Typhani Harris | May 2014

Embedding Technology in the Dance Studio: how much is too much?

Although technology allows for great opportunities and a world of information at our fingertips, we as dancers must remember that dance is built on the human experience, something that is all too often missing in our cyber-age.

The 21st century skills combine the core subjects with life and career skills, learning and innovation skills, and information, media, and technology skills. Technology and media are very important in our global society, but with all of this technology what is happening to genuine human contact? Dance encourages the human experience, and without this…where would our world be? Has the influx of technology hurt the opportunity for human connection?

Technology In The Dance Studio

Last weekend, I attended a conference on teacher evaluation (see my article Dance Teacher Evaluation, what does that mean? to be published 6/30/14). As I embarked on my travel from California to Albuquerque, I made the deliberate decision to test the laws of communication. Smart phones, technology, and the digital capacities have absolutely created a means of communication far beyond anything that we, pre-millennium kids, could ever imagine. But what has this cyber age done to the access to human contact and communication?

As I ventured onto my excursion, I decided to conduct a small experiment. I was going to put down my iphone! I know, it sounds ludicrous…but I decided I would refrain from checking my email, responding to text messages, or even venturing into my facebook account. I was determined to have real life human contact.  I made a purposeful attempt to make eye contact and say hello to everyone I passed in the airport; this made many feel very uncomfortable, however I was serious about having genuine human contact and possibly even conversations with anyone I sat by in attempt to build a relationship, albeit brief, with every human I came across.

I left Ontario California on an airplane deporting at noon. I attempted to speak to the passenger seated beside me but he promptly fell asleep.  I struck up a pseudo-conversation with the gentleman on the other side, but he was in prolonged conversation with his travel mate across the way. But that was ok, I knew there were many opportunities on the horizon. While in Phoenix for a slight delay, I decided to attend the airport bar to see what kind of conversations I could muster. I took my seat and purposely did not take out my phone, which resulted in a polite meeting with the lady seated next to me, I said “Hi” and she responded, with an obligatory “Hi”.

I ordered a beverage and welcomed conversation. I spoke to the gentlemen beside me, briefly through their phone interaction, however slowly, as conversation ensued they slowly put away their phones. This was kind of cool because as a dancer, my main form of communication is through expression of the body and the face, so this was filling my human contact experiment quite nicely. Soon came time for me to move on to the gate and board my plane, I decided I should continue the experiment.  I boarded the plane, and sat in my assigned seat anticipating the wonderful human contact that may commence. In sat a gentleman, slightly older, very distinguished. I promptly said hi and introduced myself.

A couple minutes later he leaned over and shared a recent email he received on his phone…Deep Purple is playing locally!! I responded the way any 80s baby would…”who’s Deep Purple”??  He humored me with a description of their small-lived fame in the 70s as a prominent music band. Now, here’s the irony…I was reading various essays for the Junior English Class I was writing and in Stephen King’s essay, Reading to Write, he makes reference to the song “Highway Star” by Deep Purple!!! I would have never had the schema to understand this section of his essay if my airplane seat mate hadn’t told me!  And I would have never had that experience with my seat mate if I hadn’t said hi! I could have easily end this anecdote here and my point of putting down our phones and engaging in human contact and communication would clearly be proven.

But there’s more!

After the conference a few of us dance educators took the shuttle to the airport together. While on the 20-minute drive, I shared my Deep Purple encounter. When we arrived, we were greeted with the truth and unexpected reality that our flight had been cancelled.  Turning around to smile matter-of-factly to the other passengers placed in the same predicament, I noticed my Deep Purple friend (I didn’t remember his name at this point).  Excitedly, I shared with my colleagues that this was the gentleman I sat by on the way here!! This is Deep Purple!

