Articles and 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
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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.

Dance Teacher 2025: An Invitation to Dialogue on Art, Potential, and Power
by Jessica Nicoll
A paper presented at the Next Move Conference, ArtEZ, Arnhem, The Netherlands May, 25-26, 2018
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Looking at the teaching of pedagogy in relation to future needs of our society, Dance Teacher 2025 suggests we explore ideas through dialogue and self-scrutiny. David Bohm described creative dialogue as a way to shape understandings together. “The thing that mostly gets in the way of dialogue,” he said, “is holding to assumptions and opinions, and defending them.” This reflection on teaching and learning asks readers to consider three overlapping themes—art, potential, and power—and, in doing so, to dig into the assumptions we make about our students and ourselves around such themes. How does our teaching reveal what we assume about the nature of potential, the idea of teaching as a performing art, and the use (and sometimes misuse) of power in the studio or classroom? From which assumptions would we like to unhook, and how might we begin to make changes?

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.
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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.
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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
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from Sharing the Unknown
John Dewey (1910) said that a teacher’s status as an artist is “measured by his ability to foster the attitude of the artist in those who study with him…Some succeed in arousing enthusiasm, in communicating large ideas, in evoking energy. So far so well; but the final test is whether the stimulus given to wider aims succeeds in transforming itself into power” (p.220). Processes that help students generate their own ideas, sustain their engagement, and reflect deeply on their work can shift the power so that students will to continue their own artistic journey after they leave our class or mentorship.

There is humility in this stance. I cannot know what my students can or want to create. My experience and expertise help me know when and how to offer guidance but also make me aware of the power of my words to disrupt students’ process. As the choreographer Kei Takei reminds us, “I should not be safe in my creativity” (cited in Kreemer, 1987, p.18). The safest place in teaching is to repeat the known, to deliver instruction unquestioningly, and to see artistic development as a sequential, predictable process. If we truly believe in our students’ unique artistry and that teaching itself is an unfolding artistic process, we enter the unknown together everyday.

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
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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
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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.

Reflective Practices in Living, Learning and Teaching:
A responsive approach for teachers of the arts
By Barry Oreck and Jessica Nicoll
Unpublished paper prepared for ArtEZ, Arnhem, The Netherlands
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A summary of our approach to teaching and facilitating workshops in reflective practice.

From Reflective Practices:
Throughout our careers as performing artists and teachers of children and adults we have adopted and developed reflective practices that we offer to other teachers of both the arts and general education. Our approach is not a method or formula but, rather, a stance toward learning, teaching, and art. We invite students of pedagogy to experience and explore teaching as an artistic process that can uncover and develop individual styles and voices. The ultimate purpose of reflection is the integration of body, mind, spirit; to deepen rather than interrupt experience so that we make meaning that leads to action and improvement.

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

Through the Eyes of an Artist: Engaging Teaching Artists in Educational Assessment
By Barry Oreck and Jane Piirto
Published in: Hybrid Lives of Teaching Artists in Dance & Theatre Arts: A Critical Reader Cambria Press, 2014, pp. 231-251 Edited by Douglas Risner and Mary Anderson
Professional teaching artists offer a unique and vitally important set of skills and perspectives to children and schools. They see and interact with students very differently than most other adults in the school. Their perceptions of students — what they observe and value, and how they respond to and nurture students’ abilities — often directly challenge traditional ways of perceiving and evaluating students. The ways in which schools typically measure students’ intelligence, achievement, and potential guarantee that many highly creative, expressive, smart students will be unappreciated, or worse, punished for the very qualities most appealing to teaching artists. By nurturing, recognizing, and articulating students’ positive artistic behaviors and talents, artists can raise appreciation, understanding, and expectations for teachers, peers, and the students themselves.
Teaching artists rarely have the chance, however, to carefully collect and share their observations about students. While many artists routinely use techniques of performance-based assessment in their professional work, far fewer have the training or the time to apply those methods systematically and fairly in educational settings. This paper reports on multiple case study research investigating the experiences of six teaching artists who have implemented the Talent Assessment Process in Dance, Music and Theater, a multi-session, observational assessment process in schools in New York City and Cleveland. We were interested in how the artists’ perspectives of students were shaped, how their backgrounds and professional experiences had contributed to their teaching approach, and how the process of careful looking and assessing children affected their teaching. The results reveal critical elements of the assessment process and the preparation of teaching artists to effectively use and embrace observational assessment in their practice.
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