[Distributed Learning] Thinking About a Final

For a final project, I am interested in conducting research that explores the space where non-verbal communication and remote learning meet. I would like to see what ways performers––dancers, actors, puppeteers, musicians––have found to teach and/or hold workshops remotely, what is successful or not, and what tools or resources they wish they had.

To me, not being in the same room as the other people I am creating and moving and breathing with is an agonizing loss. But I would like to take the view that this moment in quarantine has something new to teach us about humanity and screen-based interactions. What do we lose? How do we get it back? But also: what, if any, new knowledge can be generated by the novel levels of abstraction that computer-based learning and instruction provide us?

By non-verbal communication, I am referring mainly to the things we do, either consciously or not, that communicate intention, emotion, and meaning. I am thinking of the process of learning how to dance. My own experience of learning how to dance is a mix of learning-conscious learning and a sort of osmotic sensorial perception that sometimes defies explanation. I was trained in school and in the downtown theater to embody subtext and work collectively with an ensemble. Our aim was often literally to mind meld. When I learned to tango I was very slowly given the basic steps and practiced them, but I learned how to dance thanks to generous leaders in the milonga. I needed a basic vocabulary, but then all I needed was another warm body to play off of.

As a learner, I learn best in contexts in which I can rely on my senses. I am trained to read a room––to anticipate and communicate intention. I have no idea how I would do that nowadays. Another class I am taking this semester concerns itself with exploring bodies in virtual space. The opportunities to have sensory experiences within the browser are there. Could they be used for instructive purposes?

I want to see what people who teach embodied skills are coming up with in their own practices. I want to read what has been already written about online embodied practice and I want to contribute original thought to that discussion, if I discover I have anything to say.

I would need help in thinking through the research process. I know plenty of people who are teaching dance, music, and acting through Zoom, but I don’t know how not to burden them with more labor, or worse, co-opt their trade secrets. Maybe there are professors here at NYU who would be willing to talk to me about their approaches. Or perhaps designing my own course would be the better route. The research then would be less about reading and interviewing than about iterating and reflecting… practice as research.


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