Friday, 29 April 2016

Thoughts On Network Theories

Whilst reading the Reader for this part of the module, in particular the information given on Robert Axelrod and his Game Theory, I was reminded of a network I was involved in that was a game, the name of which I can no longer remember. It was an online adventure game and I used to play it with my best friend. We each had our own character and we had to find each other in the world we had chosen to live in. We could send messages to each other and make alliances with each other and other players. It then meant that we could turn on our allies and destroy them or we could help each other to become better. It was very much an example of succeeding at another's expense or fully cooperating to the point of maximum benefit to all of us. "Tit for Tat" was not a very successful strategy here because there were so many people participating in the game that it would be difficult to find that person again and there were so many people of a much higher level which meant one could not "Tat" them in return for their "Tit". My professional network is much like this game. If we don't cooperate then our job doesn't get done, or the ship doesn't sail, or something dangerous happens. As I demonstrated in my previous blog, there are cases when crew members use other crew members in order to get something extra which damages the bonds of the network and causes a reason to stat "Tit for Tat". 

My personal networking is somewhat different. However, my professional network and personal network often overlap. Due to the nature of my job, I mainly communicate via Facebook and a lot of the people I work with are also on my Facebook account because we have become friends. Therefore, I always have to be careful of what I post and what is posted to me on my Facebook wall because something may get back to work that I want to keep private. My social networking is obviously much simpler as I generally use one medium to communicate with friends and colleagues. My networking within Twitter and Instagram is minimal because it is still very new to me and I am still getting used to it. On Facebook, one can be formal or informal depending on what the situation calls for and one must always be careful of how one wants to be perceived by others, as I talked about in a previous blog on the subject of being judged by employers. Someone is always the friend of a friend and that means that whatever one writes has a very high risk of getting back to someone who could either damage or further one's career. Networks via the internet, chat forums, Facebook, Blogs, Wiki's, Wikipedia, Twitter, Instagram, etc., are so vast that they link the entire world together. I have contacts all over the world on my Facebook and through my own contacts I am linked to all of their contacts too. Grace explains the planet of Pandora as "a global network" (Avatar) and that is exactly what the internet is. No matter what websites one uses, we are all involved in this global network.

In relation to learning networks and having read the extracts from George Siemens, Lave and Wenger and Crisp, J. Turner it raised some questions for me. I am curious to know how being introverted affects one's ability to learn through other people's experiences? If one's level of desired affiliation, social needs and connection are low then how does one learn through other's experiences? Does being introverted impair one's learning?

In my place of work, I am generally the most experienced cast member. With 12 contracts in 8 years it is not really surprising! I am 8 years older than when I first started and there are now new dancers arriving in my casts that are on their first job or their first cruise ship experience. I am often asked for help and advice because I have a vast knowledge of my field and they have very little. They learn from my experience and then discover more from their own experience. I have noticed that the new people who do not ask the older are usually a certain type of person, the kind that knows everything already, and has perhaps few friends. On the other hand, people like me, who are older and more experienced, find it difficult at first to connect to new young people because they are not able to understand my way of life because they have never experienced it and I am lost in understanding theirs having not been living onshore since I was 19. Once they have experienced living on a ship for a while it is much less difficult to connect socially with them because they have then also lost their strong connection to life on land. Also, being very experienced does not mean that I cannot continue to learn from their experiences as they may have experienced something that I haven't yet had a connection with, either from myself or from another person. We do not only learn from those that are more experienced than us but also for those who are less experienced. Their view of the situation may be different or something new might have happened to them that has not happened before.

Does living on a ship make connecting to people more difficult? Yes I think that in some ways it does. For example, a lot of my colleagues like television programs and celebrities and songs but when they start talking about them I have not got a clue what the are talking about! They found it unbelievable that I did not know what a Kardasian was and I was amazed that they cared so much about these people! However when they go home for the first time, they experience what I always experience because suddenly all their friends at home are talking about some new celebrity or singing along to a new song and they don't have a clue about it because they haven't heard about it yet due to being on board the ship. 
Also there is the struggle to communicate with people. I notice a huge difference in that between my age and younger people. When I left I was using snail mail mostly to talk to my friends back home. It was the cheapest form of communication but it takes time. There was not yet what's app and WiFi was almost non existent! Now it is far easier and cheaper to stay connected with friends onshore because of the improvement in technology. People are in constant knowledge about what everybody else is doing so one is able to have a connection to their everyday life through web 2:0 applications. 

Does people's need for privacy prevent networks from expanding? 
It must because how can a network function without constant updates and more knowledge. An example, a ship cannot sail without fuel and the ship cannot get fuel without first informing the on shore office that the require fuel and the office then informing the fuel company that the ship needs fuel. Then the fuel company has to inform the fuel truck that they need to deliver fuel then they have to inform the tank that they are delivering fuel for the ship. But all of that is irrelevant if the ship hasn't communicated as to exactly where it needs the fuel to be. If all of that doesn't happen, then the ship won't be sailing and they will have no need for dancers which then puts me out of the job. By keeping the ships need for fuel private, everybody working in these networks will be out of the job and the network has failed.

