It has been a while since I’ve written for MindBodyBrew. From starting grad school to moving across the country, a lot has changed in my life. One of the greatest joys amidst all this change has been returning to full-time student status after working for many years in a teaching role. From the age of six, I have always loved school. The role of “student” fits well on me, even as an adult returning to school from the professional world. (How do I do MLA? Why can’t I find anything in the library?) It’s been an interesting transition.
I am pursuing an MFA in Dance at Ohio State University, which means that my coursework is a combination of studio practice, dance theory/history, pedagogy, and supportive disciplines to contribute to my personal research in social and environmental engagement. It’s a lot. My biggest challenge this semester has just been learning how to talk about my interests articulately and landing them in the world of academic research. My next biggest hurdle has been how to organize my personal life with my graduate school self. I tend toward separating my work life from my personal, preferring to go home at the end of the day and leave my work behind me. At the same time of establishing meaningful connections with colleagues and professors, I like to keep something for myself that doesn’t get touched by the all-too-consuming life of being A GRAD STUDENT.
Throughout this semester, though, events on campus and in the world have brought the personal directly into the classroom. From the presidential election to a violent knife attack on OSU’s campus last month, tensions and emotions have run high. At times, it has been a challenge, even inappropriate, to “carry on as usual.” I have watched students and teachers battle between how much to share, how much to acknowledge, and how to toe the line between professional and personal. Some students have tapped into the healing power of movement, expressing a desire to keep dancing instead of continuing to discuss what seem like insolvable problems. Others have needed to share verbally and ask for help. More than anything, witnessing these moments has reminded me of the enormous responsibility that teachers have for the care of their students, and that they have immense power to shape how their students view and participate in the world.
In observing and contemplating this teacher/student relationship, I have never been more thankful for my yoga training and teaching practice. This knowledge helps me recognize when I need to take a step back and care for myself, but it also gives me the courage to be generous and kind when situations become a little dicey. As someone anticipating entrance into the world of higher education after grad school, I am looking at my teachers, and fellow students, as examples for how I want to teach and continue my artistic work at the same time. The task of being a professor is a complicated one that involves a range of responsibilities: teaching, mentoring, ongoing research, administrative duties, service, professional achievements…the list goes on. In this position I see a dichotomy of the intimate, the personal, with the broad and weighty demands of the field at large. This spectrum is one of the reasons why I am attracted to the idea of teaching in higher education; it’s also daunting.
This quality is not specific to teachers in the academy. From public schools to dance studios to yoga communities, the field of teaching comes with this dichotomy of addressing the individual within the masses, and vice versa. How do we care for all without leaving out the few? How can we avoid assumptions and continue to meet people where they are? How can we remain inclusive, maybe even progressive, without involving our own biases? When is it appropriate to take the fiery, compassionate wisdom of yoga into situations that need it?
I am still grappling with all of this, of course. There is no one way to do it. In fact, I think supporting the diversity of people’s needs and experiences, teachers and students alike, is probably the most crucial thing we can do. For me, I think it means continuing to question my role as a student and teacher of the world, and I am thankful to be able to pursue this questioning within communities, like The Perri Institute, that support my investigation.
The beauty about moving across the country is that you don’t go alone. My past experiences, my past ties, come with me and affect the new communities in which I engage. The Perri Institute is one of those important links, and I am eager to continue exploring our work in a new place, taking my personal experience into a wider audience.