"You cannot create the conditions which enable others to change unless those conditions exist for you."

Seymour Sarason

Articles & Papers

Can the "Best Practice" Trend Leave Room for the Unknown?
by Jessica Nicoll and Barry Oreck
Feature article in the Journal of Dance Education special issue on best practices, September 2014
Download the PDF

As teachers of the arts we are committed to nurturing the creative
potential of all our students. We value process and want to inspire young artists to find their unique voices. But do we? Habitual models of teaching, along with external pressures in the settings in which we teach—including pursuing models and language of “best practice” borrowed from the business world—can lead us away from those central values and toward a more teacher-centered, outcome-directed approach that might unintentionally limit our students’ agency in making art. Learner autonomy in the arts—qualities of which include confidence in navigating the unknown, the ability to
look at one’s work more deeply, and the capacity to independently sustain one’s artistic creation through often unpredictable progressions—is an overarching goal for us. Our challenge is to pursue that goal, and share our processes with others with similar goals, remaining cognizant of the risks of adopting “best practice” concepts and jargon.

Learning to be a Cairn 
by Jessica Nicoll
A reflection on artistry in teaching in Organic Creativity in the Classroom (2014), edited by Jane Piirto, publiched by Prufrock Press.
(download the PDF)

from Learning to be a Cairn
How, then, do I help my own dance students, particularly choreography students, be creative? I don't think I do help them be creative. I start with the belief that they are creative. I try to help them notice what intrigues them and trust themselves to play and follow where their own creativity leads. It's a process of looking and listening, more than teaching, or at least more than teaching in the manner of instructing. And the looking and listening is the process we go through together. My students and I often look up from our observations with raised eyebrows and open mouths as if to say, "Huh! Who knew that was about to happen?" We may say nothing in those moments, but we do start to laugh. The mysteries are so funny.

Looking for Artistry
by Barry Oreck
A reflection on a career of searching for the roots of artistry in performance, learning and teaching in Organic Creativity in the Classroom (2014), edited by Jane Piirto, publiched by Prufrock Press. 
Download the PDF

from Looking for Artistry
A (artistry) encompasses ways of being and learning, artistic attitudes and curiosity, appreciation of beauty and qualities of things, a need or drive for expression, an emotional connection. Perhaps the most accurate definition of A would be access: access to one’s inner voice, to the intuitive, subconscious, connected self. A is also integration in the sense of connecting the physical, emotional, cognitive aspects of our being.

Sharing the Unknown: Developing Autonomy in Artistic Creation
by Jessica Nicoll and Barry Oreck
A paper delivered at the Close Encounters: Dance Didactics in the Contemporary World Conference, Stockholm, Oct 30, 2012
Download the PDF

Dance Dialogues: Creating and Teaching in the Zone of Proximal Development
by Barry Oreck and Jessica Nicoll
Published in: Vygotsky & creativity: A cultural-historical approach to play, meaning-making and the arts. New York: Peter Lang
Download PDF

Quote from Dance Dialogues – Julia, age 15:
“Dance, although you may practice it solely for yourself, is not a private practice at all. Dance is a community with your teacher, your classmates, your audience and especially yourself. If you string all of these people together, and include them into your thought process, your movement will be heard.”

From Dance Dialogues:
Vygotsky said, “The act of artistic creation cannot be taught,” and described helping students “organize the conscious processes in such a way that they generate subconscious processes.”  Arts teachers often focus, however, on demystifying art-making through conscious processes, assigning problems that students solve by isolating manageable parts. Inadvertently, this may avoid the heart of artistic creation and creative play: the finding of interesting problems.

A Creative Approach to Technique
by Jessica Nicoll
Download PDF

From A Creative Approach to Technique:
There are three ways in which I aim to blend artistry and creativity with technical skill while connecting to the spine of the class: (1) choose the focus or theme for the class and then examine how the technical skills to be presented can relate to that focus or theme; (2) find what might make a “technical” exercise dance; and (3) offer challenges that surprise and engage students. These challenges push technique beyond acquisition of skill and into territory that is interesting, fun, and alive.

A Powerful Conversation: Teachers and Artists Collaborate in Performance-Based Assessment
By Barry Oreck
Published in: Teaching Artist Journal, 3 (4), 220-227. 2005
Download PDF

From A Powerful Conversation:
At the heart of the D/M/T TAP assessment is a conversation between artists and teachers about students engaged in an arts experience. To take full advantage of the potential power of that conversation, we need to focus the observers’ attention on specific characteristics, capture and keep track of the information and insights, and officially schedule time for the conversation to happen. Without this kind of serious attention, insights and observations often remain general and are easily forgotten and lost. Attending to our observations with this level of detail helps all of us – teachers, Teaching Artists, students – clarify our intentions and deepen our work.