Does the need to be seen as better than another prevent networks from being mutually beneficial to each other? In terms of dancers, I believe that this is a big issue. We are always competing against each other so letting a girl better than one's self know about a certain audition via a social network could damage one's own chances of getting the job. However, not letting the girl know means that she cannot even attempt to get the job. If only one person knows about an audition then there is no audition and the practice of auditioning becomes useless and the companies have not enough dancers, no performances, no money and eventually there is no company left. 
This issue even exists when working in a company. Every dancers has heard the stories of understudies pushing the lead down the stairs or putting glass in their pointe shoes so that they take over as the lead. It benefits the "understudy" in the short run but once it is known that she or he is that kind of a person, everybody else refuses to work with them so ultimately they lose out on the work. 
Jealously is a very human emotion but it is one most people try to suppress at all times because it is not only damaging to the person who is causing the jealously but it is damaging to the person who is feeling these emotions; socially, professionally and personally. 

Can social networking with one's colleagues cause problems? I have experience of this, luckily it wasn't permanent friction. My previous cast mate and I became friends and were connected by Facebook. She took another contract when I had come home from a different contract for a holiday. She was in rehearsals when she became injured. She was then sent home for a time to recover. On the day she was sent home I received an email for emergency embarkation. I accepted and it appeared on my Facebook that I was going on a certain ship. This girl noticed and asked me why I was going on that ship when there was only her at home from rehearsals and she was suppose to be going back. I did not know at the time the situation because I had been given none of the reasons for this emergency except that there was a problem with one of the girls. It got to the point where she was angry with me for accepting a contract to the point that I had to tell her to take it up with the office if she thought that it was her that had been fired and I had been hired in her place. At that point she realised that this was not my fault and she apologised for getting angry with me. If I had not been connected with her on social media, or if my company had told her she was fired in the first place, then this situation would not have caused friction between my friend and me. 

Generally, our community of practice as dancers is beneficial to us all and we use many forms of social media to participate in this network as well as face to face communication. During notes after tech runs we are engaged in our community of practice to improve the shows and learn from each other mistakes. Our reflection after rehearsals, tech runs and shows are all examples of cooperating in a community of practice. We do our best to improve the show as a whole. A quote that my boss always said to us was "you are only as good as you're worst dancer". It was something that stuck so as a dancer I was always trying to make sure I wasn't the worst and to help who ever was. As a dance Captain it was something I repeated to cast members in the hope that they would do the same and I actively tried to encourage the worst to be better and to help them as much as possible to improve. As a Production Manager, I tried to make everyone see that what ever one does reflects on the rest of us so to try to help each other as much as possible so that we worked together as a team and stuck together as a team professionally. I also had to encourage them that we were not isolated, we were part of the entertainment team and also a part of the crew. The community of practice on board a ship is not only limited to the theatre but the the entire ship and we have to participate in it at all times. 

I came across a blog whilst I was researching into Professional Networks. The post was written by Jon Bischke. He talks about specific networks being created for specific professionals. As he says, "what doctors want and need - is different from what other professionals want". He then goes on to talk about some other professionals that use different social media networks, other than linkedIn and Facebook, to communicate with other professionals within their community of practice and why they might chose these networks over Facebook and LinkedIn. These other applications have been created to specifically connect like people with like people and have better applications within their network to be used by the target groups. 
When will they make a social media network catering just for people in the dance industry? Have we reached our limit with Facebook ,Twitter, Instagram, YouTube and LinkedIn? Would it be better to have one Network specifically catering for the Dance World or is our community so large that we cannot be contained to only one Social Network? Is the lack of a social network specifically designed for the dance industry a reflection of our value to the rest of society?

Book: Essential Social Psychology (2nd Ed) 
Authors: Crisp, Richard J. and Turner, Rhiannon N.
Chapter: Chapter 11: Affiliation and attraction

Book: Situated Learning: Legitimate Peripheral Participation Publication 
Authors: Lave, Jean and Wenger, Etienne  
Chapter: Chapter 4: Legitimate peripheral participation in communities in practice

Book: The evolution of cooperation
Author: Axelrod, Robert M.
Chapter: Preface

Title: Connectivism: A Learning Theory For The Digital Age
Author: George Siemens
Date: 12.12.2004

Title: The Rise of The "Social Professional" Networks
Author: Jon Bischke (@jonbischke)
Date: 28.06.2014

Reflection On My Current Networks And Its Ethical Problems

What is my current network?
I first drew a diagram of what my network on board the ship is. However, if one has not worked on a ship it will hold virtually no meaning so I am going to explain as simply as I can.

