I encourage this type of discussion at the beginning of the course to establish how I want students to value and question the course content. I want students to apply this information to how they choose to participate in my courses and all of their courses.
My values are also reflected by implementing somatic practices, such as yoga, in the classroom. My implementation of yoga is from a philosophical standpoint rather than physical exercise. I teach concepts influenced by the contents of our consciousness. When I received my 200-hour Vinyasa Certification in 2018, I went through a transformation of finding my voice and decentering Eurocentric standards. I began asking my students to be intuitive not only in their artistic practice but also in their lives. I also found a sense of awareness that allows me to adjust and connect with every student. I make sure to match the energy of my students and acknowledge their progress regularly. I want each of my students to be seen and to question dance past and present.