Why I teach at Dublin…
The famous composer John Cage gave a list of “Ten rules for students and teachers,” to the now-renowned choreographer Merce Cunningham upon opening his company dance studio on Bethune Street in NYC.
Rule 1: Find a place you trust, and then, try trusting it for awhile.
I came upon this document sometime around my transition from being a professional modern dancer in New York City to moving back to my home state of NH with my husband and young son to work as a full-time teacher (9 months pregnant with my second child, I might add). Ok, I thought, Dublin certainly put some trust in me allowing me to begin a new job and take a maternity leave just a couple of weeks in, let’s see what will unfold here.
The values of kindness and mutual respect and the mission to cultivate curiosity drew me to Dublin. I felt these qualities permeating the early interactions I had with students, faculty, and staff. I was also impressed with the level of commitment to the arts and physical activity the school promotes as essential aspects of educating a “whole person.” I had just completed my coursework for my Masters in interdisciplinary studies, and the goals and ideals of student-centered learning, the role of art in society, and the value of carrying our histories forth through storytelling, collaboration, and imagination were central to my thesis work. How could I ground my learning in a practice and provide opportunities for young people to engage with possibility in the ways I had been so privileged to experience growing up and in my professional performing career?
Artistically and intellectually, I have led an integrated life, where seemingly disparate elements nurture one another and give a sense of unity to my work. It was not uncommon for me to “wear many hats,” as they say. While I was performing, I also taught, worked in development and grant writing for the dance company to which I belonged, and did one-on-one academic tutoring in the evenings, a job that started basically by chance in high school when I enjoyed helping my fellow students and realized that I myself learned much better through a collaborative process. But each aspect of my life has never felt segmented out; one realm inspired and influenced the other in ways I was not even consciously aware. I believe that teaching and learning, feeling and expressing are rooted in what makes us human. It is our human nature to try and figure things out, to share, to wonder, and at its best, a school is an incubator for these activities. Perhaps this is why I could never avoid the role of teacher as I engaged with the world around me.
In the classroom and in the rehearsal process, I strive to cultivate a sense of optimism, high expectations, and a mindset that working and reworking an assignment, scene, or dance sequence is in fact a practice essential to living.
We do not always know what the right answer is, but we have the opportunity to recognize ourselves and better understand others through the process of creating something beautiful (and I use beauty in the broadest sense to mean anything that produces a sense of satisfaction and ownership).
I grew up performing in a local summer children’s theater where we kids were in the business of creating some serious art. We were not arranged on a stage to look cute. The production values were high and every detail attended to; our directors demanded that each of our voices be heard, that we had something to share with the world no matter our age or experience level. I was taught that anything was possible if you work passionately and allow for flexibility and evolution as you strive toward a goal.
You cannot always plan for how things will end. You may feel vulnerable, disappointed, even disheartened at times during the process, but there is worth to tension, stress and struggle. I so loved being a part of the hard work of a production that I would cry on our days off from rehearsal. I was a part of something greater than myself, and I felt essential to that greater whole.
This can sound like a pretty heavy load to carry, but my experience was that of true joy cultivated through a sense of play, which brings me to another point on Cage’s list of rules:
Be happy whenever you can manage it. Enjoy yourself. It is lighter than you think.
This, for sure, within the busy schedule of boarding school life can be a difficult rule to follow. I too often find myself bogged down by the end goal, the quest for perfection, the desire to ignite a sense of ‘hunger’ in my students. Sometimes, though, we just need to laugh!
The plays we performed at my childhood theater were original works: strange, innovative, clever, touching. Wood and cardboard were transformed into anything you can imagine. We worked with performance artist from NYC who were on the cutting edge of their respective art forms: dance, theater, playwriting, puppetry, music. There is nothing like engaging with possibility – the imaginative freedom I learned to value made the work I engaged in fun and exciting. I can honestly identify the ten summers I spent in that little dusty black box theater, a repurposed town hall with no air conditioning, as the most influential model for how I have approached both my professional performing career and my work here at Dublin. I have never felt as though I was hired to “fit a mold” but rather invited in to see where my interests and expertise could find intersections with a diverse community of teaching and learning, to be a part of the whole.
Several years after settling here in the Monadnock region, I still feel energized, challenged, and inspired by my dialogue with students, peers and the greater community. Yes, in fact, I trust this place.
Cage’s final point to Cunningham reminds him to “leave plenty of room for ‘x’ qualities.” There is nothing finite about the work we do here. Even though we will spend only a portion of our life’s journey at this little school in NH, the little while we have together reverberates through the choices and interactions we bring to the world and has profound unknown impact. Let’s make the most of it!