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Re-imagining Longterm Relationships: Growing Up Together

My elementary modern students are lifting their hips up in the air by pushing their hands into the floor, springing from bent knees, and landing their lofty jumps in another deep bend. There is a fearlessness when it comes to approaching upper body and inversion work with this age that I must encourage more deeply in my older students who are quicker to doubt their abilities. However, now that I have been settled in one place for a few years, I have been joyful witness to many of my students growing up as dancers. I have taught them as their bodies were explosive containers of energy that have morphed through growth spurts and deeper understandings of where their power comes from physically and mentally. I have had to see them both as people I know, but also bodies and beings constantly changing and challenging me to find different yet progressive ways of engaging them.

I have been thinking about my relationships with schools and organizations that I have longterm relationships with as a teaching artist. The beginning of the school year is a time for residency planning and budget negotiating. I work with a few districts as well as specific teachers every year for short residencies. These repeated experiences offer me opportunities to become a part of the school community in a more significant way than one-shot residencies with a school and I find myself very protective of these relationships for both the connections I feel with the communities and the growth I am offered as a teaching artist. However, it is easy to let planning and debriefing take a back seat on these tried-and-true environments, when in reality, allowing time to re-imagine teaching and learning in these spaces offers perhaps one of the safest experiences for innovation.

We are slowly working on re-imagining a few of my residencies this year in various schools. I have worked with one language teacher for many years and she is finally part of a team that wants to expand the dance experience throughout the department as well as help students make cultural connections through their dance work. One district that has focused on choreography and creative movement through their music and P.E. program in the past is introducing a guidance counselor to the mix, changing the spaces that we work in, and engaging in out-of-residency material that will create a more community-based experience. I find that adding new voices, content, and environments all contribute to a broader, more complex experience while building on safety and knowledge gained from past experiences.

The high-flying hips of my young studio dancers are always close to the forefront of my mind as I think about evolving relationships. I am personally invested in finding ways for movement to engage them in many aspects of their life. We are looking for new ways of seeing (as I told me middle school ballet dancers last week, “You’ll never stop plie-ing so we have to keep finding ways to love it”) as well as committing to being present with each other while we are learning. This is serious and lovely business.

How are YOU are re-imagining your relationships within programs, organizations, schools, and companies that you have been associated with for multiple years? Do you find this work satisfying, frustrating, or even worth it? How are you experiencing the impact of being able to re-imagine and transform that which you had previously been comfortable with?


Ashley Hensel-Browning

Ashley Hensel-Browning | AIE ‘08 | A teaching artist who lives, works, and plays in Vermont with her family and many dancers in a variety of settings. | Website

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