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Naima Prevots & Lydie Willem

No borders or boundaries, and New Dimensions.

An ErasmusUniversity project.

Willem, Lydie & Prevots, Naima: "No borders or boundaries, and new dimensions. An ErasmusUniversity project", 17th International Congress on Dance Research, Naxos, 22-26/10, 2003.

1. Abstract

How could people from different countries with divergent skills and interests, come together and learn more about varied facets of dance, breaking down existing borders and boundaries? How could dance exist in many dimensions in a ten day intensive program that would bring together professional dancers, researchers, university students, teachers, and interested amateurs? These were the questions facing a group of university educators from five different countries three years ago, when they came together for the first time as strangers, sharing a passion for dance. This paper will discuss how these questions were answered, and how through exploring the issues, a unique university program in dance emerged, combining cross-cultural experiences with workshops, lectures, discussions, choreographic ventures, performances, and significant growth and change for faculty and students. The name of the program is Dance Extensions for Universities, and it is going into its third year as an Erasmus funded Intensive Program. Fifty-six students and over 15 faculty and artists first came together in January 2002 in Belgium, on the campus of Louvain la Neuve, and they represented ten different countries. In the ten days of that first Dance Extensions experiment, a program emerged where from eight in the morning until midnight, involvement in many aspects of dance helped create a model for an intensive university based program. In June 2003, participants gathered in Cologne, Germany at the Deutsche Sporthochschule, and in June 2004, the site will be Universitade Technica de Lisboa, in Portugal. At present, plans are being made to develop this Erasmus program for another three years. In reviewing the first three years, there will be analysis of accomplishments, problems, future directions. There will also be analysis of how Dance Extensions, through a program with no borders or boundaries, and with many new dimensions, has made a significant contribution to the goal of understanding culture through dance, and helping develop individuals who will provide leadership in society through new understanding and knowledge.

2. History, goals and themes of Dance Extensions

In September 2001, Lydie Willem convened a meeting of faculty from five countries and institutions: Elizabeth Monteiro (Portugal, Universitade Techica de Lisboa); Wolfgang Tiedt (Germany, Deutsche Sporthochschule Koln); faculty from Universiteit Utrechet, The Netherlands; Naima Prevots (U.S., AmericanUniversity). Three days of intensive meetings produced a grant proposal submitted to, and accepted by Erasmus. The goals were stated as follows: encourage better understanding between people of different countries and educational systems; stimulate development of dance as an academic field in European universities; encourage vocational and academic development at a higher level in the field of dance; bring together individuals with different backgrounds and dance interests to encourage broader and deeper understanding and involvement in dance by offering numerous experiences in academic, creative, technical and professional realms.

Dance Extensions was planned to take place over a period of three years, in three different countries. The idea was to integrate social, economic and political history of each country, with artistic work and cultural policy. Cultural diversity would be explored through experiencing traditional and contemporary forms and ideas. Pedagogical methods and learning theories would be explored for better utilization of dance as creative expression and integrative force for social structures. The emphasis was to be on the concept of dance as a contemporary art form, which encompasses statements from numerous different cultures and traditions. Dance Extensions was designed to be thematically based, to meet the needs of a student population with different competencies and interests.

Following are the three major themes that formed the core of Dance Extensions.

2.l. Dance as an art form

This theme focused on how choreographers from each country utilize dance to create significant forms of expression, and how students can develop creative and technical abilities. It was planned that in each of the three countries, students would be exposed to the work of artists in those countries, through performances, workshops, and discussions.

2.2. Dance as a pedagogical methodology

This theme focuses on the many ways dance can be utilized to improve learning for various populations: children, young people, adults, seniors, children, people with disabilities, students in schools, studios, conservatories, universities, and community environments. Dance as a pedagogical methodology is allied with current theories of education and development (such as those of Howard Gardneri). These theories analyze how dance can improve self-awareness, problem solving, creative and emotional development, career transition, flexibility and knowledge. These are important in the twenty-first century, as we live in a constantly changing work and technological environment. There is an extensive literature on dance pedagogy, as related to goals and methods, and this is utilized and studied.

2.3. Dance as a socio-cultural force

There is a growing literature on cultural policy, as related to dance in the areas of performance, pedagogy, community outreach, cross-cultural communication. It was planned that this literature would be studied, along with field experience through visits to cultural centers and schools, and discussions with leaders in the field.

3. Dance Extensions: Overview of strategies and organization

Over the first two years of Dance Extension, 2002-2004, guidelines have developed for student participation, teaching methods, evaluation procedures, and general organization. A review of these will provide basic understanding as to the framework that has developed for the program, and this will be followed by specific analysis of the sessions that took place in Belgium and Germany, the planning that is ongoing for Portugal, what has been learned to date, and projections for the future.

