How do we approach a master class? (A 3-Part Exposition)

Part 1: The teacher

For Part 2, click here. For Part 3, click here.

For a class to be considered “masterful”, there must be an element that furthers the learning for the students. A teacher must be experienced in the certain subject they are teaching and are able to offer information unique to their career path. For example, a juggling coach would be perfect to teach a juggling class because they are able to demonstrate the action and work with the students to achieve the goal of 3 balls in the air. A juggling coach would not be perfect to teach a class on Thermodynamics because it is not in their field. It makes logical sense.

So then, why are there teachers, that are currently working right now, who show up unprepared and uneducated in their respective skills? If they are not a master of their craft, then they cannot offer a master class. They are free to explain to the students that possibly they are still in training or almost finished a degree of some kind, but it is vital that that information is being communicated to the students. Afterall, most teachers nowadays balance teaching jobs as they continue to study their respective subjects. Whether or not that is the case, a teacher cannot stand in front of a class of eager students and pretend to carry the appropriate education on their back. It will show very quickly if a teacher is under-qualified. In addition, the students are most likely paying for this service, making it immorally wrong.

Now, there are instances where a teacher may be asked a question by their student that the teacher cannot answer. This is maybe due to the fact that a student has taken the information they learned from their teacher and expanded upon it. This is a teacher’s ideal goal for a master class because it shows that the student is at a point in their learning process where they feel comfortable and able to create their own hypotheses. The old saying of “The student becomes the teacher” is, in all forms of pedagogy, exactly what a teacher wants for their students. While it might frighten the teacher, the students are supposed to transition out of being beginners. That is why a master class is a great opportunity.

Let’s gravitate to a more specific example: a dance teacher who offers a class in popping and locking. Whether or not the students are starting from scratch or are already well-versed in this style, the teacher should choose to promote this as a master class. This style is a strand of hip-hop that requires profound coordinating of usual body parts. Some teachers would even say that it is more difficult to learn than ballet. So, there must be some way that the teacher is setting the students up for being interested in the style. If the teacher is qualified, they are welcome to market themselves as a master of popping and locking and the students will then be able to have a better respect for their teacher.

It begs the question if all dance classes should be labelled with “master” in the marketing. Shouldn’t all dance teachers be masters if they are old enough to teach? Sadly, this is not a sound argument because there are instances where a dancer thinks they have automatically graduated to the status of teacher. It is agreeable to say that all dance teachers can dance, but it is inaccurate to say that all dancers can teach. Whether or not, a dancer has had impressive training in a countless number of styles, there is a different perspective when teaching dance. Ultimately, the dancer must switch their brain into a less egotistical frame of mind. This is not to say that dancers are selfish. Dance is a very community-based genre of art. However, dancers must be able to let go of trying to show off their capabilities so that the students are actually learning rather than just watching. A master class is not for a teacher to dance their own choreography or exercises and abandon the proper values of teaching. It is for students to take their skill level to new heights. If a dancer wants to choreograph a combination and have another person provide the teaching of it, that is perfectly fine too.

So, to aptly call a dance class “master”, the teacher must be educated in the style they are teaching as well as focused solely on the students’ growth throughout the class.

To conclude this section, a teacher’s role in a master class rests on their history of training and their ability to communicate how a student will get to be at that skill-level. Any wavering of this perspective will send the students down a reverse path of development. Similarly, if a teacher wants to sleep at night and feel like they are a great teacher, they must remember to put the students first. Teaching is not an easy task to do, but when done correctly, it has the potential to be very significant in a student’s life.

How do we approach a master class? (A 3-Part Exposition)

Part 2: The students

For Part 1, click here. For Part 3, click here.

Now, to move onto the other humans in the room. It is crucial to understand that there will be an immense variety of students in a master class, whatever the subject. Due to the natural developments of the human brain, every student learns differently and at a different pace. Therefore, if the student is having trouble understanding the teacher or the concepts at play, then it may not be their fault. Students should use this obstacle as a way to further understand what helps them to learn. Here’s an example: a student is taking a course on Data Management and the teacher asks them to read the next chapter out of their textbook. For some students, this technique caters towards independent learning which can be beneficial for shy students. According to this website, this is referred to as Solitary or Intrapersonal Learning. However, for other students, they would rather learn with the teacher’s voice as the whole group of students participate in discussion because it offers a sense of communal trust. This is called Social or Interpersonal Learning. Of course, there are many more ways to learn and these are what make humans special. Thus, blaming the student for their difficulties is absurd because it may be a simple change of trying a different teaching method.

Let’s switch gears here. Not to be negative, but what if the student really is the problem? It is an appropriate question to consider because when a teacher outputs all the information they can in a manner that is helpful for the specific student, it is up to the student to take it and run with it. Unfortunately, there can be students (mostly young) who take the opportunity of a master class for granted. They might see it as a normal thing that they get ever week or so and might never see the great privilege they are getting. They might pretend they are bored and try to mess around with the teacher in hopes of getting a laugh out of the other students. Even still, a teacher cannot be directly blamed if a student is acting out in class or disrespecting the environment. The goal for the teacher is that the students are mastering their skills, but this cannot proceed if the student has no discipline or curiosity for learning. Indeed, this may come as they mature. If the students really take into consideration how powerful class time really is, maybe they will stop wasting it with silliness. After all, they are probably not the ones paying the high fees for a master class.

It is evident how a student approaches a master class when they make a blunt mistake. For example, if a dance student falls while executing a pirouette turn, they may laugh about it, cry about it, brush it off, slap themselves for it, ask the teacher for more guidance, hide from the teacher… the list goes on. Mistakes are the most natural thing to happen in a master class, yet they are often seen as failure or weakness. Due to pressure from the others, the student may feel they cannot make a mistake because their peers would look down on them. This student dynamic will ruin the opportunity for growth, and make the students feel like they have to be perfect. So, whether it comes from the teacher, a parent, or the student themselves, making a mistake should be expected in a master class. Then the student can let go of any anxiety that’s stopping their development and strive to be better with each day. Nobody wants to feel like they are incapable of something great.

So, for a student to really “master” their skills and perform to the best of their abilities, they must honour the gift of class and set free any worry that they are going to look bad. This is easier said than done for some students, but if each and every student in the group is supporting one another, everyone can learn in the style that suits them best.

