Naropa Magazine Spring 2014
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Veronica Santoyo

The Art of Teaching, Learning & Living

by Veronica Santoyo, MFA Theater: Contemporary Performance '13

When I was asked to be the teacher's assistant for Barbara Dilley's Improvisation/ Composition class, I never intuited how deeply I would learn about the art of pedagogy and then reflect so much, out of this pedagogy, on the art of daily living. The class sessions began for me as a place to train in contemplative dance practice and movement improvisation. They then flowed into a lab for more detailed observation of how the students act and react in class and how the teacher leads, speaks, observes, follows, and intuits each student's individual process.

As we reached the end of the semester I felt that most of the students, if not all, came to class simply letting themselves be, creating and moving with their flow. I still marvel at the unfolding of this, so in tune with the phrase "contemplative dance." Yet, throughout I sometimes struggled internally, feeling subtle bouts of impatience with the students' relaxed ways. I now realize my sense of order and discipline was challenged. My ego, saddled by my super ego, would silently mutter: I don't like you to come late, to not show up, to lie and spread yourself out on the floor when the teacher is talking or when we circle up. I wonder at your passivity and resistance to just go up there and try a score, even if you don't know exactly what you will be asked to do. I look at the students who tend to just watch and barely move; I see them repeating this behavior over several class sessions, and I notice my judgment of them, categorizing them as lazy, limited, conformist.

And then... I notice the teacher's calm demeanor, whether any of these things bother her or not. She lets go... continues. Suddenly, the student who apparently does so little, or the one who on the contrary speaks out all the time in what seems to be an attitude of just calling attention to herself, or the one who wants to remain in the corner and yet is able to see so much detail, each one of these students that has called the attention of my judging self, my ego teacher self, each one blossoms creatively in unexpected ways. The things that are contrary to my sense of order in this group live side by side with each student's creative spontaneous self. As a teacher's aid, I am receiving a crash course in self-awareness and a widening view of each student's ways of being in this class. Okay, I'm really learning here. It's not so easy. Good. I realize I have entered this space with my own fears, my own needs, my own dreams and visions. All of these 'my own' affect my approach. Whatever personal reaction I have I collect within myself, I try to notice, and then let go, even let go of all the joy I take in the class, which is far more than my impatient expectations with the students. An ebb and flow of inconstancy and uncertainty: this is what teaching sometimes seems like to me.

I am stuck with the question of discipline versus spontaneity. Nowadays, I witness the relationship of the teacher with the undergraduate students. It seems to me that she lets them be and holds the vessel of her own experience to contain them all, and herself. She allows each one to assume responsibility for his or her own learning, and she also stands there allowing the possibility that responsibility might not come in the shape one might expect as a teacher from the students. She will still hold the class, and who will be there will be there; the student art tribe will flow as it can and as it may.

The class is the entire world when I am in it. Then I remember... my father, my mother, my brother, Mexico, friends, the world at large, the dog, that tree, my fear, everything, nothing. My own struggles and joys emerge, unseemly and potent; the interrelatedness of things that apparently are not connected and yet they find a way back to the same seed. I am learning, far beyond the apparent. What does it mean to teach? Lead, guide, mirror, witness, echo... establish, set limits, indicate, challenge... give, offer, observe, propose, await, see... And then this, the world of a classroom, and all it contains, deep play...

"... profoundly absorbing...

proceeds within limits of time and space...

is in a visible order according to rules freely accepted...

is outside the sphere of necessity...

is sacred, or festive, according to the occasion.

Exaltation and tension accompany the action."

[From Homo Ludens (Man at Play) by John Huizinga.]

Learn about Naropa's MFA in Theater: Contemporary Performance program