Faculty Senate President Dorothea Herreiner talks to Rosalynde LeBlanc Loo, associate professor of dance, about the transition to teaching in an online environment. Associate Professor LeBlanc Loo has taught at LMU since 2012. Her entry-level class “Modern/Contemporary Dance Technique II” prepares first-year dance majors for the physical and intellectual strength and stamina they will need to be successful.
LeBlanc Loo is also producer and co-director, with acclaimed cinematographer Tom Hurwitz, of the documentary film “Can You Bring It: Bill T. Jones and D-Man in the Waters.” The film is as used part of LeBlanc Loo’s pedagogy as is her long association with Bill T. Jones. “Can You Bring It” premiered at the Doc NYC festival on Nov. 19, 2020. Watch the trailer here.
Dorothea Herreiner: What is this course about and what are your goals when teaching the course? [addressing someone not familiar with your field]
LeBlanc Loo: “Modern/Contemporary Dance II” is the entry-level course in modern dance technique for the dance major. (“Modern/Contemporary Dance I” is for non-majors). Therefore, the course is made up of the first-year cohort. Similar to all of the dance classes for the first-year cohort, there is a basic goal of strength-building and muscle conditioning to prepare the incoming students for the physical rigor of the next seven semesters as a dance major. But the specific goals of the course deal with teaching the movement techniques of the modern dance pioneers, a group of choreographers of the early 20th century whose exploration of movement was a conscious rebellion against what they saw as the constraints of Puritanism and ballet.
Early modern dance, a form developed almost entirely by women, absorbed very specific social, political, and artistic trends – the U.S. suffrage movement, cultural exoticism and appropriation, modernism in art and music, as well as the development of psychoanalysis (e.g. Freud and Jung) – so the expressiveness of the body, in particular the expressive capabilities of the torso and spine, was highly valued. In “Modern/Contemporary Dance II” we embody this movement, gaining an understanding, through both the body and the intellect, of the context in which modern dance developed, its aesthetic values, and the ways in which, by virtue of its codification within the Western dance canon, it can be implemented for efficient and expressive dancing today.
DH: What are important disciplinary-specific aspects of this course?
RLL: In addition to the above, one of the critical aspects of this course is to keep moving! I try very hard to deliver all of the contextual and historical information of this course while my body is moving and/or while their bodies are moving. The reason that is so important is because most of the first-year students are coming to us from environments where dancing only happened after school and on weekends. The convention that they have been steeped in is that academics (studying) are stationary and dance (moving) is recreation. Well, when they come to LMU as dance majors, dancing becomes the primary academic study. So, in order to build the stamina and strength needed to dance all day, as well as to break the default thinking that research and study only happen from the neck up, I try to integrate the intellectuality and physicality as much as possible. There is a lot of talking and moving at the same time, which is its own crazy coordination of brain synapses.
DH: What are some main lessons you learned this spring, summer, or before about teaching online?
RLL: One of the main lessons I learned is that establishing connection in a course is almost more important than the information itself. The person-to-person connection is the road on which the information travels. If that connection is bumpy or fractured, the information of the course gets lost. And here, I am not talking about technological bumpiness, whether or not your internet connection is working, I am talking about inter-personal bumpiness – the loss of the ability to communicate how you truly feel. When I now start with, “How ya doin’?” and dedicate the next 10 minutes of the class to hear each student’s answer, I feel that we are all learning, we are not taking a detour from learning. Whether it is movement material or math, the person is the hub of learning, so when personhood is in jeopardy there can be no education. The cultivation of the student-teacher relationship is definitely something I did not consider so deeply before COVID forced us all into this remote learning environment.
DH: What are some main differences between teaching this course in person and teaching it online/remotely?
RLL: I am more of an intuitive teacher than a pre-planner, I think, so when I taught this class in person, I had a general idea of what I wanted to teach but I didn’t plan much beyond that. When the course is in-person it has a live accompanist. Therefore, each class felt like a live collaboration between the musician, the students, and me. In order to maintain receptivity to the accompanist and to meet the students where they were, I really read the room in the moment, many times coming up with exercises off the cuff to respond to what I felt we needed to learn or review for that day. Reading the room and responding to the moment was how I felt most effective and alive as a teacher.