Professionally my network is vast and very complicated. We have a network within our cast. Dancers report to the Dance Captain for anything relating to the show and dancers report to the Production Manager with anything in regard to duties, shows, costumes, conflicts, personal issues, etc.. Between dancers, singers, Dance Captain and Production Manager communication is generally informal. Our only tools to communicate are face to face, cabin telephones (fixed phones), personal phones whilst not in passenger area and if we have reception, and through ship mobiles that can only be used on board the ship and will only connect to other ship mobiles and ship fixed phones on that ship.  Because we are always together, we share cabins with each other, we eat together and we go out together, we can be informal with each other. There is a fine line drawn between when we are assuming our roles as Production Manager/Dance Captain and dancer or singer and when we are being social. Sometimes these lines can become blurred and sometimes people have a hard time between being friends and being work colleagues.
From our network within the cast, our Production Manager then follows the network up through our department on board, our department in the offices ashore and into other departments on the ship. All of the dancers may contact our boss or the assistant in the onshore office by the ship email to which only the Production Manager has access, as well as technicians etc., so it is not a private correspondence and can be read by anyone with access. Therefore, we are all able to use our personal email to contact our boss in the office, because we are all self employed we are all able to take care of our own business privately and communication between us and our boss is generally formal but not strictly so. 
We also have a network within the theatre. Any of us can speak to the Head Technician, Stage Manager or any of the Stage Hands, Light Technician, Sound Technician, etc if there is any kind of problem during technical rehearsals or shows, but if it is not an immediate thing then we have to go through the Production Manager who then goes to the Head Technician who then goes to the Stage Manager, Light Technician, etc..
The Production Manager's next interaction must then be with the Assistant Cruise Director or the Cruise Director. Dancers may speak directly to the Cruise Director or the Assistant Cruise Director if they are having problems with the Production Manager or Dance Captain. There is direct interaction with the Chief Animator, Shop Manager and Photoshop Manager with the Production Manager but here things are done by ship mobile if it is an emergency about time changes to duties or help to do something, otherwise, most of the communication at this point is through email and the Cruise Director and Assistant Cruise director must always be copied into any email that is sent from the Production Manager or to the Production Manager. If there are problems on board that we need to alert our boss to, as Production Manager we sometimes have to use our private email owing to not being able to keep the ship emails private and it might cause big problems for the cast on board if someone's ego is bruised. 
From this point, the Cruise Director can go directly to the onshore office or further up the ship. From the Cruise Director there is then the Hotel Director, the Staff Captain and then the Captain. 
We are all also under the command of any Officer; Cadet, 3rd Officer, 2nd Officer, 1st Officer, Safety Trainer, Safety Officer and Environmental Officer. These people are in charge of the safety and environmental safety of everyone on board and we are all trained to do what they say and when, with no questions asked.

Below is a diagram of the direct hierarchy of our network chain on board. 

Another diagram to show how we communicate with other personnel within our department and other departments is much more complicated. A simpler way is to say that our central point where all the information that involves the cast is given directly to the Cruise Director or the Assistant Cruise Director and then passed down to the Production Manager and then to the rest of the cast.

Here is another diagram showing the network of the theatre personnel and how it changes during rehearsals and performances.

As you can see, it is quite a complicated chain and there can be quite serious consequences if one does not follow it. The issue of bruising egos is quite a big problem as people I've worked with will often abuse their position of power in order to make our lives difficult and to get their own back for whatever slight they believe that we have caused them. Extra boat drills and meetings can be scheduled as well as arranging to have dancers do extra duties and not allowing us to swap our duties with other members in our department, like the animation team. This kind of situation sometimes means that it is impossible for us to do rehearsals with a full cast. One such occasion of a Cruise Director's ego being bruised meant that our tech run for the shows that night, and for several cruises after, which is normally done with a cast of 14/15, turned into a tech run where there were at least 5 people missing at all times and sometimes as many as 7 missing during the tech run and we were expected to perform the shows that night without being allowed our proper rehearsal time. 

Another example was the stage being a slippy wooden surface and the continuation it's being polished just before our show. I was the Production Manager at the time and on my report to the offices ashore I explained that despite my asking them for several months not to polish the floor before our performances, the floors were still being polished which was a safety risk to all the dancers. This made the Cruise Director angry because he said that it wasn't  true and I had made him look bad. Unfortunately I had evidence of my emails asking them not to polish the floor for several months so unfortunately for the Cruise Director it was true. But my involving the office made the Cruise Director sort out the floor and luckily his ego wasn't bruised so much that he made life difficult for us.

There is also a problem of communication being done in a language that is not everybody's native tongue so things get lost in translation and there are misunderstandings. I have a few experiences of this but the most vivid is with a French Assistant Cruise Director. We had a misunderstanding of times of rehearsals which was easily solved once the Assistant Cruise Director and I had spoken face to face and sorted out exactly what she had meant when we had spoken very early in the morning by telephone. Unfortunately another non English person, a Cruise Director, got involved and I'm afraid that he totally flew off the handle and was extremely rude and almost violent! I must admit to finding it pathetic to watch a grown man totally lose his temper over something that was no problem at all and was solved in 10 seconds! His professional conduct was disgraceful but, as he was the Cruise Director for the charter company we were working with at the time, his behavior was considered acceptable and the "lowly" cast members were required to take his abuse so that the company would keep their charter. 

Which brings me to another issue of my professional network. The company I work for is very macho and has little respect if they are dealing with a female Production Manager. With a company such as this, it is best, if one is female, to have a lot of friends in every department and high up in hierarchy eg, officers, engineers, Captain, Hotel Director, Cruise Director, etc., or to be the kind of Production Manager that lets everyone walk all over them. The cast can easily be walked over by other departments asking us to help out as we do get quite a bit of spare time. An example of being walked over would be asking dancers to be up at 6:00 am for disembarkation duty when they only finished the show at midnight and when disembarkation duty is actually the job of the animation team. It is especially not fair to ask us to do this when we then see all the animation team getting off the ship to go to the beach while we do their job for them! This is something that would never be asked of a male Production Manager. It is a shame that things are this way in my company. Sometimes I find it easy to operate as a Production Manager and every thing and everyone just gels together. Other times it can be very difficult to balance satisfying the cast members one is representing and satisfying the demands of those people above us.

As one will have observed, I give no names or mention of the cruise company or charter company involved. This is to protect myself and my company.

Wednesday, 13 April 2016

Inquiry Into The Advantages And Disadvantages Of Self Teaching Apps

Following on from my previous blog regarding gathering information, I have been asking myself what I think of apps that are for self teaching physical activities. I got onto this train of thought because I have begun to take Yoga classes over the past few days. I decided that I wanted to try something new and a friend of mine has just opened a Yoga school so I thought, “why not?”. Unfortunately her school is nowhere near me so I downloaded an App instead because where I am right now there are no Yoga teachers at all! The app has many programs and work-outs that can be quickly downloaded and played later without internet connection, so very easy to set up and do at home. I do not need to go to a yoga class because I can self-teach with the help of internet connection, an app and a downloaded class.