3.1. Students

The student body has been composed of undergraduates and graduates, chosen by teachers of the five participating institutions. The European Union mandates that at least four European countries be official partners in an Erasmus project of this nature, and the four official partners are Belgium, Portugal, Germany, and The Netherlands. The American partner is considered a “silent” partner, and neither she nor her students receivd funding from Erasmus. Naima Prevots has been participating in Dance Extensions as a Senior Fulbright Specialist. Students from other countries may attend the workshop.

The students from the four participating partner countries received Erasmus funding for travel and housing through the European Commission. Other students from the partner countries participated at their own cost. Students from the U.S. applied through Naima Prevots. Students from non-partner countries attended at their own cost, or received grants from their own institutions or countries. The students not in the partner universities were in other universities, or were professional dancers, managers, teachers, and so on. These participants were called external students. The external students who were not known to the Steering Committee

had to present a resume of their studies and experience in dance, complemented by three evaluation/references from competent field related individuals.

Students had varying backgrounds in dance, and were studying different things at the university: history, economics, physical education, dance where such a major existed, namely Portugal and America. Students who were not in the university also represented many different backgrounds, and occupations, including those who were aiming to be, or were professional dancers. One of the goals was to encourage those who were dance professionals and not university graduates, to possibly enter the university for more education or for career change. For all the students, the idea was to provide new areas of learning in the field, and new perspectives on various aspects of dance.

3.2. Teaching methods

A great deal of thought in developing Dance Extensions was given to teaching methods. It was decided that a variety of teaching methods would be valuable in order to accomplish the goals.

3.2.l. Create a linkage between scientific analysis from literature and theory, to practical experience. Students were given readings in advance, and there were lectures in the area of theory. These were linked to practical experience, in terms of classes in technique and choreography, performances, visits to cultural centers, and meetings with leaders in the field.

3.2.2. Create an environment where exchange is at the core, and divergent individuals come together in a variety of ways. To accomplish this, three kinds of focus groups were formed. The works of Peter Sengeii, Harvey Robbins, and Michael Finleyiii, shaped the concepts behind these groups.

a. Groups were formed for discussions on issues and experiences, led by mentors from the Steering Group and faculty. These groups were arbitrarily created to include individuals from different countries. Five groups were created to encompass the more than fifty participants. These groups also focused on leadership and involvement of the students, and as will be noted in the evaluation section below, students gave each other grades related to these factors.

b. Groups were formed to evaluate identified themes in Dance Extensions. The purpose was to have students review the program and their own learning and involvement, as well as give feed back to the Steering Committee and faculty.

3.2.3. Create an environment where a sense of community is developed, by having unified sessions for all faculty and students. This encourages group dynamics for shared goals, and opportunities for individual issues and problems.

3.2.4. Create an environment for intellectual development, by providing bibliographies for students and faculty.

3.3. Evaluation

Students participating in Dance Extensions as part of their university programs received grades. All students participated in some facets of evaluation.

3.3.l. Evaluation of participation through discussion groups.All students participated in discussion groups assigned by the Steering Committee, and evaluated each other based on personal investment, quality of interventions and reflections, assertiveness, motivations for collaborations. Grades were given, but only Erasmus students would need to utilize these grades.

3.3.2. Evaluation of various aspects of the program through self-designated groups based on selection of themes. All students participated in these evaluation groups, through presentations on the final day. Erasmus students received grades on their participation.

3.3.3. Evaluation of final report, minimum ten pages, providing critical analysis of program, and research component. This is written in the mother language, and evaluated by the national mentor. This is only provided by Erasmus students.

4. Organization of Dance Extensions

The language of the course is in English, and Erasmus students receive 4 ECTS, with a grade. The daily workload is 6 hours, with 4 in theory and applications, and 2 in practice. The first program in Belgium took place in January, and for Cologne and Lisbon, June was felt to be the best time, related to study programs in the different universities and space availability. The Steering Committee has established the theme and general schedule for each of the three years during a planning meeting that takes place in September. At that time, preparation is made for the Web Site, as well as for the focused theme and the possible guidelines and faculty. There is great emphasis on having both experiential and theoretical material, and on utilizing the specific activities and directions in the host country and city.

5. Dance Extensions: First two sessions

The first two sessions of Dance Extensions took place January 2002 in Louvain-la- Neuve (Belgium) and in June 2003 at the Deutsche Sporthochschule K?ln (Germany). The third session will take place June 2004 at Universitade Technica de Lisboa, Portugal.

