Wednesday, January 25, 2012

Hannah Emerson: Reflections on Phase II of the Fellowship

As they neared the completion of Phase II of the Kenan Fellowship, each Fellow was posed three questions by their teaching artist mentor. Here, Hannah responds to the questions from her mentor, Lynn.

How has your understanding of Aesthetic Education changed from your first introduction to the Lincoln Center Institute’s methodologies during Summer Season, through the planning processes and observing teaching in the classroom in a variety of settings, to leading activities in the classroom? How has this impacted your understanding of arts education?

Before the Fellowship, if terribly persistent, I could speak, with a bit of hesitation, as you might expect, a probable maximum of five minutes about Aesthetic Education, and that’s only due to my awfully proficient researching skills. However, at the same time, I did speak with confident ease on the subject of learning about Aesthetic Education, specifically my thriving curiosity in the practices of Lincoln Center Institute.

I distinctly remember my introduction to the Capacities for Imaginative Learning, all ten of them. The words were familiar; although, at the moment, comprehending how to create the concepts of Questioning, Living with Ambiguity, and Creating Meaning into active forms appeared foreign. Each Capacity is intricate on its own, and when attempted as a group, I found myself up a creek with many paddles to keep track of. Needing to swim a few strokes back and direct my focus on a couple at a time, I realized I already practiced numerous, if not all, Capacities in some form or another.

While assisting and observing Lynn, both in the planning sessions and classroom lessons, I began formulating a clearer idea of why Lincoln Center Institute is confident in their methodology. I never saw LCI’s philosophy as fabricated; nonetheless, while reflecting I find a bit of under-confidence in its affluence. Spending time in the classrooms, watching the students and the teachers unfasten their imaginations, I experienced the benefits first-hand and grew an affection for this practice.

Just last week, I took my first stab at facilitating parts of the classroom lesson. I appreciated jumping into the mix, steering the wagon for a bit. The control was both exhilarating and frightening at the same time, and when I itched for a bit of guidance, I managed to send visual cues in Lynn’s direction. Needless to say, she was consistently there to give support.

Do I feel leading parts of the activities increases my understanding of Lincoln Center Institute’s philosophy? Undoubtedly. Actively involved, with an emphasis on active, is where my learning thrives. Would I say I completely understand every element of the Lincoln Center Institute’s philosophy on aesthetic education? No, I would not. But I will and can say I am a work-in-understanding-process. I am in-process of meditating over the means of LCI-land, watching my knowledge and understanding bloom. Captivated by just how captivating the experience can be impacts my understanding of arts education. Overall, I am noticing how much I yearn to understand education, how much I want to absorb, how many inquiries I continue to have. I understand my understanding of arts education is minimal and I understand I never want to stop growing the minimal until it reaches its absolute maximum.

What are you discovering about your own artistic process, the collaborative process, and the business of producing your own work through your sponsored artistic project?

At this point in time, my sponsored artistic project has more than graciously provided me with newfangled information. Not only re-acknowledging my ever-present particular appreciation for the “process”, I managed to conveniently uncover what I am currently referring to as, my formidable fear of the “product”.

Smashingly impassioned, the rehearsals are always a merriment. I am constantly re-learning how to trust myself, to let things unfold, and accept the reason behind not staying bound to unhealthy forecasts of predefined products. I am noticing how instantaneously I embody stress due to distorted perceptions of expectations. Even if it’s relatively different from my initial hypothesis, I’m learning to discern what is not working so I can take action and move in a more satisfying direction. I also find it interesting how very much I benefit from the constant support available when collaborating. Instead of feeling hindered, frustrated, bound, or restrained by my inability to control all aspects of the piece, I’m surprising myself and am actually finding more breath, recognizing I have the pleasure of another equally invested and intrigued artist beside me. Incessantly sharing my excitement with Lizzy is fulfilling and when I am having a down day; she provides the support I need, and I am always more than willing to return the solace.

In terms of producing my own work, I am realizing how I do adore it. Overall, this experience is a first on many levels. First co-production, first artistic proposal, first press release, first postcard, first scheduling, first budget, first piece much longer than 6 minutes. Other than unceasingly familiarizing myself with the grounds I need to cover when producing work, I’m re-recognizing my love for creating which managed to slither away so quickly after turning my head for just a moment in a different direction. Thank goodness my internal compass re-calibrated without delay.

During the Fellowship, you’ve been exploring and learning about the dance community in New York City through attending performances in a wide array of venues, attending The Bessie Awards, taking classes at various studios, connecting with other UNCSA alumnae and meeting new people. What is your current view of yourself within this community, and how do you envision yourself within this community in several years? If you decide to remain in New York, what would you like to achieve in, say, 5 years, and what steps might you need to take to do so?

When I look at my relationship to the dance community of New York City, I tend to visualize myself in shoes very similar to the new kid’s at school. Still learning my way around, I am unsure where everything is, who the teachers are and how they teach. I’m observing the cliques, seeing who supports who, who I want to work with and who can help me with my work. If the dance community was a small city, I find myself currently located on the outskirts. I am habitually meeting new people, running into faces I’ve met before and re-introducing myself while engaged in a small chat about how things are going. Even though I’m constantly roaming around, I feel, possibly, until I perform and present work in February, I will still be a complete mystery in the eyes of my new comrades. After February, I hope a layer or two of abstruse will peel its way off my skin.

What do I esteem to achieve in 5 years? Personally, I think that’s a heavy question. Until recently, I found it nearly impossible to tell anyone my desired accomplishments in 5 years’ time. I was, and at times still can be, the girl who always revoked five-year plans. I saw them as unrealistic; how can I possibly know where I will be in five years?, I remarked. I change my mind daily just by gaining small doses of new knowledge; therefore, how can I say what I want to do in the coming year is what I will want to do in five years. For me, to answer this question, I am first going to notate the difference I see between five-year plans and five-year intentions. In my mind, the word plan carries more absolute in its definition when compared to intention. If I intend to do something, try my hardest, and failure comes, I have a more suitable time dealing with the emotional aftermath. Lucky for me, as I write this reflection, I’m finding the true reason why I am against five-year plans; very much related to my fear of product is my fear of not meeting expectations. I always thought, once I put my plan out there, unrolled it on the table, I set up expectations and opened possibilities of disappointing not just myself but also my companions. As I start to let go of my need to please, I am going to share my five-year intention, or at least a piece of it. I, Hannah, see myself as an active member of the dance community in New York City in the next 5 years and, among many other thrilling activities, I will be performing, choreographing, and striving to make art a more indispensable component of education. In five years, I’ll let you know how it goes.

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