Interview with Holly Sun Joo Johnston
Interviewer: Katelyn A. Altmann, University of Wisconsin- Milwaukee,
Undergraduate Research Project
Interview conducted via email 11.28.18
It's Katelyn. I was a performer in your work titled, worker , a year and a half ago at the University of Wisconsin - Milwaukee.
I am reaching out to you in hope to gain insight toward my final project within my Pedagogical class: Teaching within the Community here at University of Wisconsin - Milwaukee. I’m interested in analyzing the different pedagogical practices with at least three different movement educators. All of which I’ve had the pleasure of participating and appreciating their practices within the contemporary dance class setting. You have probably caught on to the part where you are one of the three educators that I have chosen and am excited to learn more about. With the questions that I supply below, I’m interested in your personal outlook and response in relation to your pedagogical practice that you’ve developed over the years.
I’m looking to obtain this information through email or even a phone interview, if interested, on or before December 9th. You can answer these questions in a couple sentences to a paragraph or two.
1. Describe your current mission or approach to teaching in a couple sentences? (or you could attach your philosophy)
“my current 'mission' is to use dance and dancing as a deployment system for information that supports human beings cultivation of bodily knowledge and sense of embodied knowing into a means and mode for expressing life. An integrated artful education is one that teaches an individual to harness and give direction to that which is potentiated by being alive. Artful learning and learning to be artful with life can foreground creative-critical thinking in ways that help us to examine the human consequences and outcomes our actions. It is a methodology for knowledge acquisition and dissemination. It is not merely reduced to objects or artifacts. Dancing and movement are evidence of being and thinking. Being educated through integrative embodied arts learning is to materialize the enactments of creativity and performativity of humanness.”
2. Where do you stand in relation to recognizing body politics or a somatic influence within a class?
“I recognize body politics all the time. I never without a relation to it. I am a female, woman of color, an immigrant, adopted, daugther of a single mother and a mother of a bi-racial/multi-ethic child. I am hyperaware of the structures of power that exist that are designed to suppress my enfranchisement into the system. I address identity, intersectionality, ancestry, politics, history, sociology, cultural conditoning and current events into my teaching because we must address context for what is happening now. In order for us to properly identify 'who' is in the room we must acknowledge the lived experiences of their bodies. We are living organisms and we develop in relation to our enviornment. If the climate that surrounds us is harsh and neglects to nourish us we are at risk of dying or failing to thrive. The circumstances that surround the individual from birth to the present are holistically integrated into my 'recognition' of who they are. The context for their existence is to be fully acknowledged. I believe that it is our birth rite to live freely, openly and with dignity. Dancing is my embodied resistence to the insanity of ignorance.”
“Dancing cannot be anything other than 'somatic'. Both the transmitter (performer) and receiver (witness) must be bodied. Everything we perceive is somatic. It is not just dancing that is located in 'soma' or body, it is our perception of life itself. Body influences everything. Body is everything. Body defines what it is to be human. When we dance together our bodies express and explore the foundations for what it means to be human. You can not enter any space without your body, this is always with you.”
How do you approach language when speaking to the students?
“Mindfully, with care. Language shapes perception. Words help us to translate wordless sensational kinesthetic events into a culturally understandable 'thing'. Its a system of efficency, a way we can mutually agree to describing 'what is happening'. I am interested in speaking the language of body, movement as the mother tongue of body. The langague of body is not culturally specific, even though the words I use from my english language are, I hope what I am describing are the blueprinted intelliegences that are inherent to body and not to culture. The language provokes and highlights sensation, reflexes, instincts, impulses, emotions, feelings, energy states, action modes, orientations to space, temporal organization, social nervous system, phisiology of transformations. I avoid culturally defined notions of beauty or aesthetics, I do not force the form of bodies to fit into normative cultural configurations for discriminatory preferences for white eurocentric thin bodies. I speak about bodies as potentiaed space. Describing body as potentiated space materialized into being and develop through-with-by its relation to other bodies and their environments is quite different than describing body as an object to be gazed upon by the predatorial lust of its heterosexist 'overculture'. We can see here that language is influential in how we percieve what we think we see. Language can be used as poetic catharthis, it can be used to transmit scripture and sacred texts, it can also be used as propaganda. I do not use language as propaganda or politics, I use it as poetry and as philosophical inquiry. It is a tool to liberate our thinking never to confine or control human and bodily rights.”