To conclude this section, here is a video of a young Brianna taking her first Stomp The Yard class with Dahlia Caro at Leeming Danceworks in 2012. Notice the fear in my face. I was the youngest of the group and definitely the least experienced with the style, but I remember feeling safe enough to try. Dahlia was always a very comforting teacher who wanted to see the best out of her students. Go check her out on Instagram here. This video documents an extremely scary moment in my life, however, I like to look back on it as a successful one too.

 

How do we approach a master class? (A 3-Part Exposition)

Part 3: Social media

For Part 1, click here. For Part 2, click here.

Another huge part of how we approach a master class that has taken off in recent years is social media. It has mostly taken off in the dance world, so this section will be geared towards the society of dance in North America.

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Whether or not a teacher or student uses it in a class, social media has changed the way we approach a master class. There are now countless videos online that display a combination of moves from the end of a dance class. If you are unaware, go check out Tricia Miranda’s YouTube channel here, and you’ll see exactly how popular these videos can be for viewers. It’s as accessible as ever to watch what the teacher and dancers worked on. So, it begs the question if it is changing the dance world for the better or for the worst.

Starting off with the pros, social media allows dancers/teachers to share their experience within a master class for the purposes of archival material. The teacher may want to develop a portfolio for future work or to reference for a later project. This is an admirable desire because it shows that the teacher is proud of their work and thinks that others can be inspired by it. Likewise, the dancer may want to show off (in an un-diva way) the movements and concepts they worked on because they were satisfied with their improvement during the class. This is also an admirable desire because it shows that a dancer is not afraid to expose their mistakes and achievements. The dancer is putting themselves up for critique and again, building a portfolio for future jobs/opportunities. Posting a video for everyone to see not only helps promote the teacher/dancer, but also the space they are dancing in. Millennium Dance Complex in Los Angeles has built a reputation upon posting dance videos, and it has grown as a popular studio ever since. More people gravitate toward it because they know it will provide a platform for pursuing a career in dance. Wonderful! Everyone can grow!

Another benefit to social media is that audiences can decide if they would like to try a certain master class and what dance styles appeal to them from viewing a video posted on a teacher’s/dancer’s account. This creates a community of openness for dancers who feel they are new to a certain style, as well as an opportunity for advanced dancers to try other styles/teachers. Again, another wonderful situation for growth!

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However, when looking at the cons of social media’s role in the dance world, there are many destructive habits that are constantly being used. One of these being the idea that if you do not post about a master class, it is considered that you were not there. There is a certain amount of pressure that comes with posting because the audience may forget about you if you do not show them what exactly what you do with your time. This pressure can be so toxic and negative for everyone. It can turn us into self-centered people whose only ambition is to get attention from others. In addition, we may feel like we missed out on a master class if a certain post gets tons of likes or comments, even though the class is completely separate from the video that is posted. FOMO is real.

Not only does social media create more pressure to post about every class, it also can ruin the incredible experience of a master class for a dancer/teacher. A dancer might end up spending the whole class worried about getting picked for the video that they will lose all sight of what a master class if for: learning. Let’s say a teacher has a high following on social media and the master class they are teaching gathers a crowd of over 100 students. It is almost certain that this teacher will end out the class by finding a group(s) of dancers that they feel did the best and video taping the combo/routine for posting. That is so much extra pressure on the students!! They may end up feeling like they cannot actually attempt new concepts because then the video may not be “post-worthy”. In my own experience, I have taken many classes where the teacher does not even seem interested in how the students are progressing because they are more fixated on how good their video will look. What a waste of time!!

If a teacher is spending the whole hour and a half thinking about which dancers look good together and which dancers do not deserve to be in the video, they are putting up a wall between them and the students. A class cannot be deemed “master” if the teacher prioritizes the end result of a class rather than the journey it takes to get there.

So, it is a bit of a mixed bag when looking at social media and master classes. Do we continue to share what we did in hopes that others will be inspired? Do we continue to share what we did in hopes that others will like us? It’s up to us to use our knowledge as dancers and teachers to make a decision about social media. Or else, it could lead us to spoil the great blessing that is a master class.

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WW1: A War that was Out to Get Women

A woman of today’s time could easily be labelled as an independent force, due to the advancing freedom of expression and changing workplace conditions. However, a century ago, this was definitely not the case. In the early 20th century, a woman was not yet able to vote and had only just begun working alongside her male companions (Dodd 330). These modifications created a complicated divide between the sexes and put women at risk for being viewed as second place to the men fighting on the front line. As well, it is worth mentioning the extreme pressure women faced to withhold the demands of their respective countries while armies marched elsewhere. The major inequalities women faced while the First World War was in bloom caused historians to reflect differently on the development of feminism. In comparison to the modern day woman, the governments’ regulations around the world manipulated how women were to feel and be treated as to cater to the intensities of the First World War. Women felt helpless in secret services, felt lonely due to the diminishing population of men, and were likely unaware that the government was using them as puppets for war propaganda.

When looking at the historiography of how women are portrayed during the First World War, there is a distinct contrast when the 1970 revolution became a place for American and British women to speak out about the issues surrounding sexual harassment and the objectification of women. Writings published from then until now, have brought about critical discussions on the subject of women being mistreated in the First World War, helping to initiate feminism as a significant social movement (Metinsoy 19). For example, an article written in 1975 by Oxford University openly argues that although women were finally allowed to work in occupations other than a mother, their positions as munition workers, typists, janitors, or railway employees were simple, low-level jobs at the bottom of the economic hierarchy (Greenwald 156). As stated in a more recent publication by Canadian author Diane Dodd, wartime meant that men would be away from these duties and thus, women had to step up, although paid less than what men would have earned (Dodd 328). Therefore, it was only until the last quarter of the 20th century that sexist workplace conditions were brought into the light of the public eye. Before then, as the Second World War and Vietnam War finished, women were still depicted, by the United States and United Kingdom governments’ standards, as less than men (Redmond and Farrell 331). The portrayal of women has transformed over the past century in historians’ eyes, helping more women to speak out about the inequalities between men and women.