What are the benefits and the disadvantages of this app for self taught Yoga?

As a professional dancer, I am experienced and have good knowledge about injury prevention and have good knowledge of anatomy and I know my own body’s limits, strengths and weaknesses very well. I have also taken many classes in pilates and I have done a class in yoga. There is virtually no risk of my doing something dangerous and if something is hurting, the bad kind of pain, then I know to stop and check if I am doing it correctly or just accept that my body has reached its limit.
For example, my lower spine does not go into a convex curve, it is arched and the maximum I can do is to make it straight....ish. It does not affect my dancing because I have the muscle strength, control and technique to support my spine and not injure myself. However, I cannot do curl up sit-ups very effectively because my lower back is only flexible when arching. Certain positions I cannot hold simply because I cannot get my spine to curve enough to allow it. When doing Yoga or Pilates, some exercises require me to put a cushion under my bum in order to give my back a little support and make it possible for me to do the exercise correctly.
However, someone who is not involved in physical fitness and does not have a good knowledge of anatomy, injury prevention etc., might download the same app I have and the same work-out and then teach themself. I cannot see this as being a very good idea because if one has not experienced what muscles feel like when they are working correctly and when they are working incorrectly, and has no knowledge of the body’s correct alignment, one risks serious injury to one’s self through one’s ignorance. I believe that it is always best to seek professional advice when beginning something physically challenging when one has no experience at all. The app does contain a person doing the exercises and diagrams of the body with the muscles being used highlighted, but if one has never actively used those muscles before, then how does one know that they are using the correct ones? When using minor muscles, someone unfamiliar to the feel of using minor muscles could be using major muscles and then the point of the exercise to strengthen the minor muscles is lost.
Risk of injury is a major disadvantage, one that can be overcome by a knowledge of anatomy and injury prevention, and by physical fitness experience or past Yoga experience and continued practice of physical activity to keep the muscles strong.

The app also contains different levels, e.g. beginner, intermediate and advanced. Again, a person may be inclined to move on to a higher level than is safe for them for no other reason than that their friend is advanced and they don’t want to be seen as not as good. Again, this causes a high risk of injury by trying to run before learning to walk.

With no trainer to encourage progress, notice improvement and monitor progression of level and technique, the risk of injury is quite high for someone with little to no experience of physical fitness, anatomy and/or injury prevention.

One advantage is that one does not have to stick to a time table or travel. The class can be taken at anytime and anywhere. One can avoid exercises that are too advanced or too easy, assuming that they have good knowledge of themselves and their physical fitness. The class can be as long or as short as is convenient. There is only the cost of the app which was very cheap. No equipment is necessary, but can be easily purchased and it is not expensive. The class can even be taken whilst wearing PJ’s! The classes are categorised so if one’s focus is strong abs, there are work-outs of varying levels which specifically focus on abs.

I am sure that Yoga teachers would probably disagree with some of the advantages and disadvantages I have mentioned and they would also have more to add. As a teacher they want people to attend their classes. Are they inclined to mention the disadvantages of self teach yoga apps more strongly because they would like people to attend their classes for which they have trained to teach and need pupils in order to be paid? I think they probably would and they would be right. After all, they opened the school for their own love of yoga but it is not a charity. It is their livelihood. They cannot work for free and they cannot work if they have no pupils. 

Should I think the same advantages and disadvantages applied to “teach yourself how to dance” apps? I should have to admit that the answer is no. I am not biased in anyway because I am not a dance teacher trying to get people to come to my school. Teaching one’s self how to dance cannot be achieved unless one has a large space to do so and all the appropriate equipment and knowledge of injury prevention, technique and anatomy. I should dare say that teaching one’s self how to dance cannot be achieved in a safe way at all.
Teaching one’s self to dance is highly dangerous even if one has experience in physical fitness, including Yoga. The reason is that the body is not naturally turned out. Yoga is controlled movement done standing or on the floor. Dance is movement that can be fast, involves turning the legs out, upsetting the body’s natural alignment, jumping, landing, turning and pushing the body to perform under strain. It cannot be learned in a day. It takes years and years of practice and repetition to strengthen and shape the body to prevent injury.
All dance styles starts with a plie, but if one analyses it, it is possibly the most complex step of all and its correct execution help avoid injury. The parts of the leg must be in a straight line, the weight placement must be in a plumb line (though this is debatable and in terms of tap it is totally inaccurate as the weight is placed on the balls of the feet to keep the heel taps clear of the floor), the knees must bend over the centre toe, the spine must remain straight, the stomach muscles engaged, the gluteals engaged, head erect, feet not rolling inwards or outwards, back muscles engaged, turn-out must not be forced, etc.. Even before the knees have bent we are required to stand in a plumb line. What is a plumb line? This is the part where yoga and or pilates training, or being a builder or architect, allows one to understand what is meant by standing in a plumb line, but to the average Joe it is not necessarily known what is meant by this. 
Whilst children in our first ballet classes, we are not taught in depth about the properties of the plie nor the importance of this one step. It is simplified to "bend your knees. Keep your heels on the floor. Look down and check your knee is bending over the third little piggy." We do our plies in first position turned out, first position parallel and in 2nd position turned out. We also never go beyond a demi plie. As we get older, it gets more complicated with different positions of the feet and the movement of our arms in more complex patterns whilst we are doing plies. We then let go of the barre with one hand and then do our plies with no barre at all and progress from the demi plie to the full plie and then execute the full plie in all of the position whilst in the centre. We learn how to execute a demi plie on one foot at the barre and again in the centre when we gain the strength to do so. Then we are using our plie to land us from grande allegro steps and for getting up and down from our pointe shoes.
Children do not need to know about the bones and muscles in the feet, ankles, knees, legs and hips to begin to learn to plie. As we progress and go on to professional training and professional dancing, it is an essential part of our knowledge to understand how these bones are constructed, their movement allowance and the muscles that are needed to hold our bones and joints in the correct position. This allows us to know exactly where we have an injury if injury occurs and better explain to a physio what the problem is. It allows us to heal faster because we know what is going on with the muscles and bones. We are more successful at protecting these muscles and bones from injury because we understand exactly how they move and which muscles work to move what part. All of this knowledge we have gained gradually and have taken many years of repetition and practice to get our body's muscle memory to be able to protect itself.

