A BOLD Presentation

March 8 – 12 2017 saw the inaugural BOLD Festival in Canberra, Australia. The BOLD Festival, celebrating the legacy of Dance in Australia, is the brain-child of Liz Lea, dancer, choreographer and event organiser.

As a new comer to the dance theatre scene, a ‘mature mover’ (over 50), and facilitator of dance and performance, I was honoured to present and perform at the BOLD Festival.

The invitation came about through the successful project, “The Forging of Men”, designed and performed with 6 rural men, under the directorship of career theatre-maker, Sue Hayes.

The presentation to The Bold Festival was in the form of a short Pecha Kucha (powerpoint slides presented within 5 minutes). Below is the text to go with the slides. To enjoy the presentation, please open the slides and arrange them beside the text below

Slide 1 Cover slide: This presentation is about my recent journey into dance.
Slide 2 From my years of health work I recognised that a healthy community requires robust empathetic leaders who are the enzymes for bringing that community into integrity and discourse.
Slide 3 ACTUALLY being fully alive, being fully human, is a function of wonder, inquiry, creativity, and performance / action.

Novelty, the surprised recognition of a distinction, is the source of wonder and a vital ingredient for brain development and learning.

Slide 4 Performance is that we are in action in the world and there are witnesses.

Performance is where we get to become adults, leaders, and dancers.

Performance is the wonderful, human thing about life.

Slide 5 The performing arts can be a fantastic access for ethics and leadership training by:

·      supporting the empathetic imagination of the live of others and;

·      the possibilities of self as leader

through the conditions for wonder, inquiry, creativity, and performance.

Slide 6 Over the past 7 years I have designed human sized board games, as a fun approach to movement training, and a way of seeing the world through the body.
Slide 7 2011 – My first dance project with Jess Jones on the Atherton Tablelands.

The project was an awakening for me to the possibilities for facilitating dance theatre work with untrained people.

DANscienCE 2013 was an inspiration – a motivation to develop my own skills as a mature aged dancer, and find that breakthrough into establishing a community dance group.

Slide 8 Mastery – the ability to recognise and perform as by the finest distinctions as a function of performance before increasingly discriminatory witnesses.

Taking any age you were and any skill (technical or creative), plotting novel and masterful experience over time might give some indication of your actual neural and physical ageing robustness.

Slide 9 I have been creating small dance programs for the middle to older aged person for a few years. From that came a vision and a model for an inclusive dance training program that I call rEvolve with connotations for dance as transformative in life.
Slide 10 In my rEvolve program I work with several characteristics of training and design to allow the most embodied expression of an idea. The team works by building through exercises by collaborative feedback until eventually, there’s the performance.
Slide 11 I recently began to feel it is time for me to take a stand for a male culture that is authentic and embodied. At stake is the flourishing of our communities and nations.
Slide 12 In 2015, I found three men who were interested in attending work in dance / physical theatre . We called ourselves ‘Men in Motion’

We won a grant to bring theatre-maker Sue Hayes weekly from Cairns to Atherton to building a performance about our male identity

After we had commenced the development of the work, a further two men turned up, and so a performance was developed, “The Forging of Men”.

Slide 13 The men were, mostly, inexperienced in theatre, dance or any type of performance which gave us a perfect conditions to trial a ‘proof of method’ of the rEvolve model.
Slide 14 There was a moment in the project when Sue Hayes turned to the men and said, “Okay men, tonight you are going to touch each other.”

The contact exercises essential to physical theatre is another potential boon to a transformed male culture.

Slide 15 As the project progressed, one of the men told me, “You’ve been a bit bossy lately. I’m not enjoying myself.” The group conversation that resolved that tension showed up in the performance in what the audience saw about the team work.
Slide 16 I’m now facilitating two groups of about 12 dancers in total:

·      the all-men group for the contribution to male culture that could continue to make; and

·      there’s now an all-in group.



Life Long Learning

Recently someone asked me about my learning mode preference. We learn through a variety of modalities: what we see, hear, and feel, constructed into patterns that provide us tools for transforming our relationships and our world for our benefit. I would suggest that mostly, “our benefit” means that we get a ‘kick’ out of the new or novel thing that we find. Psycho-pharmocology would suggests this ‘kick’ comes from a production of dopamine which is based in our brain as a response to immediate success. Dopamine is disinterested. It can be activated by the success of a baby learning to stand, a scientist seeing the breathrough data, a gamer winning a video game, or just directly as a chemical interaction on the brain. My many fortunate years as a learner, but not as a master of any field of learning, has given me a particular view on learning. I haven’t fully worked through this view, so I am writing it here as it came to me as I began answering this question.

As a keen science follower, there are two sources that I access regularly

The Australian Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organisation (CSIRO) performs research over a large number of fields from health to agriculture to new materials and technologies to environment to space.

The CSIRO publishes a regular update of the latest findings and research in an easy-to-read format: News or Blogs.  Often the reports show the practical value of the research. The health reports can be particularly helpful because it is explained in a manner that can be easily applied to our lifestyle eg Starch resistant Foods are good for you.