In Britain, espionage was a useful tactic so that secrecy could remain a part of their offensive strategy. Considering this, it is vital to delve into the remarkable imbalances between male and female spies. In Tammy M. Proctor’s book, she examines the way British women in espionage were seen as too emotional to be taken seriously for the job, adding in that the government thought women would fall in love with the enemy due to their “romantic natures” (Proctor 43). Indeed, this speculation that women are more emotional than men has been floating around society for many years, and continues to be an issue in current political situations (Ladkin 402). On the other hand, it is unintelligent to diagnose all women with this problem. This stereotype classified women as unfit for the secretive role and caused women to face disadvantages against the idolism of men in espionage (Proctor 50). When a woman missioned to double-cross an enemy line, she could use her sexuality to pre-maturely gather information for the government, but was then pushed aside (Proctor 149). It seems, that men were actually the more emotionally-driven workers due to the fact that they could be persuaded by a woman merely based on her sex appeal. Thus, women were wrongfully judged as too sentimental for an occupation as perilous as espionage because they were the most successful at the tasks they were given. Emotion should not be historicized as a weakness that kept women from performing their duties as intelligence workers. As mentioned above, female sexuality was used in British spying as a tool for targeting a man’s pleasure for having sex. Not only is this an extreme case of the objectification of women, but female spies agreed to pose as prostitutes because it was the only way women could exercise their patriotism. According to Proctor, the British media’s portrayal of women caused their secret service work to be demoralized and ineffective to their constant battle for equality: “Media portraits of women as virtuous, martyred heroines or avaricious spy-prostitutes made it difficult for real women to assert patriotism… without suspicion. Official secret service work for allied governments was one route to validation as “true” patriots, but even then, women’s work was suspect and their loyalty to their nations questioned” (Proctor 125-126). Further, these women who worked so desperately to be treated in a serious manner wanted their government to succeed in the war, and that meant accepting the profound sexism in this domain of military forces. British women everywhere, but particularly in espionage, were deemed similar to prostitutes with diseased reproductive organs leading to a strong regulation of women as a marginalized group (Kiere 250). This included curfews, and police officers were given the freedom to conduct strip-searches whenever they pleased (Proctor 31). All in all, female spies were unfairly treated as over-emotional prostitutes, causing their accomplishments as secret service workers to be viewed as invaluable.

Another example of how the First World War made the government act differently towards women stems from the population on the home front. Moreover, the women in the United States of America had to make do with the diminishing population of men who left for the battlefield. This is clearly stated in a book titled Singled Out, written by Virginia Nicholson: “The anguish of the surplus two million was exacerbated by the sense that they were unwanted by men not only as wives, but also as competitors in the workplace and social stakeholders” (Nicholson 24). It was standard, at this time in society, that the woman performed house work and motherly tasks, so that the man could provide for the family and greet his wife when he arrived home (Dodd 331). As men started to leave their families to fight for their respective countries, women began to feel a sad solitude because the normal household needed a mother and a father. American women became the majority in their communities, and that meant single women were not as likely to find a husband who could raise a family with them (Nicholson 83). Due to an extensive divide of the sexes, women were solely educated in areas such as needlework and languages rather than trades or economics (Nicholson 28). So it was not the woman’s fault that she could not handle a family by herself, but the control that the government had over their female civilians. This societal belief is to blame for why women on the home front had such a difficult experience living without a partner (Kiere 248). Equally, marriage as a whole became an implausible choice for women because they would just be left alone anyways. Nicholson exclaims that the mental health of women, as a whole, started to decline because they were stuck between choosing a life of poverty or a miserable marriage (Nicholson 147). The thought of marrying out of a loving relationship disappeared during the war, and depression arose throughout the minds of the surplus woman. Some women tried to use their allurement skills as a way to make money, leading to men in local nightclubs to treat them like prostitutes (Kiere 260). Consequently, this led to more oppression of women wanting to be open about their sexuality. In sum, there was not enough men to go around for the amount of women that stayed home to take care of the family, making the home front a very depressing place for American women.

On the other hand, maybe it was the case that, at the time, women were unaware of the lack of fairness. The legacy of British women, as well as Ottoman and American, has been studied and analyzed by historians in a variety of ways (Jensen 198; Metinsoy 20). Many believe that propaganda was a defining feature in the empowerment of women, in lieu of it being shameful for women (White 52). If it is true that women could not imagine their lives being any better, then it is possible that the government was brain-washing them. For instance, the White Feather Campaign, explored by Susan Grayzel, had an oxymoron kind of effect for women who participated in it because, in actuality, they were not given any real power at all (Grayzel 20). When a British woman gave a white feather to a man who had not enlisted in the army, she was just aiding the government in their twisted way of recruiting more soldiers. Rather than exercising her power as an influential woman, she was being innocently abused by the government by means of propaganda. Likewise, if a woman gave a feather to a military man who happened to be out of uniform on a particular night, she was ridiculed for her mistake (Gullace 202). In addition, the British government meticulously planned that women would never achieve the same status as men, no matter what field of work they pursued. In her book Women and the First World War, Grayzel writes that “women could join the military’s auxiliary corps [to construct ammunitions] and be ‘the woman behind the man behind the gun’” (Grayzel 13). In regards to this, women were never the intended superheroines at all. Instead, they were tricked into being the government’s toys and were perpetually treated as second priority to men. If the White Feather Campaign intended to make women feel less included in the war, it succeeded in more ways than one. This is also exhibited when enlistment posters were filled with women as an excuse for a man to sign up (Gullace 184). Similar to the ways modern advertisers use the sexuality of women to sell their products, the government thought they could market from displaying women in the media so that men would feel more personally connected to the war (Grayzel 10). As a final point, there are many oxymora to be found in the governmental structure of the war, including the fake power that was given to British women in the form of a white feather or a recruitment advertisement.

In conclusion, the First World War took a lot out of the wishes and aspirations of women because the governments of many countries required women to live in a regulated way. Whether it was because of female espionage workers being treated like overly sensitive prostitutes, because of a wife feeling incapable without a husband, or because of the government providing inauthentic ways for women to succeed in social status, the years of 1914-1918 mainly pandered to the needs of the war and the men fighting in it. The historiography of how women were portrayed during this time has evolved over the last century, resulting in authors writing from a modern day perspective. When comparing the treatment of women during the time of the Great War to the progressive movement of the “Me Too” campaign, there has been an extreme shift. It would be foolish to look at the accomplishments of women in 1914 as a victorious milestone for feminism because there were still many issues surrounding sexism. This is similar to the way Christians sacredly follow a book that was written ages ago. More important milestones have come along and shaped how society treats women today. As history constantly evolves, it is imperative to evolve one’s judgment of the progression of society. The years of 1914-1918 are not on par with the forward thinking of today. Simply put, World War One was out to get women.