Here is just one article which is in relation to the bones in a dancer's foot.
It is very difficult for the average Joe to understand. It talks about the movement of the foot and mentions ballet steps that mean absolutely nothing to non dancers, even if one speaks French! I have over 20 years' experience in dance and I am still learning and improving my technique.

Is it really possible that someone can learn all of this by teaching themselves to dance from an app?

All dancers start at the basic steps. We are not allowed to progress until we have the strength to do so.  How can an app monitor a person to see if they are physically able to move on to harder steps? We do not start pointe work until our bodies are strong enough and developed enough to support ourselves. We do not wing in tap until our ankles are able to handle it. Some dancers never achieve pointe work or winging simply because their teacher will not allow them to attempt it because they would severely damage themselves beyond repair. Our teacher is the one who can see and notice if our bodies are strong enough to handle these stresses and strains. Our teacher can correct our technique, and as we get older we are able to do this ourselves to a certain extent with the use of a mirror and feeling, but can we do this ourselves if we have no experience of dance?

Then there is the class structure itself. We do not start the class with what we like first. For example, I love allegro but when I am doing my own class I do not start at allegro simply because it is my favourite. I still begin with the barre exercises, move on to centre work, and finish with allegro and pointe work, with the exercises for each section being done in the correct order. It is structured in order to warm up the body so it is able to perform with as little risk of injury as possible throughout the entire class. A person unfamiliar with these reasons might be inclined to start with allegro because they like it best and thus cause themselves injury which could have been easily avoided had they followed the structure of the class.

Dance cannot be done in one’s living room. Dance requires space. The choreography is always going to be the same if there is no one to invent new routines and part of dance is being able to pick up new routines and perform them. Shoes are of massive importance to dance. One cannot dance in shoes too tight or too loose. In terms of pointe shoes it is not like saying, “I am a size 5 can I have pointe shoes in a size 5 please?” There are many things to consider, like heel width, box width, general tightness, ribbon and/or elastic placement, toe width, strength of the shank etc.. Then of course there are the many different manufactures of pointe shoes to consider. Some manufacturer's shoes will fit perfectly whilst the same size by a different manufacturer will not. Then what is needed to prevent blisters inside the shoe? It is impossible to buy one’s first pair of pointe shoes without the knowledge and expertise of a pointe shoe fitter and one’s own teacher.

The only advantage that I can see in these “how to dance” apps is that it provides a class structure for those who can already dance to teach others how to dance. Even then it is not a great advantage to a dancer wanting to teach with no prior knowledge of teaching. I am able to teach but I was taught how to teach, even then I was taught how to teach ballet and tap only. I did not attend lessons on how to teach other styles of dance. It will be easier for me to learn to teach other styles because I have already been taught the basics of how to teach posture and alignment, and I know about cognitive development, body development, how to break down exercises, how to correct, etc.. All I shall need to learn, that is new for me, is the style, syllabus (if there is one) and individual class structure (which will start in the same manner as ballet and tap classes, ie warm up first).

I think that some physical fitness  can be self taught through use of an app but a good knowledge of the subject is needed to do it safely and long experience in a similar form of activity. I do not think that self taught dance or gymnastics are a good idea because of the years and years it takes to develop strength and technique and the risk of injury is far too great. This has never been a problem before because there were no self teach dance apps or videos. It is something that has grown and developed from the technology available to us today.

Reflection On Research/Gathering Information And How It Has Changed

When reading through the module handbook, I try to do this fairly often, and looking at my blog entries, I have discovered that I have not once written a blog about my initial thoughts. I am impatient to gain answers to my questions and I have to look into things immediately. On reflection of this, it raised some question about my research techniques and the technologies I use and how this has changed.