3. What are some difficult situations or even failures that you’ve experienced within a class? Successful Situations? Why?
“I do not percieve time as linear, so many times an event from the past emerges into the foreground of my 'now' and what was then is different, transformed, that was the origin point for the shift into where I am located here, it is hard to say when the challenge point was actually the birth place of my bliss. Plus, let's be real...there are so many mistakes my brain goes numb trying to select a single event.”
“I used to spend a lot of energy on trying to be all things to all people all the time. it was exhausting. Inevitablely I failed. I have learned that this is not actually my goal. The validity of my teaching is not confirmed by my ability to never 'fail' and to somehow always know what to do for every individual student. I started to accept that every single teaching experience is made up of the rise and fall of understanding. Learning is dynamic...its biologically dynamic...its metabolic. The rate, speed, saturation, processing methods, digestion and development of skill-based learning is specific to the individual and to the context of the moment. I can say every student, in every class experiences a sense of failure and success. So does every teacher. I have had many moments when I can see that I am not able to effect/affect a shift in perception or action, these are the times when I will suggest that 'we let body show up for that and that we stop fixating on fixing it, perhaps body has a wisdom we could follow for awhile'. Sometimes someone will ask me a question that I don't know the answer to, particularly in my early years, when this would happen rather than pretending I knew the answer I would just say "that's an awesome question I actually don't know the answer. You've made me curious I will do some research and get back to you." Of course sometimes I am not so graceful and there is a student that is a friction point because they are actively resistent to what you are offering. At these times I measure what is more valuable, stopping the class and addressing proper citizenship or bringing myself nearer to the individual and giving them more somatosensory feedback. Sometimes I have to hold space for that person to be who they are and to know that I am not the teacher they seek or need. That too is okay. In this moment they are my teacher, I am learning humility.”
4. How do you believe your geography impacts your pedagogical practice? Guest teaching at different institutions?
“I think my location here in SoCal, partuclarly whle I was developing as a dance educator was really significant. In LA there was an era of artists driven to be sort of a counterculture to 'formalism' and established performance ettiquettes. We explored physicality and not codefied techniques. We used what we had in our bodies to access physical risk and to push the boundaries of our bodily capacities. What we generated came from within and was not about adherence to movement codes. This meant that this was the content and context for my teaching. I was already identifed as a part of this counterculture movement. My teaching methods were different, but that was embraced because I was teaching to a different value system for bodies. Because LA and the West Coast does not house a multitude of 'legacy' artists like New York or the East Coast, there was more space for 'unknown' artists to be invited into academic institutions and public attention was given to local artists. I was given the chance to teach and to develop my teaching early in my career because I was not rejected or excluded for my lack of an MFA or 'celebrity noteriety'. “
“Teaching is specific to the context and framework for why you are there. Guest teaching is certainly different than sustained teaching. The metabolic rate for creative work during guest teaching is hyperactive. Every situation and circumstance is unique and as an artist working with and through this uniqueness I am working to generate an experience of transformation through movement as body animates its intelligence as dance and dancing.
Sometimes I make dances, sometimes we dance together, sometimes I steward us through discourse spaces but always I am there because our dancing brings us together.”
5. What do you want your students to take away?
“I want for them to want to dance, in their own way, every day. I want for their families to dance openly and freely. I want their dancing to become a powerful force for social change. May their bodies charge forward into life with the courage to muscularly flex against human ignorance and the wisdom to know when to yield to body's inherent intelligence. May their bodies always have a limitless capacity to respond to-with-through the animating forces of life itself.”