Works Cited

Dodd, Diane. “Canadian Military Nurse Deaths in the First World War.” Canadian Bulletin of Medical History, vol. 34, no. 2, 2017, pp. 329-363. https://muse-jhu-edu.ezproxy.lib.ryerson.ca/article/671547.

Grayzel, Susan R. Women and the First World War. Pearson Education Limited, 2002.

Greenwald, Maurine Weiner. “Women Workers and World War I: The American Railroad Industry, a Case Study.” Journal of Social History, vol. 9, no. 2, 1975, pp. 154–177.          JSTOR, http://www.jstor.org/stable/3786250.

Gullace, Nicoletta F. “White Feathers and Wounded Men: Female Patriotism and the Memory of the Great War.” Journal of British Studies, vol. 36, no. 2, 1997, pp. 178-206. JSTOR, https://www-jstor-org.ezproxy.lib.ryerson.ca/stable/176011?pqorigsite=summon&seq=1#page_scan_tab_contents.

Jensen, Kimberly. “Women’s ‘Positive Patriotic Duty’ to Participate: The Practice of Female Citizenship in Oregon and the Expanding Surveillance State during the First World War and Its Aftermath.” Oregon Historical Quarterly, vol. 118, no. 2, Summer2017, pp. 198-EBSCOhost, http://search.ebscohost.com/login.aspx?direct=true&db=ahl&AN=124209916&site=ehost-live.

Keire, Mara L. “Swearing Allegiance: Street Language, US War Propaganda, and the Declining Status of Women in Northeastern Nightlife, 1900-1920.” Journal of the History of Sexuality, vol. 25, no. 2, May 2016, pp. 246-266. EBSCOhost, doi:10.7560/JHS25202.

Ladkin, Donna. “How Did That Happen? Making Sense of the 2016 US Presidential Election Result through the Lens of the ‘Leadership Moment’.” Leadership, vol. 13, no. 4, 12 July 2017, pp. 393-412. http://journals.sagepub.com.ezproxy.lib.ryerson.ca/doi/pdf/10.1177/1742715017714841.

Metinsoy, Elif Mahir. “Writing the history of ordinary Ottoman Women During World War 1”. Apasia, vol. 10, 2016, pp. 18–39. doi:10.3167/asp.2016.100103.

Nicholson, Virginia. Singled Out: How Two Million Women Survived Without Men after the First World War. Penguin Books Limited, 2007.

Proctor, Tammy M. Female Intelligence: Women and Espionage in the First World War. New York University Press, 2003.

Redmond, Jennifer and Elaine Farrell. “War within and Without: Irish Women in the First World War Era.” Women’s History Review, vol. 27, no. 3, May 2018, pp. 329-342. EBSCOhost,doi:10.1080/09612025.2016.1223311.

White, Bonnie. The Women’s Land Army in First World War Britain. Palgrave Macmillan, 2014.

Death Finds a Life (The Book Thief)

What is lost when one dies? Although it seems that his/her passionate soul disappears, the ones who mourn them still feel the person’s presence like a sweet fragrance in the air. The hair clip of a young girl holds the memories of her caring smile. The medals of a fallen soldier will still shine enough to remember his or her loyalty. During times of war, the smell of death lingers constantly, reminding citizens to focus towards bright love in the darkness that surrounds their country. Historic authors such as Markus Zusak incorporate the relationship between violence and compassion through the eyes of their narrators. Relayed by Death himself, The Book Thief shows how vulnerability brings Death closer to humans, yet he stays strictly passive, magnifying the reader’s sympathy for the characters in the novel. Set during the Holocaust, Death demonstrates no power of what unfolds, reveals his intrigue for the complicated minds of the characters, and becomes emotional and human.

Specifically, Death lacks the abilities to control the storyline, because his meticulous task is to steal all of the deceased bodies. He is on a tight schedule with no time to alter the destiny of the characters, as Claire Rosser writes about in her review of the novel. She discusses that, “[t]he narrator is a Being who is with humans at the moment of death, who carries their souls away. (…) It’s a busy time for the narrator, of course, in the middle of a world war, with bombing, the concentration camps, and all the death and destruction” (Rosser). While Death stands by, young children, like Liesel Meminger, are dealing with the scary events that rush so quickly in front of their inexperienced lives. He is not capable of saving dying Germans or killing harmful enemies. Therefore, everything that happens to the characters is their destiny, making the reader feel more sympathy for the atrocities of the Holocaust that Death does not initiate. Even though one would usually want to blame death for ruining lives and digging graves, this alternative Death is powerless. In addition, the soldiers suffering through the Second World War face ultimate decision making. During their travels by truck, Death silently watches them fight over a seat that they do not realize will be their doom: “One seat, two men, a short argument, and me. It kills me sometimes, how people die” (Zusak 464). As jobs are assigned, the other soldiers are risking the chance that their lives could end just based on where they sit in a truck. Death becomes the wallflower, tagging along for the ride. The characters control what they do and where they go, while the narrator sits on the side lines waiting to be assigned the job of carrying dead souls. Consequently, readers cannot accuse Death for the death of the characters. It is all up to the choices they make. Thus, Death is silent throughout the novel, designating his inevitable appearance solely for picking up dead spirits that chose the wrong path.

Not only does Death stay out of the way of the characters’ lives, Death discovers more about the humans he fears so much, as Liesel’s story is told. Her thievery of Germany’s books casts a haunting effect on Death, and while reading her adventurous journey, her reactions confuse him. The narrator monitors Liesel’s reactions to the deaths of her friends, and he comments particularly on her appearance. Though the aftermath of the bombing is traumatic enough, Death sees Liesel search for her family. He says:

“It amazes me what humans can do, even when streams are flowing down their faces and they stagger on, coughing and searching, and finding. (…) I realized at that moment that she was not wearing any shoes. What an odd thing to notice right then. Perhaps I was trying to avoid her face, for the book thief was truly an irretrievable mess” (Zusak 536-537).