I was first talking to my parents about research and, in particular, my father is amazed by the internet and what I and my mother are able to do with it. My dad has difficulty finding the on switch of the television!
My father was born in 1938. The year before the 2nd world war broke out. So, as you can imagine, my father had an unusual childhood compared to children after his generation. Being dragged out to a bomb shelter in the middle of the night is not something that has happened to British children since the 2nd world war. Colour TV was something that came about in the 1960’s and 1970’s and my dad didn’t own a television until he was in his 40’s.
My mother was born in 1957. My parents saw a man walk on the Moon for the first time and it is unbelievable to know that my 4 year old laptop is more powerful than the computer they used to get them to the Moon and back. Amazing right?
There is an 18 year age gap between my parents. I was born in 1988, so there are 50 years separating me from my father and 32 years between my mother and I. This has meant that we do things differently and this is in direct relation to our generations. When my father needed to research something, he would have to walk to the library, very few people owned a car. Then he would either have to ask the librarian or search through the library index to find out where the information he was looking for would be. After knowing this he would have to find the books he wanted and hope that someone else hadn’t taken them out already. Then he would either have to read the book in the library or take it home to read if he was a member of the library. Then if there was a reference to another book that would be essential to his research, the whole process would have to be repeated. It might mean that he would have to go to another library to find the book he wanted. So to research was a long and time consuming process. Not just acquiring the knowledge from the books, but also the search for it.
My mother’s generation was slightly easier but still not easy, especially if you lived outside of the town. It was still a time consuming procedure.
For my generation, the information is at the touch of our finger tips. All I require is internet access. There is Wikipedia, not always a reliable source but a starting point. There is google search engine that will throw up any number of websites from just a few key words searched. I can use a Kindle, or any other E-reader, to download books without having to move out of my living room. If my book isn’t available as an E-book, I can order it online and have it sent wherever I need it, only taking a few days by mail. Or I can order it from a bookshop over the phone and pick it up when it arrives in the book store. To research is no longer difficult to do and it is far less time consuming.

How has this affected us though? I have found that my parents can read something once and remember it easily. I, on the other hand, can’t remember the information as easily. Possibly because I know I can get it back in a few seconds and read it again so there is no need for my mind to remember things in great detail. If my parents had forgotten an important piece of information, it meant having to make a long trek in search of it at the library again, gambling on the fact that the book would be available. Technology has affected our skills of remembrance, however, it has made knowledge accessible to many more people. It is possible to self-educate and there are many courses that can be conducted through the internet, like this one. 

“The best laid schemes o’ mice ‘nd men / Gang aft agley” (Robert Burns) – My Journal Writing Experience So Far And Reflection On Reflection

Today, I have been looking back at some of my journal entries and trying to write a blog about my discoveries. This, for some reason, I have found hard to do. One entry brought back some quite vivid memories about a day when I was not working. It was a day I had set aside to do some module and blog reading and catching up. Recently I have been rather busy and I seem to have had little time.

This particular day, I had great plans to achieve. I had a commitment early in the morning but after that I was free for the rest of the day and the evening. By 10:00 I had a skype call arranged with my sister which would be easily fitted in with my other plans in the early afternoon. However, this was when my day began to turn upside down. Two sets of drop-in visitors showed up before 12:00! I love drop-in visitors but this particular day wasn’t exactly convenient. Anyway, by 15:30, the drop-ins had gone, I had spoken to my sister and I was free to get on with my plans, albeit 5 hours late! Then, a third set of drop-in visitors arrived and the result was that the rest of my free time vanished. So, I managed to put about 10% of my plans into action.
My father tells me a saying often and this particular day was a prime example of that, “Plans rarely survive contact with the enemy.” – (Field Marshall Helmuth Karl Bernhard Graf von Moltke, Chief Of The Great General Staff from 1871-1888 [paraphrased]).  

I have kept my journal for quite a while now. At present I prefer writing in the formats of a narrative/description, initial reflection and evaluation. I am most comfortable with this because I used to write the “Dear Diary” format when I was a teenager which is more like writing a letter to an old friend and the formats I use most at the moment are easily adapted from my old “Dear Diary” technique. I keep my entries as brief as possible but expand on the details I think have been most important during the day. Still there is not much reflection of my emotions felt during the day. It is more about what has happened and what I have thought about it. Writing in this kind of a format, I have noticed a change in myself from the 15 year old girl I was and the 27 year old woman I have become.
At 15, my journal was a tool to release all my negative emotions that I could never express. My 15 year old journal was, as Moon says, “To provide an alternative ‘voice’ for those not good at expressing themselves”.  Having read it back at 24, I didn’t know the girl in the pages. I don’t remember being that person because I remember being happy in general but my journal hadn’t been used to express my happiness because that was never a problem for me to express. Needless to say, I burned the diary. It was not a true reflection of the teenager I had been and I didn’t want anyone ever to see this girl that was, but wasn’t, me.
At 27, the same things that frustrated me as a teenager are the things that give me great joy now. Funny how things change. Now, I am still not good at expressing negative emotions but I don’t need a journal to help me deal with them. Looking back at difficult days in my journal now, they read more that I am amused by the events of the day rather than annoyed or angry etc.. My process of dealing with things has changed and I no longer have to burn pages of my journal. My journal is a much truer reflection of myself compared with when I was 15 because I have grown and learned from my previous journal that using it only as an outlet for negative emotions does not give a true refection and is not a very pleasant read. This gives me understanding that my lack of emotion displayed in my journal now is to prevent my journal becoming like my previous one. Something I can learn from my current journal is that displaying some emotion would be better than displaying none at all. I am still trying to find the middle ground.

Does the thought of someone else’s reading my journal affect what and how I write? Clearly it does. My burning of my journal as a teenager is proof of that. Can we ever be truly inhibited about what we write when there is the threat that someone else might read our innermost thoughts and experiences?

Writing in graphs I noticed that I still felt that I had to write a bit of description because a graph was showing only my emotional experience throughout the day. It was successful in getting me to write down more of my emotions, which is something I do not really do when I’m writing descriptively and am trying to do more. I gave scores out of 10, with 10 being high, on several topics. My topics were happy, sad, angry, tired, bored, interested, work/uni, play, stress, love, family and friends. The graph was a way to show my level of these feelings but there was no reason why I had these feeling during the course of the day or what activities had caused them. I found that I had to do a mini-list as to why I had given some things 10 and why I had given other things 0. So those days are a combination of quite a few journal-writing techniques - description, initial reflection, evaluation, graph and list.

