Professional Learnings Ripple Effect
August 8, 2023
Of my twenty years as a dance teaching artist, I can confidently say that I have learned the most in the last five years. One of my most significant times of professional learning was during the Covid-19 pandemic when I learned to adjust to teaching in a virtual space, and later a socially distanced space. As my teaching practices grew more creative because of the challenges of sharing a physically safe space, I also learned more and more about nurturing emotionally and creatively safe spaces for dancers.
Knowing that I get bored quickly, I took full advantage of our homebound time and schedule change to expand my relationship with Luna. I had previously done professional development and training with Luna through their partnership with San Francisco Ballet’s Dance In Schools and Communities program, of which I was a teaching artist. With the pandemic gifting me extra time and stripping away my commute, I jumped into many of the programs that Luna had to offer. I participated in the 2020-2021 Summer Institute, Practitioner Exchanges, the Teacher as Creative Practitioner Scholar course, and more. I didn’t realize it then, but the skills I was sharpening as a teaching artist through these experiences would connect to situations beyond my dance spaces.
I recently felt a calling and returned to school to become a school counselor. I learned some basic counseling techniques in my counseling classes that felt familiar as a creative dance teacher. The counseling technique of paraphrasing, or reflecting back what the “client” has shared to let them know that they are heard and understood, reminded me of a similar practice as a dance teacher. I want the dancers to know that I see the movements they are sharing and for them to recognize for themselves what they are doing, so I say things like, “I see big, circular movement” or “Anna is doing small, curling movements with her hands.” The counseling practice of asking open-ended questions is much like the dance teacher’s task of giving creative dance students open-ended movement prompts. The counselor and the dance teacher both aim to create a safe space, whether it is a space for emotional vulnerability or creative expression. Counselors are taught to be okay with being silent and just listening. As a teaching artist, sometimes the magic really happens when I don’t try to direct anything and just let ideas evolve. Of course, none of this happens unless you spend time building rapport, be it in the dance space, or counseling office.
Making these connections between my new adventure in school counseling and my comfortable, familiar world of creative dance made me even more grateful for Luna. Counseling and teaching creative dance aren’t so different. My years of learning and honing my craft as a teaching artist have prepared me for more than I realized. Cultivating a safe space to facilitate my growth is a gift that Luna gave me. And I’m here to pass it on.
– Genoa Sperske