this text is still in process & is only a draft of what I hope is something publishable
When selecting artists to help her create, organize, and produce The Chocolate Heads, which is another version of a dance/art/music company, Stanford’s professor of the arts of dance and theatre, Aleta Hayes, found only the best! She had cultivated a sophisticated sensibility to detect originality in potential. Anyone she asked to join her in an artistic creation was offer that opportunity because Aleta had witness, heard, or felt a connection to something deeply creative and unique within them. She was a seer of what the American Imperialism has forced us to ignore into blindness: non-translatable creative and expressive brilliance.
As an academic, one of my responsibilities is to make the knowledge that I explore, accessible to my readers. Now, generally speaking, my readers are my peers, in class, and in the field of dance studies--so, my writing attempt to speak with the eloquence expected of me in those spaces, which is esoteric and exclusionary with its inherent University educational privilege. Well, Aleta had none of that. But don’t get it twisted, she had other things to do and say in academe. For instance, she understood dance to, yes, not be within the translatable rage of most languages outside of dance--but, that did not mean we couldn’t be creative with also our redistribution of knowledge kept in each dance. And so she spoke about her work, wrote about, had other comment, had other write about it, cultivated conversations, cultivated exchanges, and has shared her work with as many people and organizations globally. For her, the effort, commitment, and responsibility of sharing your work, the work of dance: kinetic-cultural research, was primary and necessary. From children to elders, she found new ways of presenting her new research in new combinations for the new people in her life. To begin fresh, always forced our work to be fresh and challenging.
As I myself have journeyed through the process of being her student, to her apprentice, to her assistant, and then to currently her peer, I have made many observations of her unique way of teaching and composing works-of-art. One such observation was her ability of performing pedagogy.
While performance is often seen a farce, an illusion, built for pure entertainment, and nothing more, as artists and scholars of the arts, we know there is so much more, and that this kind of labeling of performance is propagated in order to diminish the powers of the arts. Sometimes work is so good, you cannot help to bear witness and cry--which was one of her goals: to make the audience cry. This idea of crying, as a way to express how impactful the work was on the witness, was the evidence of success upon which Aleta’s bravery was predicated upon. She created life changing work--the works, and she herself, are being of greatness. And thus, to her credit, these achievements were attained because she was always performing and choreographing everything in her life, including pedagogy.
Considered the methodology and praxis of transmitting and evaluating knowledge integration in a learner: teaching, and its overarching concept or pedagogy, is one of the most sacred practices of a human right we know of today. And, then here in the United States, we are mostly without a National rigorous and effective pedagogy standard. There is a lack of a necessary focus, and need of a National Standards and Expectations of Dance Literacy, Choreographic Tools, Performing Effectively, etc...Though there are somes standards for dance, most of these standards are not at all robust or current. Only through NGO’s, such as Luna Dance Institute in Berkeley, California (Luna), are there people arguing for requiring and standardizing dance expectations; and then also Luna teaches, trains, and shares all that they know. To me Luna Dance Institute embodies a commitment dance education back into the lives of the children, thus restoring our future.
While Luna may be a collective in resistance to the erasure of the knowledges of dance, Aleta Performs Pedagogy. As she moves, dances, speaks, listens, watches, sing, composes lesson plans, prepares marketing, warms-up dancers, and fierces asks for only the most full and lush 100% effort to ever be executed in her work, I had discovered, in real flesh and life, the answers to poor and outdated evaluation systems. Standardized test do nothing but make you feel bad, hopefully bad and scared enough that you never resist “authority”. But, having high expectations, and demanding more effort, and supporting new ways of thinking and finding solutions, produces a product, which are often records of effort and concepts practice, if not also integrated in the student, via notes, final choreographic performances, and artists statements. There was no need for a grade scale for Aleta, for that outdated practice uses up too much work-time in a life--where, for most, time is not in any sort of adequate abundance. Her way of enacting and producing evaluations was to use her skills and senses (her embodied self, as almost a gradebook), in combination with final performances and notes and reflections, to produce a personal and effective final comments/grade/suggestions/indications of brilliance/indications of a need for deep reconsiderations/mindful love. For her, the work itself was the grade, and everything that follows are new creative retellings of that process and experience.
