Divided Loyalties

In the process of exploring the intersections between math and percussive dance I find that I seem to camp out in one subject for a while, and then pack up and move on back to the other camp.  Frankly, it leaves me feeling a bit fractured, which is interesting since I have declared in the past that in my program the two subjects come together ‘seamlessly.’ 

Maybe for the kids, yes, but not for me. 

I had a residency this past winter in Indianapolis that made me think of this.  The residency was part of a pilot project by Young Audiences to evaluate the structure of their new Signature Core Services and the elements that interact to create a quality arts learning experience. They wanted to know if and how these elements were brought out in this particular arts-based programming.  But me?  I was worried about how I was teaching the math and was surprised that they didn’t really care about that (for the purpose of the pilot).  That shows you where my mind is these days, doesn’t it? 

This issue shows up in my teaching.  When I am thinking too closely about the math, my feet don’t move in class.  They don’t talk.  I forget to use the one great attention getter I have that nobody else does — my tap shoes!  I forget to start our sessions with the art and instead hurry forward to the math.

I have spent years over in the dance camp, in the first half of my TA career and in the first few years of developing Math in Your Feet.  But these days?  These days as I teach I have, by and large, been taking the dance for granted.  I am quite surprised and somewhat alarmed to realize that I’ve been seeing dance as a means to an end.  I’m horrified, actually!  This is not supposed to happen in an arts-based integration!  I’m really supposed to be on the side of the dancing, right? 

The whole thing sometimes feels like I, as a single teaching artist, embody the entire reality of arts integration as a process and the inherent tensions therein.  I find it quite fascinating to reflect on this because, since it’s just me responsible for teaching both content areas, we can’t blame the tension on any conflicts between teaching artist and classroom teacher.

I think the reason I feel so conflicted may lie in the fact that I’ve been spending much of my creative energy this past year over in the math camp, learning more about math and math education.  As I work to figure out how to better support math learning I’ve been asking questions: 

What is math, really?  What other kinds of math are we doing in this program besides the ones I know about already?  What kinds of conversations are these kids having about the math while they’re dancing? What does it mean to ‘support math values in a rich context’?

So here’s a question: If the basic flow of the residency content stays the same, does it matter if my interests bias our focus, even if slightly?  Does it matter if my mind is over in the math camp while teaching a dance-based program?

In the end, maybe it doesn’t matter which camp I’m in on any given day or year because the truth is the kids are moving, they’re making dance, they’re thinking intensely with their bodies, and they’re learning a whole lot of math, all at the same time.  What do you think?

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