I have been out traveling – so it has been a while since I last time took time to write. Furthermore, I also needed to step back to let myself recover from my elbow injury from last year. Yet, a lot has happened during the Months of Silence, meaningful encounters as well as the discovery that I am not alone in my pursuit for more embodied awareness in higher education.
The Season of Encounters took off in May with my conference trip to Maribor, Slovenia, where I had a lovely reunion with my favorite English Philology Department in the world, that of the University of Maribor. Once again, Professor Victor Kennedy and Professor Michelle Gadpaille had together with staff and students created an inspiring forum where linguists and musicologists came together at the intersection of words and music. This time the theme of the conference was Words, Music and Gender. Naturally, Dancing English Teacher was also welcome to share her work on empowering female business students through dance. After all, at the beginning of the history of mankind, music and dance were not separated from each other. The name of my paper was Being Bandersnatch: Business Ballet for empowering female business students. How to be a Bandersnatch? I am of course referring to the frumious creature in Lewis Carroll´s famous poem. I have developed an exercise in class where students are expected to surprise themselves by jumping out from their protective shell: portraying a Bandersnatch with jaws that bite and claws that catch. Surprisingly few can do this with the correct amount of assertiveness. Yet, this is a quality needed for occasions such as when making a sales pitch. As in previous Maribor conferences, all coffee pauses were embellished by concerts and in the evening the academic Keynote speakers turned into punk band singers performing at Vetrinjski Drom club! Quirky, and charming and different from any other conference I have attended.
The season of conferences continued with The Future of Education International Conference in Florence at the end of June. This is how the city was described in a letter from author Henry James to his father in 1869: “Everything in Florence seems to be coloured with a mild violet, like diluted wine.” It still is – and I arrived in the midst of the scorching heat-wave of mid-summer 2019. In Florence I presented a joint paper with Julia Huisman from NHL Stenden University of Applied Sciences and educational innovator Dale Lyon, founder of ExpLearn in Scotland. In our paper we explored an experiential learning experiment with students in Finland and the Netherlands who were simultaneously taking the same Business English course in both countries and meeting in November in Finland, where they got to try Business Ballet and other engaging and embodied activities together. In Florence, I opened my part of the talk with my favorite picture, that of Arnold Schwarzenegger taking a Classical Ballet class. The essence of all learning is to surprise yourself by doing something differently, out of your own comfort zone. That is how you develop.
I had not visited Florence since 1985 and the memory of the city was deeply embedded in my muscles – on the first day I was even able to find the way to my hotel without a map. The art and the monuments are timeless, yet something essential had changed. People visiting the city were i-hunching over their smart phones instead of being fully present in the city. They were there in the cradle of the Renaissance without really being there. With pictures disappearing from Instagram, there would not even be a proof of them having been there in the first place. Therefore, I was particularly moved by Dr. Andreas de Bruin´s presentation Meditation and Art – The Conscious Perception of the Great Works of Painting. Currently, he is based at Münich University of Applied Sciences, offering a course in meditation that takes place in Munich Art Museum. One of the basic elements in the course is that of silent contemplation in front of a master piece. Those conference delegates who had attended de Bruin´s presentation in the Art Education session, soon found ourselves sharing insights into the significance of mindfulness and embodied awareness in an era of digitalization. With AI and robot moving into education, the humans need to become more human.
The beautiful encounters in Florence gave me hope and inspiration to continue my work with renewed energy. The last academic year was a year of silent recovery from an injury, like a frumious Bandersnatch I stayed in my solitary space, seeing my work diluted and crumbled. Now Dancing English Teacher is back more determined than ever to continue working on embodiment in education. I end this post by borrowing the lines from a Walt Whitman poem quoted in Alan Bruce´s insightful presentation at the conference in Florence:
light-hearted, I take to the open road,
Healthy, free, the world before me,
The long brown path before me, leading wherever I choose.
Henceforth I ask not good-fortune—I myself am good fortune;
Henceforth I whimper no more, postpone no more, need nothing,
Strong and content, I travel the open road . . .