Struggling to reunite with her family, Liesel uses her courage to find their bodies. Death notices her irregular qualities, showing that Liesel is his immediate target of interest. He never seems to get bored of the book thief, and her choices help him to conclude more about humans. Even as he is foreign to the humanist choices of the characters, Death is intoxicated by Liesel’s power. The story she writes gives him clues about the astonishing perseverance of the characters. Death is drawn to her, although her strong mind is void of the thought of giving up and dying. Also, in a review of the novel, Karen Breen describes Death’s attraction to Liesel. She writes: “In his many travels around the continent, Death becomes mesmerized by Liesel Meminger after her brother dies and she’s given over to a foster father (…) Death attempts to understand the dueling human compulsions toward great evil and great generosity” (Breen). That is to say, humans are complex characters; it would be quite difficult for Death to fully comprehend the motives of the characters he observes. With invisible eyes, Death’s attention stays glued to Liesel during her life. Liesel finds comfort in the words she reads, although she steals these books from other people. She chooses to solve her frustration with the war by making “her” books speak loudly for those who feel silent and hopeless. In the most perplexed manner, Death watches her riskiness and gradually becomes less afraid of Liesel. All in all, he is scared of the compelling characters he sees, yet Liesel becomes his muse as he starts understanding the human race.

In addition to Death’s confusion, Zusak utilizes the personification of his narrator to give him human-like qualities, shaping Death more like a human than Death thinks. Writer John Green explains in his review of The Book Thief how Death’s narration incorporates surprising fondness as he reads about Liesel’s life. He declares that, “[t]his is no Grim Reaper- we have here a kinder, gentler Death, who feels sympathy for his victims” (Green). Accordingly, the concept of death usually is described with themes of the Grim Reaper and hell. Instead, Zusak is able to oppose the conventional idea of death, injecting humanity in the narrator. The feelings of love and admiration for the dying characters infuse colour in Death. He participates in the mourning of passed loved ones. Although there is darkness and gloom during the war, Zusak focuses on the thought that Death just wants to bring the dead souls to a happier place. He knows his job is a crucial part of the journey out of life, but Death is considerate of the ones he picks up. Also, Death reveals his emotion towards the deaths of the characters. As Liesel’s friend Rudy is dying, Death reflects on his jovial personality, unveiling his tenderness for the young boy:

“On many counts, taking a boy like Rudy was robbery- so much life, so much to live for- yet somehow, I’m certain he would have loved to see the frightening rubble and the swelling of the sky on the night he passed away. He’d have cried and turned and smiled if only he could have seen the book thief on her hands and knees, next to his decimated body. He’d have been glad to witness her kissing his dusty, bomb-hit lips. Yes, I know it. In the darkness of my dark-beating heart, I know. He’d have loved it all right. You see? Even death has a heart” (Zusak 242).

With regards to the fact that Death is literally sucking the life out of Rudy, there is so much compassion for the boy. Death feels badly for the life Rudy will not be able to have, including playful risk-taking and moments of true love. Even though violence is striking citizens all over Germany, the concerned narrator realizes that the colours and atmosphere of the war would have been tolerable for Rudy, with Liesel beside him. Death knows the power of love, and he displays his vulnerable side. Contrary to stereotypes, Death’s role of the narrator forces his personal emotions and feelings towards the characters to be visible.

Above all, Death cannot puppeteer the characters in Markus Zusak’s The Book Thief, but he follows along, observing their lives and deaths like a bystanding human. He is curious of the choices that they make, and vulnerable to the fact that no matter how hard he tries, he can never choose for the characters. However strict his job is, Death always softens his heart for Liesel’s delinquency, and Rudy’s jovial distinction, even after they die. The impact of a person’s death is enough to reshape the way one views the cycle of life. Does the empty body of a corpse mean all emotion has seeped out of their bones? Saying that passion is slaughtered out of a deceased body is an ignorant concept because only by dying can one know what happens after death. However, dying people must be optimistic that as their breaths subside the true warmth and compassion that steered their lives, day by day, never gets destroyed. Thus, the ones who live on this cold-blooded earth can remember, even in times of hatred and violence, the powerful hearts of those who died. These hearts will continue to beat… unliving, forever.


Works Cited

Breen, Karen. “Best children’s books of 2006”. Rev. of The Book Thief, by Markus Zusak. Kirkus Reviews 74.23 (1 December 2006): 16. Gale Database. Web. 20 March 2015.

Green, John. “Fighting For Their Lives.” Rev. of The Book Thief, by Markus Zusak. The New York Times Book Review. (14 May 2006): 26. Gale Database. Web. 20 March 2015.

Rosser, Claire. “Kliatt.” Rev. of The Book Thief, by Markus Zusak. Kliatt 41.3 (May2007): 30. Gale Database. Web. 20 March 2015.

Zusak, Markus. The Book Thief. New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 2005. Print.


2018 Update: I wanted to share this because “The Book Thief” is currently in the works for a musical adaptation!!! Check out this video from Playbill.com for a recently released song (with the charming Luca Padovan playing Rudy and the elegant Isabella Russo as Liesel!!!) 🙂

Spine Development through Ballet Training

When I started teaching children, I immediately realized how little of the instruction I gave them remained in their memory over a full dance season. They usually come up to me at the end of the year and exclaim that the moment they will miss the most is playing the game “Freeze Dance” at the end of every class. Indeed, children that are three to five years old will enjoy having the artistic freedom to dance however they want, and I am not expecting them to remember every correction that I have for them. Most of the time they are put in my class so that a parent can drink a coffee in peace. Nonetheless, my inner critic that has the immense desire to train young children itches at me to do better with my teaching abilities, so that I can provide the most effective lessons. If I want to deliver a class where children are invested in new discoveries and are on a path to noticeable growth, I need to look further into what I plan for my classes, specifically in ballet. I see far too many postural habits that result in pain for my students when we stretch our hamstrings. In addition, I feel I am not reaching them in a way that will speed up improvement. As I work with young children to spark their interest in music and physical exercise, my ballet classes must be geared toward proper development of the spine and hamstring flexibility as to avoid future injuries or muscle imbalances.

In this report, I want to explore more of how children understand concepts in ballet dancing, and how to guide them to learn correct posture right from their first introduction to dance. By using imagery, conditioning from an anatomical point of view, and exercises that keep the body balanced, I will discuss particular exercises that cater to an average child in a ballet class. To narrow down my thoughts, I will refrain from discussing spinal deformities that involve surgery or other medical treatments, and I will only be including children between the age of three and five years.