After multiple meetings with the ticket agents, and hours of waiting to see if we could get on fights home that evening…I embarked on a flight that had My Deep Purple friend on it!! I was currently writing this article and really wanted to use our story as an anecdote, but I couldn’t remember his name!! So in an attempt to build more human contact, I schemed a way to discover his name. I was in the middle seat (never a fun place to be) but soon the young lady across the aisle got up to let the gentleman beside her out, this was my chance! I asked “excuse me dear, would you mind doing me a favor?” She obliged and I passed her a note on the back of a “free drink” coupon from southwest, the note said: “Hi, it’s Typhani, your seatmate on the way to Albuquerque…you know… Deep Purple.  I was hoping I could use our story for an article I am writing, would you mind if I use your name? FYI this paper is actually good for a free drink, enjoy!”

The young lady came back with his card!! Charles “Chuck”  McDonald is an amazing Chiropractic Physician for the Cancer Treatment Centers of America, and was my Deep Purple friend!  I passed the card to my colleague who is currently dealing with cancer in her family, making yet another important human connection. I struck up a conversation with the young lady who was brave enough to walk up to a stranger for me, and come to find out, Miss Ashley recently graduated from Pepperdine University!  My parents met there! I instantly found another human connection!

At this point, I was on a complete high of human contact and I didn’t want it to stop.

In Phoenix, I had to change airlines, which meant I had to pick up my bags and re “check in” at the new airline…plus go through security all over again, but this didn’t bother me as it opened new opportunities for communication.  While in line, I over heard two young ladies talking behind me, and I realized they were speaking dance (only a dancer would understand)!  I turned around and asked “are you dancers?” they said “yes” and promptly, and completely unintentionally, insulted me with “are you a dance mom?” I tried my best to not internalize this as an offense and said, “no loves, I am a dance educator”.

We spent the “line” talking dance. It was so nice, but again, an experience I would not have had unless I had put away my phone and interacted with those around me. We had a great conversation about studio dance versus academic dance, as well as the struggles and celebrations of competitive dance.  As we neared the end of the line, I inquired if I might use them in this article, and they said of course. Alexa is new to the dance world, I hadn’t seen her before, but the other young lady looked familiar, I could have sworn I had seen her in something. So I asked, “Love, have I seen you in anything?”

Her friend Alexa immediately responded with “So You Think You Can Dance”…which triggered my memory and I exclaimed “not just on the show, you won the show!!” I was privileged with spending some time with Eliana the season 9 sytycd winner. Again, an experience I could never have had if I hadn’t put down my phone and engaged in human contact!

So what does all of this mean for technology in the dance studio? To quote a good friend and esteemed colleague Kori Wakamatsu from BYU, “Don’t force technology on dance. Technology is the compete antithesis of the human experience we are trying to create!”

Technology certainly has a place in the dance classroom; video analysis, performance critiques, research… yes. But our livelihood is in the human experience, so please don’t expect us to remove that special anomaly we have. Our entire premise is built on human connection, something that is, unfortunately, too often lost in our digital age, so please do not press technology upon us. We will use it, because it definitely has a place in our classrooms, but we are a special discipline and quite possibly the last discipline that requires human contact and connection, so don’t make us extinct!!

Next Week: Secrets of the Dance Teacher

Saying Goodbye

When our students enter our programs as freshman, we can’t even fathom their graduation day, but in a blink of the eye it is here. Inevitably, every year we must say good-bye to a handful of students who have been an integral part of our lives over four years. Even though we do this every year, it never gets easier.

About the Author

Dr. Typhani Harris, author of Putting the Performance in Performance Task and Stop Teaching, brings over 2 decades of educational experience to The Institute. Originally a high school English Language Arts teacher, Dr. Harris transitioned into a dance educator who cultivated an award-winning collegiate style dance education program at a public school in California. Prior to joining the Institute, she was an educational leader and instructional coach specializing in preparing new teachers in secondary urban schools.  As the Executive Director of Academic Affairs, Dr. Harris maintains courses, conferences, and the accredited certification program at The Institute.