.What Do You Learn from Teaching Dance?

In Perform: Education, Deborah Karp and others explore the relationship between teaching and creating through movement and dialogue.

Deborah Karp’s life is like a never-ending dance. When she’s not choreographing for her company, Deborah Karp Dance Projects, she’s teaching dance to young children. Karp finds that each practice inevitably influences the other, and she plucks from both to inform her identity as she gracefully leaps from one to the other.

The relationship between the two dance practices might seem obvious, but Karp has found that it’s rarely discussed. Partially, she said, that’s because many dancers who also teach view it as a side gig to make ends meet until they “make it,” and can choreograph or dance full time. They see it as a necessity, rather than a productive part of one’s practice. And on the other hand, many dance teachers don’t consider themselves choreographers, even though their classroom techniques basically require it. Karp hopes to test the porousness of the distinction between choreographing and teaching — proposing that if each were honored on equal footing, they could be mutually beneficial.

To stage this conversation, Karp has organized Perform: Education, a performance showcase and panel discussion to be held at the Temescal Art Center (511 48th St., Oakland) on April 4. Along with Karp and her dance team, the event will feature choreographers Jochelle Elise Pereña and Ashley Trottier (known together as The Thick Rich Ones), Cherie Hill, and musician Aram Shelton. In preparation for the show, Karp sent out a series of questions to her collaborators that dig into the relationship between composing and educating. To start off the night, each artist will perform a piece chosen for the event, to give the audience an introduction into the kind of work that they do. Afterward, they’ll sit down for a discussion moderated by Megan Nicely, an artist, scholar, and dancer.

All of the teachers involved do different types of work and will meet each other with varying perspectives on the topic. Hill, for example, has recently been fascinated with analyzing African dance from a conceptual perspective. She wanted to teach her students African dance, but not in a directly derivative way. Because her personal practice is mostly made up of improvisation, she decided to teach it to her young dancers through an improvisational lens. By dissecting the aesthetic elements of the dance, she could offer her students styles of movement to work with spontaneously without teaching them traditional dance. “Once I could articulate certain energies and timing that I found prevalent in African Diaspora dances, I created full lessons,” Hill wrote in an email. Through that process, she added, she has become more familiar with how her personal improvisation works, and is experimenting with the techniques she uses on her students in her own choreography. For Karp, however, teaching has made her more attentive to the ways that relationship dynamics between dancers can affect the movement in a piece. But she’s hoping to catalyze a dialogue beyond the panelists, and even beyond dancers and teachers in general, to involve the entire audience and multiply the potential for developing new ways of approaching the relationship between teaching and making.

8 p.m. $5–$10, sliding scale. DeborahKarpDanceProjects.com

Correction: The original version of this article misspelled Megan Nicely’s name.


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