Curving the Spine

The natural curvature of the spine often presents difficulties when toddlers start to grow taller and wider. Once the fetus has reached the third week of gestation, the spine starts its intricate expansion and each region blooms at different paces depending on the child’s physical activity (Akbarnia et al. 3). At birth, the lumbar spine is smaller in size to the thoracic and cervical sections due to the baby spending most of its time lying down however, after the age of three, the lumbosacral vertebrae and discs will grow more rapidly than the other vertebrae as the muscles learn to walk and jump (Akbarnia et al. 27). The pelvis adjusts accordingly to further the range of motion for the child and promote the coordination of opposite arm to leg (Pica 164) As for the thoracic spine, the circumference and volume of each vertebra grow exponentially during the child’s toddler years, and by the age of five, the concave curve that forms affects lung development and the size of the chest cavity (Akbarnia et al. 32). These primitive years of a child’s life are delicately changing the entire body structure causing constant remodelling, reorientation and alignment. The child’s brain activity relies heavily on instinct and emotional need therefore, the growing process is extremely peculiar to each child (Posner, Raichle 183).

The Ideal Posture

The unique positions of ballet lend difficulties for young children when they try to navigate through the world. Due to their limited muscle strength and continually growing bodies, the action of simply walking is difficult at times. To achieve a posture that is helpful for a young child, it is crucial to manage the spine from misshaping while letting the natural development happen (Akbarnia et al. 13). Generally, the most effective start to a class is to warm up the spine and find the quintessential ballet posture from a seated position. In their book, Conditioning with Imagery for Dancers, Krasnow and Deveau discuss the importance of aligning the spine before moving on to exercises that involve port de bras. The attachment of the arms to the scapulae and spine generates many situations of incorrect posture therefore, if the class begins by strengthening and stabilizing the torso region, travelling across the floor will be easier for the child (Krasnow, Deveau 113). For example, the exercise that is positioned by sitting with legs extended out in front helps to initiate the ideal ballet posture for a young child. They are engaging their hamstring muscles and adductor group to sustain the pose with their legs together in a parallel line, as well as accessing their erector spinae group to elongate the spine (Calais-Germain 75, 242). Not only this, but the dancers are able to practice the relaxation of their hips flexors by reaching the upper body forward over the legs as an additional stretch (Krasnow, Deveau 73). As a teacher, I appreciate this exercise because I can discover immediately the range of motion in my students’ lumbar spines. When I recognize that a student is not able to sustain extended legs as they reach forward, this shows me that their hamstring flexibility is weaker (Manire 1470). In a similar way, if a student expresses that they do not feel any stretch happening, I can suggest that they dorsiflex their ankles to provide more challenge (López-Miñarro et al. 72). It is this kind of analysis that teaching requires, so that a dancer does not feel left behind or bored in class. On the account that most children do not feel comfortable expressing their feelings yet, the teacher must be able to assess a proper plan for the child. With this in mind, I believe ballet classes for young children should act as an exchange of knowledge and movement, rather than a teacher who demonstrates while the dancers just watch.

Intelligently Dumbing it Down

Children are constantly seeing new experiences and interpreting ideas in complicated ways. If a student is taught a certain concept in a similar way that a teenager would be taught, the child’s brain stops thinking rationally and converts to an emotional state out of fear and confusion (Posner, Raichle 182). While they are eager to know information, it can be intimidating for them when placed in a dance class with other young dancers. Many influences of their thoughts include television, picture books, art, and electronic screens. All of these factors are defined by images that the child can store in their memory. With the use of imagery, the visual learner has an accessible thinking process resulting in a neuromuscular re-patterning for the child (Krasnow, Deveau XIX). If I incorporate this tool in my classes, there is a greater possibility my students will understand the complex positions in ballet training.

An imagery concept that proves functional for young dancers in the action of plié comes from Lourdes Hernandez in the ballet classes I have with her. The illustration is that the pelvis rides down into a toaster as the knees flex into plié, and recovers out of the toaster when extended (Hernandez). The intelligence of this is that if the body pretends to be a piece of toast, it would be painful for the pelvis to come in contact with the hot wall of the toaster. Therefore, the mind is forced to keep the pelvis in proper alignment as the knees bring the whole body downwards and upwards (Pica 38). I tried this image with my students over the last few weeks and noticeably, their pliés ended up being more weighted and their spine did not shift from correct posture. Also, my students were delighted to roleplay as a piece of bread and they continue to laugh each time we discuss this image.

During an exercise where the dancer must return to proper posture, I tend to explain the concept that the spine vertebrae are similar to the scales of a dragon. The students and I discuss that a dragon’s back has many little bumps that start from the top of the neck to the bottom of the tail. From my own personal experience, my students’ faces light up with joy to find that they can transform into a dragon. It would be impossible and ineffective to lecture the young dancers on the anatomical spine, especially since the spine has layers of muscles and skin covering it. The image of a dragon is popular in children’s media and literature thus, the dancers will be able to visualize the external scales of a dragon acting as their own spine.

Possible Outcomes

Although a three to five year old child is still too young to properly examine how their future growth will turn out, there are many dismorphifications that can occur if physical activity and proper prevention are not a part of their daily routine. Ballet training is a sublime kind of physical activity for young children as it incorporates music and movement in a way that does not feel tiring for the child. On the other hand, if the child is put in a dance class where the teacher tries to over-stretch their range of motion or instruct ballet posture in a damaging way, the young child may mature with spine problems. Especially if the teacher exclaims the words: “Pull up!”, this can lead to hyperextension of the spine, and a lack of oxygen running through the body (Hernandez).

A spine deformity that is commonly known is scoliosis. One explanation for this is having a low body mass as a young adolescent which can delay menstruation and result in scoliosis (Watanabe et al. 284). However, there are other possibilities for this unfortunate spine structure. In their article titled “Current insights into the aetiology of adolescent idiopathic scoliosis”, Latalski et al. refer to different opinions on the cause of scoliosis once the patient is in their teen years. While some researchers say that every circumstance of scoliosis is too unique to declare a general cause for the condition, the major contributor is most likely an “imbalance of growth of anterior and posterior structures… [because] when bending forward, the vertebral bodies at the apex tend to move out of the way by rotating to the side” (Latalski et al. 1331). This explanation is a clear indication of muscles and/or ligaments that could be stretched or torn too far to produce the imbalance in the spine. If I want a dancer to develop their spine in a healthy way, their muscle memory must be trained to stack their pelvis underneath their rib cage and head with the most balanced muscular strength and ligament stability. Avoiding scoliosis should be number one for a young dancer and their teachers as they practice the unnatural positions in ballet. Otherwise, the benefits of ballet will be missed.

