Wednesday, 10 October 2012

Communication Technology in Dance Education

Dance is a form of art that has long been around as a form of expression and is taking the world by storm. It is more than just movement, it is a story, it is a message, it is the communication of one’s culture, the expression of ones feelings and emotions, and sometimes, it even is the baring of the soul. Dance conveys what words fail to articulate. Every gesture, every twitch, right down to the fingertips holds meaning and to the eye that understands, can be something amazingly inspirational and most impactful.

But to pursue a career in dance, one needs to know more than just how to move. Just like any other subject, one must be educated on where it came from, hence the history of dance. One must know how the body works, hence the study of the human anatomy. One must know the dangers involved, hence the study of dance injuries and preventions, and of course the techniques and so on and so forth. This is but a small glimpse into what a dancer must learn before stepping into a world of hard work, blood and sweat, of stage lights, costumes and applause. A proper dance education, equips a dancer hopefully with everything they need to lay a strong foundation to what they are about to experience as they take their dance career to new heights.

As dance has evolved over the years, so has the way it is being taught. Although it very much is a practical course, with the ever changing and the ever developing waves of technology, dance education has also incorporated various means of communication technology into their curriculum as a tool, and are chasing after more advanced technologies to enhance their learning experience, taking a rather optimistic view in light of the use of these technologies. Ali Leijen who wrote ‘Teaching in Higher Education’ mentioned the suitability of web-based ICT tools for educational programmes that encourage the development of psychomotor skills. An example of how these web-based technologies have facilitated the teaching and learning process are through the usage of instructional videos and such. This particularly is practical to dance technique types like contemporary and dance choreography that encourage the development of these psychomotor skills. These have been conducted in places like Britain, Portugal and America.

In Australia, they have been working on the Virtual Schooling Service (VSS) Dance Course in line with the reform package by their government ‘Queensland the Smart State Education and Training Reforms for the Future (ETRF)in which Information and Communication Technologies are a significant component of it. Other forms of technologies are like Sequence Editors that help in the choreography process, in which it does everything from creating the movement, storing them in memory and putting it together as a short piece known as a ‘phrase’. Some also do instructional videos just as Forsythe has done, showing parts of his years at the Frankfurt Ballet and making use of animations and such to add on to what was referred to as ‘Digital Dance Learning Equipment’.

On a more advanced level, researchers have been working on coming up with technologies like the work of Paul Sermon’s ‘Telematic Dreaming’ which is similar to creating a virtual reality. Scott deLahunta explains this technology saying,

‘In each, a video camera and playback connection is set up between two remote sites so that individuals in each site can interact with each other. If you can imagine sitting on a couch or lying on a bed and looking at a monitor which shows you and someone else beside you at the same time. This other person is not 'really' there, but is in the 'virtual' space in which you both exist at this time. Whatever gestures or attempts to communicate you make are instantly received and responded to by this 'virtual' partner. Susan Kozel took part as a 'performer' in "Telematic Dreaming", and she told me that over time, the sorts of emotional experiences she would have in these interactions took on the full force of 'real' interactions, made even more powerful by the simultaneous realization that the other person was not actually there.’

Most of these technologies however are in research phase and besides the many obstacles that they face in merging both dance education and various means of communication technology, the larger problems include accessibility and the fact that it requires large amounts of funding.

Now let me bring your attention to the landscape of dance education in this country, Malaysia. The dance industry in Malaysia is still considerably new, it could be said a little more than an infancy stage. Although dance has always been a significant part of human activity, the process of studying and documenting them requires different expertise and knowledge. Many traditional dance form in Malaysia has been passed down from one generation to another within the hereditary line such as the Makyung, Joget Gamelan, Menora. When these dances faced extinction, there was an urgency to bring the practitioners to institutes such as Kompleks Budaya Negara now known as Istana Budaya and other higher learning institutions for furtehr research and documentation. Cultural institutes under the Ministry of Culture conserves the dance by their dancers performing them during festivals and for tourism purpose. Compared to the west, Malaysia was slow to recognize the importance of defining her heritage through dance. Therefore, dance was always considered as an entertainment element rather than a field that signifies a whole body of meanings. However, with responsible and passionate artists, activists, scholars, researchers, dance is slowly gaining the respect and recognition that it deserved in the country.

Is technology enhancing the dance atmosphere here like it is in other places? Or is the industry not flourishing because we don’t have the same technologies? Communication technology is definitely significant in our lives and therefore it has helped the field of dance to gain its popularity in many countries and Malaysia too. Technology has connected many people, artists, activists, scholars, academia and researchers internationally and locally to boost the dance scene in Malaysia. Through dialogues, conferences, seminars, they have exchanged ideas, feedback and viewpoints on the current and future situation of dance not only in the country but also other countries respectively. Communication technology has allowed collaborations to take place locally and internationally. This has further enhanced teh dance scene locally by making it vibrant, dynamic and a fertile oasis for ongoing creative processes.

However, as it is, without these technologies, funding is extremely hard to be obtained. Joseph Gonzales, one of the pioneers of Akademi Seni Budaya Dan Warisan Kebangsaan (ASWARA) said,
‘The main thrust of most-developing nations is science and technology and Malaysia is no exception to this. As a result, arts education has taken a back seat, since both formal an informal exposure and training in the arts is an option only for those who have an interest, and possibly, the financial means to pursue it. Children love to dance and the Federal Academy of Ballet has approximately 2,000 students studying dance. This indicates a huge market for the arts, but the number of students choosing to pursue dance education at tertiary level is ridiculously small.’

Some however think that it is more than just it being ‘a main thrust’ of a developing nation. Marion D’Cruz, a dance and teaching enthusiast who also lectures in ASWARA thinks that it is more a political thing where those in power puts their interests first instead of actually helping students, in this case, their interest being ‘leaving their mark’ when they serve their term in the Education Ministry (Source : FMT News, February 29,2011). Amongst her many concerns is the clear divide in the Arts and Science, where grants are mostly given to technology related research since ICT apparently is what everything revolves around.

It is becoming apparent that funding is a huge issue but it stems from something larger than that, which is where the funding comes from, who holds it and where is it being channeled to, if not into what is needed to build up a strong dance education course here. It looks as if although in other places communication technology seems to be bringing dance education to greater heights, it is becoming one of the many reasons for the stunted growth of the higher education in dance here in Malaysia. Yes this is the age of technology, but the Arts is growing rapidly as well and is growing stronger in its influence each day. Some recognize this and are starting to tap into it as a means of economic growth. But at some point, a balance must be struck. How then do we bridge this gap between technology and the dance field? Through a collaboration of the two fields? Through a shift in focus? Something for us to think about.

By  Sarah Lois

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