02. Teaching

PEER EVALUATIONS

​Fall 2021 Peer Evaluation Reflection

In support of providing a structured learning process for students, I believe that a good practitioner needs to be willing to receive feedback and be active in personal reflections. This year, I received four peer reviews from Professor Robin Collen, PhD, and Professor Emeritus Don Borsh, MFA. They aimed to support me in the sharing of best practices and build awareness about the impact of my teaching. Having these opportunities for Robin and Don to observe my teaching and discuss ways to better align my practices with goals and strategies of the dance discipline and within the department has allowed me to explore deeper, and understand how to perform each little part of what I do more thoroughly, to create a better future of teaching. 

 

I have examined, reflected on, and responded to Robin and Don’s feedback from my technique courses (modern and ballet) through the following questions (content links):

1.) Do I have cohesive course designs?

2.) Do my teaching methods promote learning?

3.) Do I interact enough with students?

4.) What changes might improve my courses and teaching?

5.) Full Observation Notes of Robin Collen and Don Borsh

 

1.) Do I have cohesive course designs?

Don’s Comments:

Modern III/IV Technique 

  • Overall, a good solid class with a lot of history built into the movement sequences; very danceable!

  • Draws from vocabulary in earlier sequences, with some very challenging twists and directional changes. Nice!

 

Robin’s Comments: 

Modern Technique (Master class with levels I-IV)

  • Regarding the opening exercise: Great way to tune into the ensemble and one’s body and get the imagination going.

  • Cyn - Kept theme of the core area including spine, initiating.

 

Modern III/IV Technique 

  • Straddle sequence with rotations, nice, requires lots of core strength. 

  • Regarding floor warm-up: Ongoing music has been playing for an hour– what do you think? What do students think of this ongoing sound? 

  • Regarding Arm/ upper body sequence: Cyn offers full and broad technique development. Walking around, talking less, nice to let them just dance and own it. Suggestion: check knee alignment on parallel pliés; some students rolling in.

  • Regarding very fast parallel and turned out tendu sequence: Consider pulling out concepts for clarification regarding how/where to engage rotation when the leg is side, and how to manage hips when gesturing one leg while standing on the other. The music fit perfectly.

  • Regarding across the floor: Cyn has a very clear technique for excellent modeling. Nice adagio traveling step. She has the music for a 5. She had them clap it out. “Since everything has been duple in this class up to now, it’s nice to see the change in time signature.

  • This session is well planned. 

  • Cyn did not have students do the sequence on the 2nd side and I wondered: Does it matter that it’s not done on both sides? Asymmetrical training?

 

Ballet 

  • Nice, basic set of pirouettes from every position—in place. 

  • Regarding adagio movement sequence: Clear, not too long. “Very square. Four counts for everything you do. Do it right and left 3 times. First-time music is very clear. Be sure of the counts because the music gets less clear.” Great how well Cyn knows this. 

 

My Reflection: 

  • I am happy to hear that there is recognizable evidence of cohesive course design, including movement choices for teaching, historical references, planning, themes, musicality, development, and clarity in the demonstration. 

  • Robin’s modern III/IV comment to “check knee alignment on parallel pliés; some students rolling in.” addressed two students I know of who roll in their feet during both parallel and turned-out positions. We have worked on emphasizing equal pressure to the floor on the whole foot, especially the toes. We also talked about if the tendency is to roll in, add to the body alignment checklist, shift the foot weight to the outer foot and baby toes, so there is equal weight distribution. One student is also in ballet, where I emphasize it with her. 

  • Robin’s modern III/IV comment regarding “very fast parallel and turned out tendu sequence,” I am not sure if she thought the movement was too fast. I can say that I have considered a slower tendu combination and will work on that. 

  • Robin’s comment for modern III/IV about ongoing music for the warmup. “What do you think? What do students think?” Equally, in a Graham or Horton technique-based warm-up –about 50 minutes, it is common that a live accompanist will play throughout this period, adjusting tempos, mood, and/or atmosphere along the way. This keeps the warmup flowing, so dancers can stretch, strengthen, and fortify the full body in a shortened period of time. With that idea in mind, ideally, a live accompanist is the way to go – when we can afford one, of course. Alternately, I selected a style of music for its moderate and steady pulse, using different variations throughout the semester like world music, acoustic tunes, minimalism, downtempo jazz, and electronic ‘lounge’, which Robin heard. It provides a consistent tempo for the students and the time was spent efficiently warming up, instead of stopping and starting to manage the music selections. Another alternative could be silence, which I have tried. Music seems to engage students more and having calm, mild music choices first thing in the morning seems an agreeable way to warm up. 

  • Regarding, Robin’s comment for modern III/IV about movement symmetrical (or inversion) training, I value it fully in all technique classes that I teach. Sometimes, however, this process may need to be extended into more than one class if students need more time to process the material. With that said, I realize that this training should be included in every class.

 

2.) Do my teaching methods promote learning?

Don’s Comments:

Modern III/IV Technique 

  • Often challenges the class to analyze their movement and verbally answer. Good. Encourages critical thinking.

 

Robin’s Comments: 

Modern Technique (Master class with levels I-IV)

  • Regarding the dégagé with Limón body:  Cyn – “the off-balance balance - think about what happening inside the body.” A student questions and Cynthia throws it out to the group: “What part of the body is reaching to the ceiling? What’s reaching for the ceiling?” 

  • Good job breaking it (the movement) down to bit size sections.” 

 

Modern III/IV Technique 

  • Cyn is specific about the rotation of the hand in how to hold the band for each strengthening position. Cyn says, “Reach with the elbow and suspend.” – She had them show her.