Writing in just a list was quite useful and easy but I have not yet moved onto expanding and furthering the lists. I find it too easy to avoid listing my emotions and thoughts so I cannot expand on them. It is a bare essentials technique for me at the moment so I am going to go look at to get some inspiration on how better to develop my list days.

I have yet to try writing my day from the perspective of an object. I’m quite looking forward to that perspective but choosing an object may be more difficult. What object goes everywhere with me? I cannot choose my phone because it would see too much of the inside of my handbag and then it would see my face. Its perspective is limited by when and how much I need it and for what. A chair will see me only when I am in the same room. What kind of object sees a great amount of my day and what I am getting up to? To choose an object that will have a good view of my day will also depend on where I am going and what I am doing that day. For example, it is no use choosing a garden spade if I am not going to be in the garden.

I have yet to write a “what if?” day. Being a very in-the-moment kind of person, I do not ask "what if" in relation to the past very often because, by then, things are impossible to change. “What if this had happened at an audition?” the fact of that matter is that it didn’t so I don’t worry about it because I can’t change it. Asking “what if?” before an event allows us to be prepared but we are not always aware of exactly what we need to be prepared for, as per the von Moltke quotation above. In my own experience, I have seldom been given chance to prepare for situations that have arisen in my working day as a Production Manager because the people I am working for, and with, are not, generally, prepared themselves. That is where reflection on my past experiences can come in very useful but, again, I usually have to come to a decision very swiftly. Writing about situations helps to stick them in one’s mind so they are easily recalled when something similar arises. As a Dance Captain, I am more readily prepared for any eventuality. I know all the choreography and have hopefully taught all my understudies, I have an up-to-date blocking book, I know where all the costumes are, I have media evidence of choreography if I need to check something that is not written down and I have rehearsed my cast and done a tech-run (hopefully if it is not an emergency).

Reflection is a way to learn from one’s past actions.
“Oh yes, the past can hurt, but the way I see it, you can either run from it or, learn from it” – Disney’s Rafiki.

Writing a journal again and reading about journal writing has been interesting for me because it has made me look at my own self-learning. In the reader, chapter 1: Using Journal writing to enhance Reflective Practice, from the book titled Promoting Journal Writing in Adult Education by David Boud, he goes on to explain the different ways of reflection developed by Donald Schon. This was something I had never actively thought about before.

All dancers have experience of reflection in anticipation of an event because we do it for classes, exams, shows etc., in the form of rehearsals and practicing.
We are all experts at reflection in action because we do this all the time when dancing, meaning that we are noticing things and intervening simultaneously as we are performing. We are always altering our bodies to find our balance, improve our technique, deal with a slippery piece of floor or a moving surface, fix unexpected re-blocking, broken costumes or props, missing costumes etc..
When it comes to reflection after events, I see evidence that we are all doing this too. When a show is over we always talk through it, what went wrong, what went really well, how the audience reacted to our performance, if the sea co-operated with us etc.. Tech-runs are another example of reflection after the event. The show is performed on stage, minus costumes, hair and make-up but with all lights and props and set, the Dance Captain watches, then there are notes given on the performance and notes can be given by any cast member that has noticed something whilst performing on stage. We also record the shows and watch them, giving ourselves and each other notes on what we have seen of the performance. This is sometimes better than the tech-runs for reflection because adrenaline is flowing and the audience gets us going and we are in full costume, hair and make-up. It is a truer example of what we are doing and allows us to criticise ourselves and allows us to get someone other than the Dance Captain’s view and corrections.

There have been many times when I have had to use these reflective techniques. Several occasions were with a large train set onstage that, when the sea was rough, would move about the stage. It was my job to keep my eye on it as best as I could whilst performing and, if it began to move, I was always prepared to stop dancing and push it off the stage whist the others filled in the gap I left and then I would come back onstage at the earliest convenience. This was something the whole cast was prepared for and if I was not in my usual place because of re-blocking, another dancer would take over that responsibility. For this scenario we were prepared before the event even happened. I was altering my performance if I needed to get rid of the train, and looking back at how I removed the train I was always prepared to remove it in a better way so it looked like it was part of the choreography, rather than an unavoidable mistake due to the ship’s listing. So, in relation to this one event, I was reflecting in anticipation of the action, reflecting in the midst of the action, and reflecting after the event.

Another example of this is when someone is injured and we must re-block without rehearsals. We all know where each other’s costumes are placed and we all know our understudy parts so we are able to jump into someone else’s part at the slightest notice. This is reflection in anticipation of an event and I cannot tell you how many times my knowledge of other cast member’s choreography has come in handy, even boy’s choreography!

All in all, these three reflective techniques have been a huge part of my training and professional practice since first going to a dance class, I have just never actively thought about or realised that until reading about them. 

Monday, 21 March 2016

Even The Longest Journey Begins With A Single Skype (Confucious)

Just to clarify, in case anyone is unsure, the online sessions are for everyone to attend if they can, regardless of who your tutor is and who is taking the online session so pass the word along so we can all chat together and share ideas!

Friday's Skype session with Adesola, Lois-May and Lauren was such a great help to me for gaining more understanding about where I am heading. It was great to hear others' thoughts and to share some of my own.

One very important piece of understanding for me was that:
it is not the destination that is important, rather the journey. 

