Thursday, August 9, 2012

What do we mean by "technique"…?

A few weeks ago I spent two days at Luna's Advanced Summer Institute with a half-dozen other dance teachers and three mentors. We had a lot of excellent discussions, among them one that comes up often — the roles of creativity vs. technique in dance programs. What was so interesting to me about this conversation was how differently we may think about things that I had pretty much taken for granted — in this instance, what we mean when we say "technique."

We started by quick-writing our own definitions of creativity and technique. I focused on the technique side (since "creativity" seemed daunting to take on in a short quick-write). I came to the question from a lifetime of modern dance training, taking classes in Hawkins technique, Weidman technique, Limón technique, Cunningham technique, Horton technique… So my experience with "technique" as a dance term was very much as a particular way of doing things — those "stylistic nuances" in the content standards, that differentiate one way of moving from another… So I wrote in my quick-write "technique = the correct (and safe) way to perform any particular style."

When we got to the discussion, Patricia, one of our mentors, suggested a very different definition from mine — that technique is the skill set that enables you to perform in whatever style you choose. We talked about the definition a lot, and came to the conclusion that this also implies learning the analytic skills that enable you to understand and internalize those differences — so that technique is all that gives a dancer the ability to know and show the differences between Cecchetti and Vaganova, or Weidman and Hawkins, or a Hawai'ian hula and a Tahitian 'aparima… the skills (both physical and analytical) that allow you to perform an attitude effacée or a Graham contraction or a fa'atere, and to get those nuances just right.

This was sort of a revelation for me, that there could be such a different way of thinking about technique. What it brought to mind for me was an idea that we had talked about in years past, that students who learn dance in a creative dance class, through the elements of space, time, and force/energy, are learning technique — that technique could be nothing other than a careful application of line, shape, size/range, weight, movement quality, flow, rhythm, accent, etc. I haven’t got it all worked out, of course, but it’s an interesting idea to think about...

On the other hand, I know I will continue to teach particular dance styles (whether it be Hawkins, Cecchetti, Dunham, kahiko hula, Bulgarian, or whatever), and probably call it “technique” (old habits die hard) — but perhaps at least with a different perspective on why I’m using that term. Good food for further thought, at any rate.


  1. Patricia's definition of "technique"=very Alexander. We often speak of Alexander Technique as being a "pre-technique," in which you learn skills that help you to learn/practice the skills of x.
    The same "technique/creativity" conversation is important in my acting program, in which I teach Alexander and movement.
    I'm interested in bringing out creativity and in my student's practicing technique, even if it is not x dance technique, but more about space/time/effort.
    Often, my students come in with so little awareness of themselves and their bodies that bringing them to a state in which they begin to sense/see/experience with curiosity is all I can hope for.
    One of these years, I'm gonna do that Luna summer intensive...

  2. Oh, you should! It was life-changing for me...