  • Cyn asks, “What would that look like?” “What would be the logical thing to do?” “How are you going to travel?” Step on the diagonal. Cyn is giving the opportunity for students to figure it out for themselves. “Listen for the downbeat.”

  • See her comments in #3 (first comment)

 

My Reflection: 

 

3.) Do I interact enough with students?

Don’s Comments:

Modern III/IV Technique 

  • See his comment in #2.

 

Robin’s Comments: 

Modern Technique (Master class with levels I-IV)

  • Cyn welcomes students warmly and with laughter as they arrive.

  • Regarding the opening exercise ‘across the desert,’ Cyn invited comments about how it felt. Cyn – noted that this sort of activity is a tool for choreography, a tool for warming up; Cyn shared that she took a Butoh class, and it took 45 minutes to cross the space.

  • Cyn asked students to describe the experience with the foot; she listens to and responds to students positively. – also, critical thinking.

 

Modern III/IV Technique 

  • Friendly greeting each student and friendly conversation as they warm up.

  • QUESTION: Could you challenge them to be responsible for owning the sequence and the accents/rhythm by not talking throughout? If you refrained from verbally guiding them throughout, you might be able to give more personal corrections. 

  • Sense of humor.

  • Guides them on how to move with particularities in the music. Clarifies facings. Cyn gives lots of positive confirmations with “there you go!” when students correct things. 

 

Ballet 

  • She gets students to answer what is important to think about. Nice to get them owning the details! 

  • Correction to [a student] about the ways she was standing without the confidence to ‘go out on stage.’ [The student] sat down after she went across the floor.

 

My Reflection:  

  • I feel that questions #2 and #3 go hand-in-hand: teaching methods promote learning and interacts with students. These are the fundamentals of hands-on teaching and the teaching of dance. Dance technique (or active learning) requires students to participate both physically and verbally. It can offer practice in problem-solving and critical thinking and often results in physical, mental, and emotional growth. 

  • Robin’s comment for modern III/IV, “gives lots of positive confirmations with, there you go!” I consider this ‘indirect language’, and I am working to give more ‘direct’ feedback to students. 

  • Robin’s comment about ballet, “Correction to [a student] about the ways she was standing without confidence to ‘go out on stage.’ In dance, a mannerism is an unrelated action like body language or a nervous habit expressed beyond the choreography’s intention or character. Students are trained to eliminate this when they dance to eventually perform the movement on stage as the choreographer intended. It is essential to educate students that class is also an extension of performing on stage, which is why the class syllabus states that performance is largely emphasized. 

  • Robin’s comment for ballet (and following the previous) – [The student] sat down after she went across the floor. The student shared before class feeling muscle tightness, so I suggested modifying her movement. Was there a connection between the correction about the mannerisms and the student sitting down? I suspect not because the student was instructed about mannerisms and performance presence throughout the semester. After class, I asked how the student was, and she said the large movement was too much, which was why she observed.

  • Also, I am really happy that the positive and encouraging class atmosphere that I try to build, to facilitate learning, is being noticed by guests coming into the class, as Robin did.

 

4.) What changes might improve my courses and teaching?

Don’s Comments:

Modern III/IV Technique 

  • Have all students remove their socks for across the floor/locomotor work. 

  • Clarify counts in sequence – The class might better grasp the dynamic of the sequence if they understand the TIME.

  • The runner’s stretch sequence and the prone/arcing sequence –examine placement more thoroughly. 

  • One small language comment: ‘kay’ and ‘okay’. Don’t ask the class for permission or affirmation. 

  • Referring to extending elbow; use the terminology: if you want the elbow to point high and diagonally forward and to the left, say “high, forward, left!” They’ll get it. Just a suggestion. Use the time during the run of the final sequence to have students watch and give peer feedback, rather than just taking turns running the sequence.

 

Robin’s Comments: 

Modern Technique (Master class with levels I-IV)

  • The Dégagé with Limón body: Some areas that the students could use attention – use of turnout in 2nd position kick and alignment of spine/knees in 2nd position plié.

  • Two students are in socks; does less traction matter?

  • Cyn breaks it down mirroring them at the side of the room. 

 

Modern III/IV Technique 

  • Regarding floor side-lying sequence: One area I notice that students need to focus on is the strength needed in lateral rotation on standing leg when carrying leg to the side.

 

Ballet 

  • I wonder about words to explain straightening legs. Does “straighten” promote more hyperextension? How about “lengthen”, “elongate”, etc.

  • How can you help them move the head of the femur but not the pelvis?  

 

My Reflection: 

  • Improvement, adaptability, and advancement are all essential traits to be a quality teacher. Robin and Don’s feedback above are all extremely helpful, and I am excited to dive deeper and approach their suggestions on new levels! 

 

Full Observation Notes of Robin Collen and Don Borsh:

 
 
 
 
 
​  Course Observations and Notes

 PhD, Professor in Dance, Department in Theatre and Dance &

Associate Dean of Arts and Sciences, SUNY Potsdam

       MFA, Professor Emeritus in Dance, Department of Theatre 

and Dance, SUNY Potsdam

​2020-2021 Peer Evaluations 

 PhD, Professor in Dance, Department of Theatre and Dance &

Associate Dean of Arts and Sciences, SUNY Potsdam

PhD, President of Miami Dance Futures &
Former Dean of Dance at New World School of the Arts, Miami  FL
PhD,  Professor in Theatre & Head of the  Department of
Theatre and Dance, SUNY Potsdam
BA MMus HonARAM FRSA, 
President Designate of Karlsruhe's University of Music, Germany
Docent M.A. in Applied Musicology, Utrecht University, Netherlands
PhD,  Associate Professor in Psychology, Department of Psychology & Chair of Faculty Senate Admission Committee, SUNY Potsdam