An overview of the first two sessions follows, emphasizing thematic and programmatic development.

Louvain-la-Neuve: The theme was “Choreographic Pathways”, and the focus was on Belgium as a meeting place of choreographers and dancers from many countries. Emphasis was placed on experiencing the diversity of the choreographic field, as well as on its management by the public and private sectors. Choreographers were invited to teach and share their choreographic viewpoints with students and faculty. Cultural centers were visited, and cultural managers were invited to share their strategies and difficulties.

The format consisted of seminars on six subjects: dance and health, choreographic strategies, cultural management, dance education in Belgium, modern art and contemporary dance in Belgium. There were in total nine hours of seminars. There were discussion groups organized for a total of seven and one-half hours, which encompassed nine-ten students organized to be of different nationalities. The Steering Committee members functioned as mentors for these groups. There were workshops for the group as a whole, and for the students divided into three levels, and these workshops focused on technique, improvisation, and choreography. The large group workshops constituted a total of seven and one-half hours, and the workshops in levels constituted a total of seventeen hours. Students were organized into mixed nationality and level groups of eight to ten for independent choreographic studies, which were shown on the last day. And finally, there were several fieldtrips: two dance performances, a guided visit to the Museum of Modern Art in Brussels, a visit to PARTS (headed by Anne Marie de Keersmaker; and a visit to Vooruit, a cultural center in Ghent.

Thirty three students from the partner institutions participated ( germany: 10, The Netherlands: 9; Portugal: 7, Belgium: 7) Joined by students from other institutions or by individuals , eight countries were represented: U.S. (4); Australia (1); Luxembourg (1); Italy (1, from University of Caligari); France (2 from University of Paris 8); Belgium (4 professional dancers, 1 student from Universite Libre de Bruxelles, 1 with Master’s degree in International Development and a U.N. consultant).

Deutsche Sporthochschule Koeln: The theme of this session was “Dance and Communication” and the five components of this theme were:

1.How dance communicates through education; showing people how to use the body to communicate feelings, thoughts and ideas.

2. How dance communicates through choreography. Choreographers explore ways to communicate the world we live in, and who we are.

3. How dance communicates and works in the political environment.

a. How dance communicates to the private and public sectors in order to get support for space, funding, and audiences

b. How choreographers create messages that could be considered political- dealing with

power, freedom, and oppression

c. How choreographers and educators help groups and individuals communicate through their own power (community outreach)

4.How dance communicates through the use of different teaching methods using concepts, creative strategies, and theories.

5. How dance communicates at various times in numerous ways to different societies, encompassing values and belief systems.

The format was similar to what was established in Louvain-la-Neuve, but there were some differences. There were eight seminars (between 1-3 hours each)which were for all the group and consisted of presentation of papers by faculty or guest lecturers. These were: pedagogical and evaluation strategies; dance as cult, sport, art; dance in physical education programs; dance research in Germany; dance and politics; gender issues. The discussion groups met on a more regular basis than in the first session: a total of five sessions of two hours each. In addition, each group had two different mentors over the time period, and subjects for discussion were based on the seminars. The methodology and choreography workshops took place on three levels, for a total of twelve classes (one and one-half hours each). In the mornings there were 3 somatics classes of one hour each, for a total of eight hours.

The choreographic projects were handled differently for the second session. These were guided by guest artists and there were different groups: dance with the following themes: site specific dance created for the city; video-dance with production of student footage; stage choreography. There were six preparation sessions of two-two and one-half hours, and two presentation sessions. There were four field trips: to Tanzhaus in Dusseldorf, followed by multi-media performance; to Folkwang Hochschule fur Musik und Tanz in Essen, followed by performance; to Kunstsalon in Cologne, followed by presentation of a film, and to the Schauspielhaus in Cologne for a performance.

There were forty-six Erasmus students, one student from an Italian University, and ten students from Extra-European countries. The population consisted of both current university students, and individuals who were working professionally in dance, or in other fields.

6. Conclusions

Dance Extensions has been successful because of it unique organization in terms of consciously eliminating borders and boundaries and adding new dimensions. This has been accomplished by putting the students into three different groupings, and by a unique mixture of theory, practice, varied pedagogical strategies, and evaluation procedures. Also of great importance is the emphasis on seeing performances, meeting artists and leaders, and covering a broad range of topics, skills, aesthetic experiences, and including information and exposure to the culture of the country where Dance Extensions was actually taking place. Scholars from related disciplines have presented ideas, artists and teachers from a variety of backgrounds have taught and presented discussions, and students with divergent backgrounds and skills have exchanged information and perspectives.