Now, through Zoom, it is not possible to have a live musician, so everything is done to recorded music. It is also very time consuming to learn dance phrases, not to mention it is very hard to feel the collective energy of a Zoom room, so making something up on the fly is virtually out of the question. A lot gets lost in the ether, like musicality, emotional quality, and detecting subtle transfers of weight so I have to be very measured and calculated about what I am delivering. I now work within the confines of a set repertory that I record and put on Brightspace as a series of short tutorials so that we don’t take up too much time learning new material. When the students know the set repertory of material, it frees me from having to demonstrate as much so I can sit close to the screen and watch their form. I feel teaching through Zoom is very, very different from my natural teaching style. I miss being able to read the room and riff off of the creativity of the musician and what the students’ bodies are telling me in terms of learning needs. But every day I remind myself to view this time as a different teaching experience, not any less of an experience. It is an opportunity for the scope of the course to expand and for me to develop areas that are not as natural for me as a teacher.
DH: What are some new elements that you introduced into the course in the online environment?
RLL: The creation of these pre-recorded videos is definitely new for me. Also, department-wide, as a unifying assignment across all of the movement technique classes, we have created “Dance Technique in Context” and “Dance Literacy” assignments. While these assignments were created in response to many pressing factors, most strongly the current socio-political movement to embrace counter-narratives to the hegemonic ways of thinking, they were also designed with remote learning in mind. These assignments replace in-person engagements with dance, like going to see shows, with integrated online activities. A multi-faceted assignment that entails watching a documentary, reading a published article, then analyzing a version of a key dance on video and culminating with class discussion or discussion board postings is an example of integrated online activities. Creating these kaleidoscopic assignments for the online sphere hopes to somewhat match the multi-sensory experience of engaging with dance in person.
[perfectpullquote align=”left” bordertop=”false” cite=”” link=”” color=”” class=”” size=””]”I think the choice to begin, or to continue, a major in dance during a global pandemic is one of the most cogent acts of faith in art, in humanity, and in a brighter future that I have ever seen.” – Rosalynde LeBlanc Loo [/perfectpullquote]
DH: What are you most excited about in this course this semester?
RLL: I am most excited about the students themselves. I think the choice to begin, or to continue, a major in dance during a global pandemic is one of the most cogent acts of faith in art, in humanity, and in a brighter future that I have ever seen. It says a lot about who they are as people and their reserve of inner strength. It is an honor to be a part of the journey of this group of students who have made the choice to meet these challenges head-on and not run from them.
DH: What new opportunities does this new teaching environment provide?
RLL: As I said to the first-year cohort in Orientation to Dance, I think this time is giving birth to a new art form that lives at the intersection of motion and film. It is not dance; I believe the thing we call dance has to be a live medium because dance is really the crafting of energy. It has a visual by-product in the form of watching people moving through space, but that is merely the by-product. The art form itself is really about crafting that matrix of energetic exchanges between the people on stage and the people in the audience.
Then there is this other thing emerging on screens all over the place now, spurred by the pandemic, where the visual by-product of the moving body becomes this great material that the choreographer, cinematographer, and film editor can all collaborate on crafting. These filmic creations can be situated in the world, they are not dependent on the theater. They can be created remotely, and for much less money. And while I would not call this art form dance for all the reasons I just explained, it does act as a prosthesis for dance, using technology to extend the reach and possibility of movement. What do we call this amalgam of motion, cinematography, and editing? That’s for this great generation of COVID-era dance students to figure out.
DH: What would you like to suggest to your students?
RLL: Communicate, communicate, communicate. Unmute! And let your teachers know how you are, where you are, what you’re worried about, and what you feel confident in. Zoom can be cold, but it is all we have right now. We are grateful for it! But unmuting, at the very least to just say hello and goodbye, goes a long way.
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