At the level of the lesson plan, the educational unit arch, the expected learning outcomes, the dance techniques, the choreographic process, the body, and classroom management, for Aleta, they were all opportunities for performance, and they existed within the domain of performance. Each of these basic needs in teaching could be performances, could be choreographed. Each of these could be treated as, or processed like, a score found in Anna Halprin’s RSVP Cycle practices. But beyond just enacting a lesson, and for an hour, following agenda items as the way to attain knowledge, Aleta was much more interested in the playful investigation for one’s fierce self (fierceness), and next, a consistent and sustainable praxis of the cultivation of said fierceness. Aleta was completely uninterested in dancing produced a nice show that was interesting. Aleta wanted excellence, which often meant, creating a new kind of vision of, for, instead of, for replacement of the world. In challenging every “rule” of art, she found opportunities for fierceness, like dancing next to many 6 million dollar+ paintings, like making a dance work in an old, very used, workshop, like bringing dance to the Stanford’s TEDx stage as a proclamation of dance being not only a practice of research, but a also the presentation of findings, and the finding themselves. Through her body, she could read the room, read the expectations, read the curricula, and catalyze it all into motivational dance directions, which infectiously inspired everyone around her, to find their fierceness, and bring it out.
To perform is to enact, to give life to something that is still. That is what it takes to read a script of a play. A play, is just a book, a list of words, that can be read, and in the imagination, made into a cognitive production, but it take the whole body, the whole person, to enact a play, to perform words into something passionately executed, authentic, and convincing. But most importantly, every creation, rehearsal, and recital of the play will be different. And this was Aleta’s approach to teaching, pedagogy, directing, leadership, and being creative. Pedagogy was a script to be performed. A script that can be edited, devised, thrown away, recreated, and reenacted in new ways, in new fierceness, every time. She, like this practice, as adaptive, and dynamic. With this approach to teaching, she had taught me that it is really easy to teach anyone, because what you build within a performance of pedagogy, is an improvisation of a lesson, and is now built out of an interaction with another person spontaneously and presently, rather than prescribing a lesson onto a person and “hoping to Dear God” everything will somehow stick, everything will work out. People are not machines, they are dynamic being weaving existence with you, a single “industrialized” model of pedagogy has proven ineffective over and over again. This, her more adaptive mode-model of performing pedagogy, is what is needed in this contemporary age of instant access to all information via the internet through our text messenger machines. As teachers, we must be well rehearsed to use all tools around us, in our present day quotidian performances, to main stage productions, and to community ritual ceremonies, to ensure the proper preparation of our students to learn with us, and then for themselves.
It was through Aleta’s way of teaching, her performing pedagogy, that I was enabled to become one of the best dance improvisers of the Bay Area, and currently quite a successful artist-scholar, voguer-ethnographer. In following her ways of teaching, I have been able to teach peoples of all ages, sizes, experiences, abilities, background, and cultures. She taught me not only how to be proactive and cutting-edge with anything that I do, but also how to “sniff out talent”, how to find those who are open to attempting the impossible. Because that was it for her: That was the pursuit that yielded everything, the impossible task of attempting the impossible, reveals and produces what is newly possible, while also filtering out what has already been done. As I continue to improvisationally choreograph my life and work, I sleep comfortably. I know that that performing pedagogy is not only a special gift that can be empowered by dreams, but that also performing pedagogy keep my teaching and interactions with my students honest and fresh. From reading curricula, to bodies, to articles, to vogue, and then treating those things and people, like a script from a playwright for a director to organize a performance of sunbathing or creating a daily realness performance of being a student, this praxis of Performing Pedagogy keep sending me to where I need to be.