Not to be neglected is the way the Steering Committee has functioned, both in planning sessions and during the ten days of the course. The Steering Committee perhaps is a model for all of Dance Extensions. Coming from extremely different backgrounds and cultures, five people who were initially strangers began to dialogue and exchange ideas three years ago, and have continued this process in an intense and broad way.

Communication between the members of the Steering Committee has taken place via e mail all through the year, as well as during the three day planning sessions. It must be noted that the concepts of “no borders or boundaries, and new dimensions” has been carried out by the Steering Committee, and serves as a model for the students and all the other teachers. During the actual ten day period, the Steering Committee is in constant discussion and evaluation, both as a group and as individuals. Members of the Steering Committee make a point of interacting with the students on a regular basis, by getting to know their names almost immediately, by engaging them in discussions on a one on one basis, by sitting next to them and mixing with them on field trips, and by mentoring them in as many ways as possible. The students take not of the fact that the Steering Committee is in constant contact, exchange opinions all the time, and truly care about the students and their progress. Students are encouraged to share concerns and ideas with this group of five people, in ways that would not take place in a more formal educational setting. The Steering Committee has authority, but interacts in a way that establishes a unique group dynamic, and encourages students and guest teachers and artists to do the same.

The range and quality of teachers and lecturers would not be available to anyone unless presented in Dance Extensions. The degree of information and analysis, discussion as well as practical and theoretical material presented in ten days, could not be matched even in more than one full year of study. In Europe, dance at the university is mostly studied on a theoretical level, in faculties of letters or art history, or on a practical and pedagogical level in departments of physical education. The multi-disciplinary approach of Dance Extensions provides students with a very broad range of ideas, and also emphasizes dance as an art form, while showing that dance has a broad role in society in a variety of ways.

There has been an interesting progression that took place from the session at Louvain-la-Neuve, to the session in Cologne. As the program was new, there were students who expected classes similar to what they had experienced at their home institution, and they were not ready for the broad range of experiences to which they were being exposed. By the second session in Cologne, as several students chose to come back and as more knew what to expect, the students were more open to expanding their interests and knowledge.

The area of evaluation and self-evaluation presented some problems in both sessions, but it is anticipated that this will change when Dance Extensions takes place in Lisbon. Students organized themselves into evaluation groups, to discuss their reactions about the program. The notion of taking responsibility for this was new to many, and created some tensions. It is likely that the Steering Committee will be able to present this in a clearer way next time, and that the students will have greater understanding because of past history.

It is a testimony to the success of Dance Extensions that there were many Erasmus and external students who attended the first session in Louvain, and who returned for the session in Cologne. At the end of the session in Cologne, many expressed the desire to come to Lisbon, and noted they would tell others about this. Students filled out evaluation forms about the program at the end, and returned these to their national mentors. The evaluations from Cologne were uniformly positive, with students noting how important it was to have such close associations with individuals from all the different countries, and how much they gained from new dimensions.

7. The future

The Erasmus/European Community grant was for three years of Dance Extensions. The Steering Committee is now planning an application for another three years of the program, and there is the potential of new partners from France and Italy. For the next three years, there will be a strong focus on involving more professional dancers and students from conservatories. This could be an important element in later career transition, and will also make these individuals more aware of broader facets of the field of dance.

The themes of the next three years will focus on the following: l. The choreographic process. 2. Pedagogical strategies. 3. Politics and Communication. This includes cultural management, influence of politics on the arts, gender politics, multi-cultural and social politics (access to the arts), and communications strategies. 4. Dance research: evaluation of methodologies. It is the hope of the Steering Committee that the program in Lisbon, and the projected programs for three years after that, continue to find new ways and new ideas to cross borders and boundaries, and add new dimensions to the dance field. as well as in the academic world.


Howard Gardner: Creating Minds, Ed. Basic books, 1993

Howard Gardner:Intelligence Reframed. Multiple Intelligences for the XXIst century, Ed. Basic books, 1999.

Peter Senge et al.:The dance of change. The challenge of sustaining momentum in learning organizations, Nicholas Brealey Publ., 1999.

Harvey Robbins & Michael Finley: Why teams don’t work, Ed.Texere books, 2000.

The authors

Dr. Ms. Naima Prevots, Professor Emerita, American University (Washington, DC), founder and former Chair, Department of Performing Arts of that institution. Author of numerous articles and several books, and member of the Steering Committee of Dance Extensions.

Dr. Ms. Lydie Willem, Professor, Universite Catholique de Louvain (Belgium). Researcher in modern and contemporary dance. Initiator and coordinator of Dance Extensions.


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