A Non-Medical Perspective

Looking at the immature spine, there are treatments that only doctors with more medical education and practice can execute. Exercises that are included in a ballet class do not perform miracles to cure spinal cases because surgery is sometimes the only option. With this being said, my goal as a dancer and teacher, whom has only the knowledge of personal experience and anatomy textbooks, is to establish the key postural stance for young children so as to eliminate the chances of scoliosis or other permanent deformities. Making ballet class an enjoyable and collaborative experience for the students will lead them on a path to success. Others questions that resonate around this topic are how to train young dancers to control the hard-to-find intrinsic muscles in the spine and which exercises diminish the range of spiral in their spine. There is still more research to be done to perfect a class plan that includes a variety of exercises and guides growing dancers towards a safe and healthy future in dance.


Works Cited

Akbarnia, Behrooz A., Muharrem Yazici, and George H. Thompson. The Growing Spine: Management of Spinal Disorders in Young Children. Springer, 2011.

Calais-Germain, Blandine. Anatomy of Movement: Revised Edition. Seattle: Eastland Press, 2014.

Hernandez, Lourdes. THD 200 Ballet, Sept 2017, Ryerson University, Toronto, Canada.

Krasnow, Donna, and Jordana Deveau. Conditioning with imagery for dancers. Thompson Educational Pub., 2011.

Latalski, Michal, et al. “Current Insights into the Aetiology of Adolescent Idiopathic Scoliosis.” Archives of Orthopaedic and Trauma Surgery, vol. 137, no. 10, 2017, pp. 1327-1333. https://doi-org.ezproxy.lib.ryerson.ca/10.1007/s00402-017-2756-1

López-Miñarro, Pedro A., et al. “Acute Effects of Hamstring Stretching on Sagittal Spinal Curvatures and Pelvic Tilt.” Journal of Human Kinetics, vol. 31, no. 1, 2012, pp. 69-78.

Manire, John T., et al. “Diurnal Variation of Hamstring and Lumbar Flexibility.” Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research, vol. 24, no. 6, 2010, pp. 1464-71, Nursing & Allied Health Database; SciTech Premium Collection, http://ezproxy.lib.ryerson.ca/login?url=https://search-proquest-com.ezproxy.lib,ryerson.ca/docview/507139457?accountid=13631.

Pica, Rae. Preschoolers and Kindergartners Moving and Learning : A Physical Education Curriculum, Redleaf Press, 2014. ProQuest Ebook Central, https://ebookcentral-proquest-com.ezproxy.lib.ryerson.ca/lib/ryerson/detail.action?docID=1486520.

Posner, Michael I., and Marcus E. Raichle. Images of mind. Scientific American Library, 1999.

Watanabe, K, et al. “Physical Activities and Lifestyle Factors Related to Adolescent Idiopathic Scoliosis.” The Journal of bone and joint surgery. American volume., U.S. National Library of Medicine, 15 Feb. 2017, http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/28196030.

 

GaGa In Comparison to Classical Ballet

There seems to be an unbreakable mask hovering in front of nineteenth century ballet dancers. Although the movements have the definition of beauty written all over the dancers’ bodies, a flow of energy stops and distracts the audience from the piece of art. By the end of the next century, an Israeli artist was able to exceed expectations for all who watch his choreography and all who experience his classes. Contrary to the façade of classical ballet, Ohad Naharin’s technique and choreographic language asks dancers to reveal the truth when discovering their pain, demonstrating a connection to pleasure and healing. In return, he initiates movement from their reactions, rather than demanding for an unnatural instinct to be danced. This relationship between Naharin and the dancers at Batsheva Dance Company transfers onto the stage, leaving audiences to be completely entranced by the execution.

Naharin explicates his dancing as a movement language by the name of “Gaga”. When Naharin was on the path to retiring from professional dancing, he endured a serious back injury, causing numbness in his legs and pelvis. This led him to further understand how to move in a healthy way and to ask why he put himself through the physical toll of dance for so many years. In her in-depth article about the structure of Gaga, Deborah Freides Galili refers to the Gaga-guru himself for the answer:

“The deconstructive component of Gaga reflects Naharin’s response to his physical injuries. ‘I really needed to dance both to heal and as a source for body pleasure, to compensate for the pain that my body gave me,’ he explained, ‘and to be able to overcome the injury by becoming more efficient, more coordinated, more clever, so I can bypass the injury and still do more with less’” (Galili 381).

The language of Gaga is meant for all body types, of any age and at any level of fitness, so it can truly teach the proper alignment to any person. Professionals at the Batsheva Dance Company train profusely in Naharin’s pedagogy, taking more Gaga classes than ballet each week (Heymann, 2007). With its focus on imagery, stamina and isolation, Gaga guides movers towards a deep awareness of the body and widens the physical kinesphere past the arms and legs (Galili 377). As Naharin continues to develop his language, he refines the way it heals human flesh and how it combines voluntary movement with involuntary movement.

In an odd way, Naharin finds himself falling in love with the dancers he works with, due to the emotional journey they go through. Their movements excite him, and it brings out the best results on stage when he taps into their life. In rehearsals, the dancers work endlessly on one simple movement as Naharin critiques. They often repeat it over and over until Naharin can sense the exact quality he wants of his dancers (Hot Docs Cinema, 4). If the choreography is stale and lacking of any truth, Naharin reminds them to touch upon their daily lives, including sexual adventures and eating delicious food (Heymann, 2007). From there, the dancers, though in an emotional state of chaos, can finally indulge in the feeling of the movements. They send artistic energy to Naharin, and the process continues. Many choreographers, specifically in ballet, plan ahead of time how the dance will progress, and how the dancers are going to move. This concept is very productive because the fear of failure can be overlooked. It is safe. Now, not only does Naharin play rough, but when a new batch of dancers are casted, he reframes his creations differently so that the work stays fresh. He dares to mix up the playing field that he once established, for the sake of his philosophy. The brand-new cast of humans have brand-new emotions, sex drives, or favourite books that they will speak about to the audience through their movements. For example, his widely-praised Deca Dance (first premiering in 2000), has suffered many reconfigurations:

“[Naharin] explained, ‘Deca Dance is something I have been playing with for some time. It’s a modular piece that keeps changing. I can reconstruct my work and create something coherent from the broken pieces, that gives me, the dancers, and the audience pleasure’… Certain segments— most notably a whimsical section in which the performers pull audience members up onstage to dance and a building, powerful movement accumulation to the Passover song ‘Echad Mi Yodea’ (‘Who Knows One’)— are present in almost every rendition. Yet at its core, Deca Dance is a fluid work in a perpetual state of evolution” (Bales 82).

