I recently started tutoring some teens who are preparing for their SATs. Now, even if I had ever taken my SATs in high school—and it is doubtful, and if I did I probably just colored in the dots randomly or in the shape of a butterfly or something—even if I did, it was so long ago that I wouldn’t remember the SAT game anyway. So I’ve really had to scramble to learn the game and its rules. And I’ve had to re-learn how to write a good sentence.
Most of what we learn in life recedes into the subconscious. When I write a sentence today, I don’t call up the rules of grammar to do it; I use the rhythm and flow of the words as my guide. Does it sound right? If not, how can I fix it? But that isn’t entirely useful for a high-school senior preparing to correct grammar and punctuation in the Writing section of the SATs. I needed to brush up on real strategies. Now I see suffixes and root words everywhere: I’ve become a conscious learner in order to become a more effective teacher.
This was true when I started teaching Dance in World Cultures, a university lecture course I taught for four years. When I began, I had better than average knowledge of the subject but it was no where near the amount I’d collected by the end of my tenure. With Gerald Jonas’ Dancing as my primer, I set about researching all I could about dances from across the globe, discovering all I could about their histories and their political and cultural contexts. I also learned a great deal from my students. Many of their research papers provided me with personal insights not available in scholarly documents. (And by the by, the Internet has since then exploded with excellent—and not so excellent—summaries of rare and popular dances, making this research much easier to accomplish.) Teaching DWC was, for me, a huge learning experience and I continue to rely on the knowledge I acquired then to provide context details to my blogs. In fact, most of what I know about world geography and politics I learned through teaching about dance.
I have also experienced this ebb and flow of learning and teaching as a dance student and teacher. As a student, when we are learning a new step, we have to become conscious of endless minutia: drop the tailbone, lift the sternum, drop the shoulders, bend the knee, no not that knee the other knee, and on and on. We are building knowledge one bit at a time until finally it becomes second nature. We then perform it as a gestalt; an instinct born of long-term conscious practice.
When the student becomes the teacher, she has to bring all those efforts, those minutia, back into consciousness. In the effort to reproduce the learning process, to create a logical pedagogy, the teacher is forced to rediscover nuances long submerged. And she may have to figure out some nuances that she’d overlooked in the first place. She’s learning to dance again and will be a better dancer herself for her efforts.