Stylistic Resonances: using martial arts to develop understanding and curiosity within a Higher Education dance curriculum

My journey to writing this post was far from straightforwards. I became a martial arts instructor in 1998, almost fifteen years before I became a dance lecturer in 2012 Naturally I found that much of my dance teaching approach was infused by my martial arts background. With the release of the TDPT special edition in September 2022 focusing on the influence of martial arts with theatre, dance and performance training I felt that it would be useful to share with my experiences with others. As an academic I wanted to delve into the fundamental underpinnings of movement practices to highlight the strong similarities and cross-influences these two movement forms have had on each other. This article may still come! As a practitioner on the other hand I wanted to share how this philosophy can be actualised in real world, studio-based work. It is a dilemma I often face with my students: action without understanding has as little value as understanding without application.

This blog gave me the opportunity to try and share my work in a tangible way, to highlight the practice but also to address where it came from. I have chosen to focus on an issue to which hopefully others can relate, and to show how my approach through martial arts helped address this issue. Of course everyone has their own unique movement history but hopefully this approach can be generalised to wherever you find yourself in your movement journey.

The issue I have chosen to consider is technical (technique) training. The role of this kind of training within Higher Education dance degrees is still an area of some debate. There is clearly a need to develop the students’ technical abilities so as to equip them with the skills they need to function within the industry. However universities (as opposed to conservatoires) have traditionally had wider goals than technical training, aiming to develop the ability to question, explore, discover and understand rather than simply acquire knowledge and skills.

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