Moreover, Naharin is always in constant evolution of his masterpieces because he realizes that his life is never static. The audience can appreciate this type of process, especially when they get to watch other audience members onstage, becoming part of a communal dance. Naharin is using his dancers, and in this case, his audience for inspiration, making sure to connect to the truth of humanity. The essence of the piece is never destroyed when different dancers are set to perform his choreography. He revisits the past while keeping the origin of the piece still alive. Likewise, he works with other companies, such as Hubbard Street Chicago (Nagel 93), and the creative process begins anew where he, again, falls head over heels for the various dancers.

As the prima ballerina exhibits beauty in her tutu, Naharin’s choreography is akin to the quality of ugliness and pain. Stripping down to pedestrian-style costumes, his dancers are praised by Naharin for diving full-force into a movement, even if it causes them to hurt their bodies. The dances in Batsheva’s performance repertoire delve into controversial subjects such as the vileness of war and death (Heymann, 2015), leaving no trace of hesitation from Naharin himself. Unbelievably, what helps the dancers accomplish these tasks every time they perform is their ability to connect to a pleasuring experience in the pain. The most extreme body contortions are enjoyable to the dancers, with Naharin’s specific instructions at bay (Galili 383). Dancing is a popular form of muscle injury, but he encourages them to “enjoy the burning sensation” (Naharin). They challenge the limits of their own sensitivities by questioning what their threshold of pain really is. Whether the task is to cause an internal earthquake in the body or to plunge into a frenzy of madness (Erwin 7), Naharin welcomes the dangerous risks of his movements as a way to display despair on the theatre stage. In addition to this, a solid background of technique is required to achieve Naharin’s choreography, which is danced effortlessly by his stunning performers (Stahl).

Taking from many dance styles, including the ever more structured ballet, Naharin transforms movement into a feeling of complete availability. One particular exercise that is utilized in his performances and taught in his classes is “Groove”. It is described by his students “as a highly pleasurable and communicative way to transmit the flow of energy through the body and channel it to others” (Gittings 14). Indeed, when attending a performance by Batsheva Dance Company, there is an atmosphere of total conversation between the audience and the dancers. The textures that Groove express link together the social aspect of street dancing and the concept of surrendering to the music’s rhythm. It is a repetitive bounce inside a dancer’s body that, at times, can result in the dancer hurting their knees or pelvis (Heymann, 2015). However, when the dancer commits all of their body parts to the beat of a song, the audience feels a sense of ease and delight. Likewise, the dancer has no choice but to lose control to the lure of Groove. Naharin chose this tool to mesh together the two most poignant emotions of a person’s life: “If you tap into pain and pleasure at the same time, you open up a huge range of feelings in between… Life can contain both of these concepts” (Heymann, 2007). Thus, the pain and pleasure of Naharin’s choreography encompasses the community of dance as a global activity. Grooving to a piece of music is universally known as an addictive release of energy while spending time with friends and family, and it branches out to every audience member who watches a Batsheva performance. Naharin incorporates this catharsis in his dance methodology for the benefits it comes with, and the audience does not hold back its desire to be a part of it.

To present a theatrical art form to an audience of emotional people, it is not enough to simply move. While the 19th century deemed a classical ballerina as its shining star, Naharin tenaciously brings the house down in the late 20th and early 21st centuries without looking to please the eye. His dancers strive to channel their dynamism out to the audience, and Naharin intuitively channels the human condition. Digging into the raw bliss of being in pain is one of Naharin’s greatest skills as an Israeli choreographer and teacher… but his genius does not stop there.


Works Cited

Bales, Melanie, and Karen Eliot. Dance on its Own Terms: Histories and Methodologies. Oxford University Press, 2013. Print.

Erwin, Laura. “A Personal Journey into Ohad Naharin’s Gaga Technique: Discovering Pedagogical Applications for Engaging the Performer.” Journal of Emerging Dance Scholarship (2014): 1-24. Web. 31 Mar. 2017. http://www.docs.google.com/viewerng/viewer?url=http://www.jedsonline.net/wpcontent/uploads/2014/06/Laura-Erwin-JEDS-Manuscript-final-edits-2-LC-LE-6-20.docx

Galili, Deborah Friedes. “Gaga: Moving Beyond Technique with Ohad Naharin in the Twenty-First Century.” Dance Chronicle 38.3 (2015): 360-392. Web. 31 Mar. 2017. http://www.journals1.scholarsportal.info.ezproxy.lib.ryerson.ca/pdf/01472526/v38i0003/360_gmbtwonittc.xml

Gittings, Diane J. “Building Bodies with a Soft Spine. Gaga: Ohad Naharin’s invention in practice, its roots in Feldenkrais and the vision of a pedagogy”. Academia, uploaded by Diane J Gittings. Sept. 2013. Web. 2 Apr. 2017. http://www.academia.edu/6458350/Building_ Bodies_with_a_Soft_Spine._Gaga_Ohad_Naharins_invention_in_practice_its_roots_in_Feldenkrais_and_the_vision_of_a_pedagogy

Heymann, Tomer, director. Out of Focus. Heymann Brothers Films, 2007. Vimeo, uploaded by Ohad Naharin, http://www.vimeopro.com/user11134273/ohad-naharin/video/139978582

Heymann, Tomer, director. Mr. Gaga. Heymann Brothers Films, 2015.

Hot Docs Cinema, Review of Mr. Gaga, directed by Tomer Heymann, Hot Docs Ted Rogers Cinema, April 2017, p. 4.

Nadel, Myron H., and Marc Strauss. The Dance Experience: Insights into History, Culture, and Creativity. Princeton Book Co, 2003. Print. Naharin, Ohad. “About Gaga”. Gaga people.dancers. Web. 28 Mar. 2017. http://www.gagapeople.com/english/about-gaga/

Stahl, Jennifer, editor. “Going Gaga”. Dance Magazine. 19 Mar. 2009. Web. 28 Mar. 2017. http://www.dancespirit.com/how-to/modern/going_gaga/