There are no wrong answers and the course is designed to make us think more deeply about what we are doing, where we are right now, and where we would like to go. It might be that we should like to go in one direction but after 6 months and researching everything we can about that path, we might decide that actually that is not the path we should like to pursue but we have discovered something else that suits us better. It is not that we are asking these questions in order to find the answers. We are asking these questions to understand ourselves better, to realise where we are right now and to gain a better understanding of where we might like to go and how we might get there.
We are on a journey of self discovery.

The tasks in the module are tools to help us to think and to stimulate our thoughts. Look at the bigger picture rather than only at what is directly in front. We do not have to concentrate on every task if that particular task does not stimulate our thinking but we can concentrate on the ones that do. We do not have to do every task as a set of instructions to be carried out. We can integrate tasks together with other tasks, and with our professional practice.

For example, we can integrate the use of social media platforms with reflection.
How did we use social media before this course?
Was it just something to use to keep in contact with friends?
Was it for self-promotion?
What did we know and understand about web 2.0 before we began to read, understand and research?
Now that we are at the start of our journey, and have hopefully looked into these things more deeply, what understanding and knowledge have we gained about social media?
Has observing our social media from a different perspective given us a better understanding of what others think of us?
Does the information we are gaining help us in our professional practice?
How has it helped us in our professional practice?
Has it given us something that perhaps we didn't have before?

We are meant to be integrating the tasks together with each other and with our professional practice. So we go to work, something happens that we think is connected to the tasks we are doing, we can reflect on it in our journals, gain a better understanding of ourselves and how and why we react the way we do, and then it can help us to deal with things in the future.

Another thing that Adesola asked us was who inspires us? This is something I have never really actively thought about. I have a lot of favourite dancers but while discussing who inspired me I found out that I am inspired by pioneers, people that force change and create. People like Mikhail Baryshnikov, Gene Kelly and Bob Fosse. I'm also inspired by people like Debbie Reynolds, a 19-year old gymnast who could only do a time step, but she learned how to tap alongside Gene Kelly and Donald O'Connor for "Singing In The Rain". It is impossible to tell that she didn't know how to tap before that film. Her determination, hard work and commitment are inspiring.
Another person I find inspiring is my friend who is a singer and with whom I have often worked. I have been his manager and he has been mine. He handles some situations that arise differently from me and he makes me think more about how I handle situations and if there is a better way.

Another topic of conversation that came up was what do we really think of our professional practice? The tasks are there to stimulate us to think about what we are doing right now.

My professional practice is dance and performing. But my field is vast! There are so many jobs in the world of dance that we can move on to or develop. Dance teachers, benesh notation, repetiteur choreographers, assistant choreographers etc.. These are all jobs within my professional practice and there are lots more.

As we know, as professional dancers we cannot go on forever. Our bodies do not last forever and perhaps our circumstances change.
Where can we go within our field and what do we need to get there?
Have we got the things we need?
Where can we get them and how?
Is this really where we want to go?

These are questions which we can or cannot answer right now. If we do answer them then perhaps we shall want to change them later. That is very well. We do not know what the future holds. However, we can try to be as prepared as possible. This course is designed to help us to think about and understand who we are and where we are right now and where we may possibly want to go.

The destination is not important, our focus is the journey. 

Wednesday, 9 March 2016

The Uses Of 2D Images In Promoting Oneself

Instagram, an application on my phone that I was forced to set up by my friends but have never used...... Until now. 

I must admit to being totally confused by the hashtag and I have not yet inserted it into my posts because I do not fully understand it. I am not on Twitter but my research so far has shown me that having Facebook, Twitter and Instagram and using them regularly and in conjunction with each other benefits one tremendously in terms of promoting oneself to a larger audience.

This is the link to my Instagram account. I am a total novice at using it so any advice would be greatly appreciated please!

As I have never used my Instagram account before, I have uploaded only my portfolio photographs so far. I shall be uploading some pictures of myself performing in the near future because my portfolio photos demonstrate mainly my ability in classical dance and I have mainly performed as a jazz dancer.

In looking into promoting oneself I discovered that many artists had a public Facebook Page. I have begun to make one but it is taking me a long time to sort out exactly how I would like to portray myself publicly.

Facebook Page

Whilst looking into 2D images and their uses for dancers, I came across this piece by Georgina Meller on the ISTD website titled, "Social Media: the new spotlight for dancers".

It is an extremely interesting piece about the uses of promoting oneself through social media and how web 2.0 is allowing artists to gain employment through using platforms like Facebook, Twitter, Instagram etc.. On focusing on the sections about images and video uses in social media, Georgina Meller states that; "When you have images or videos in your online posts, you are 35% more likely to get likes and retweets.". She also says that; "Research shows that people remember 20% of what they have read and 80% of what they have seen.". It is proven to be a good idea to use images and video more than the written word when advertising because we, as consumers, are more likely to remember it. 

The article also goes on to talking about consistent brands across all social media platforms. Meaning that all their cover photos, profile pictures and important picture are identical across all their social media sites. In relating this to the dance world, it makes sense to use the same picture for all profiles and cover photos. This is something I have already implemented on my Facebook Page, my Instagram, my blog and my personal Facebook. I shall also be doing the same thing on my Twitter account once I have set it up. If people remember images more than words then it is a more reliable way for people to recognise a dancer on the different media sites and that should lead to improved recognition for the dancer at auditions.

Taking this knowledge into account, it makes even more sense to add a head shot onto a CV because an employer is more likely to remember the image rather than the words and make a link to one's social media platforms. 

"Dancer's are all about visuals, so take the opportunity to post creative, unique and inspiring pictures"