I’ve danced ever since I can remember. As a little girl, I could picture a carillon ballerina spinning on her pointe shoes and I knew this was what I wanted to do. As a young student I was very resolute, and I plunged right into what I needed to do to pursue my dream, without questioning myself too much. Back then, I was attending a private school in my city in the south of Italy and my teacher, though very attentive to the education of her ballet students, was not excessively strict.
From an extremely young age, my classmates and I were already used to her talks about the beauty of artists who are true to themselves, who work hard on technique but are able to let go and express themselves beyond the steps, without fear of mistakes or failure. Conversations like this would take place frequently and we imagined, with curiosity, where this process would lead us.
At that time I was fourteen years old and I have golden memories about the uplifting mood I attended class with, working hard for a goal that wasn’t completely clear yet, but which felt right and enriching for the soul.
A Few years later, when I moved to France to continue my dance education, I experienced a completely different teaching model, rooted on technical perfection, harsh discipline and the need to be “silent bodies” ready to execute steps and instructions without uttering a word. Obviously, I needed to fit the mould, so I had to adapt to this new approach very fast, accepting a good dose of stress and anxiety before each class, expected to execute what I was asked, and never speak up. I thought this was what it took to be a dancer, so I diligently played the part.
Now, looking back at my educational experience as a professional dancer, I am aware that experiencing a wide range of teaching approaches allowed me to cultivate my own vision of artistry and dance, of which kind of dancer I want to be, and of what I wish to pass on to younger generations of dance professionals.
Few years ago, with the intention of keeping my job fresh and exciting, I started diving into the concept of self-reflection as a technique toward artistry. My studies in dance pedagogy and my stage experience have shed further light on the value of a conceptual and psychological approach to dance, in both performance and teaching. I quickly realized how this would help stimulate my dancing not only from a physical perspective, but also on an emotional and intellectual level.
It is undeniable that dance requires physicality. Nonetheless, there are many additional layers that might contribute to further develop artistry and autonomy on stage. Self- reflection is undoubtedly one of them.
But what exactly is self-reflection? And what would happen if we professionals were to further engage in its practice?
Self-reflection is a process that gives artists the opportunity to question and critically think about learning strategies, that helps them to become aware of their own beliefs and challenges their established thought patterns.
Self-reflection means to be analytical and curious to elaborate artistic expression and technical ability, as it requires dancers to think and decide what they are going to do with the information they have about their moving body. We could consider self-reflection the full engagement with oneself in movement, with emphasis on power of choice, consciousness and drive towards agency.
Recent studies in dance pedagogy have shown how self-reflection is an indispensable skill in dance training today, particularly for those young dancers who aspire to become professionals.
Indeed, education is certainly key in order to build more complex self-awareness. And educators have the task to combine the multiple aspects of forging a dance artist, as they can foster students’ interest and engagement with clear feedback and encouragement and empower them to take responsibility for their own learning, allowing them to have a voice. Therefore, dancers have to be aware that they own their investigation process and that they can engage with more insight in their artistic development. Self-reflection has been proved to allow a deeper exploration of dancers’ engagement and awareness, which then transfers into refining technical skills and developing artistic maturity. As one might guess, self-reflection is an intentional process that can initially cause discomfort, perplexity and doubts. To overcome this phase, it is essential to create a productive and safe working environment that allows dancers the freedom to explore new ideas and possibilities without facing any negative judgement. The initial focus should therefore be addressed toward a good process, rather than a perfect result.
Though the process might seem a little complex at first, through proper self-reflection, dancers gain individuality, freedom of expression and artistic input. It is then that the audience can see the artist in the dancer.
Movement and self-reflection need therefore to be complementary, encouraging a rounder approach which involves artistic growth and technical development. Dance enhances critical thinking and critical thinking can complement dance with an extended artistic in- and output. Making self-reflection part of dance pedagogy is necessary, as it provides the tools to overcome the unavoidable challenges of a dance career, and it can positively influence a dancer’s independence, overall health and, most important, their artistry.