ABC Science
The popular Australian public broadcaster has a science department that also follows the latest worldwide developments in all scientific fields. http://www.abc.net.au/science/

Me as a Learner.
I’m primarily an auditory learner. Story gets me more than any other modality. I can often remember a good story years afterwards. I am also a great reader. However, these modalities build up a knowledge library. And the storage comes with the inspiration I find in the knowledge. Then I find that I can move knowledge around to look at various patterns, looking for new insights. So I think I have a good ‘pattern-making’ system. I think this is learnt through a combination of inherent talent and learning reward that comes with the ‘kick’ probably a dopamine hit in the brain, when i find something novel. In career, though, I am a physiotherapist and have now worked with bodies, mine and others for 34 years now. In particular I can now see many things about movement at a glance and I have a very sensitive touch from light to strong pressure or movement responses. That is a learning that begins with a newness in knowledge, visualisation, observation, and physical interaction and grows as an integration and development of all those aspects. Having, as an older person, become involved in game, play, and dance, and actively looking at the nature of my own ‘being’ in the world, I have found that there are many places of learning kinaesthetically, visually, and socially. I call them the places of tension, and I think across any modality a good way to learn is find the beginning of the tension, where the ability wavers but doesn’t fall down. I got an insight to that by joining a beginners singing class with Kirsten Cottone of Talent Quests Australia  , so that, at 56 I find my singing voice is improving quite a lot. Meanwhile I dance everyday in my own training and in that look closely at how my body is performing. Having come to dance in my 50’s, even as a physiotherapist I am also surprised to find how my body is becoming more trainable and my ability to make distinctions of movement improves.

Science and Art Go Hand-in-Hand

From the Scientific American blog, by Steven Ross Pomeroy | August 22, 2012 |  assistant editor for Real Clear Science, a science news aggregator. He regularly contributes to RCS’ Newton Blog. As a writer, Steven believes that his greatest assets are his insatiable curiosity and his ceaseless love for learning.

Su Song pic - Art meets science in this early star map drawn by Su Song. (public domain)
Su Song pic – Art meets science in this early star map drawn by Su Song. (public domain)

In the wake of the recent recession, we have been consistently apprised of the pressing need to revitalize funding and education in STEM fields — science, technology, engineering, and math. Doing this, we are told, will spur innovation and put our country back on the road to prosperity.

Renewing our focus on STEM is an unobjectionably worthwhile endeavor.  Science and technology are the primary drivers of our world economy, and the United States is in the lead.

But there is a growing group of advocates who believe that STEM is missing a key component – one that is equally deserved of renewed attention, enthusiasm and funding. That component is the Arts. If these advocates have their way, STEM would become STEAM.

Their proposition actually makes a lot of sense, and not just because the new acronym is easy on the ears. Though many see art and science as somewhat at odds, the fact is that they have long existed and developed collaboratively. This synergy was embodied in great thinkers like the legendary Leonardo Da Vinci and the renowned Chinese polymath Su Song. One of Carl Jung’s mythological archetypes was the artist-scientist, which represents builders, inventors, and dreamers. Nobel laureates in the sciences are seventeen times likelier than the average scientist to be a painter, twelve times as likely to be a poet, and four times as likely to be a musician.

Camouflage for soldiers in the United States armed forces was invented by American painter Abbot Thayer. Earl Bakken based his pacemaker on a musical metronome. Japanese origami inspired medical stents and improvements to vehicle airbag technology. Steve Jobs described himself and his colleagues at Apple as artists.

At TED 2002, Mae Jemison, a doctor, dancer, and the first African American woman in space, said, “The difference between science and the arts is not that they are different sides of the same coin… or even different parts of the same continuum, but rather, they are manifestations of the same thing. The arts and sciences are avatars of human creativity.”

By teaching the arts, we can have our cake and eat it, too. In 2008, the DANA Arts and Cognition Consortium, a philanthropic organization that supports brain research, assembled scientists from seven different universities to study whether the arts affect other areas of learning. Several studies from the report correlated training in the arts to improvements in math and reading scores, while others showed that arts boost attention, cognition, working memory, and reading fluency.

Dr. Jerome Kagan, an Emeritus professor at Harvard University and listed in one review as the 22 most eminent psychologist of the 20th century, says that the arts contribute amazingly well to learning because they regularly combine the three major tools that the mind uses to acquire, store, and communicate knowledge: motor skills, perceptual representation, and language.

“Art and music require the use of both schematic and procedural knowledge and, therefore, amplify a child’s understanding of self and the world,” Kagan said at the John Hopkins Learning, Arts, and the Brain Summit in 2009.

With this realization in mind, educators across the nation are experimenting with merging art and science lessons. At the Wolf Trap Institute in Virginia, “teaching artists” are combining physical dance with subjects like math and geometry. In Rhode Island, MIT researcher Jie Qui introduced students to paper-based electronics as part of her master’s thesis exploring the use of technology in expressive art. Both programs excited students about science while concurrently fueling their imaginations. A potent blend of science and imagination sounds like the perfect concoction to get our country back on track.

Celebrated physicist Richard Feynman once said that scientific creativity is imagination in a straitjacket. Perhaps the arts can loosen that restraint, to the benefit of all.

Learning through Risk

Now this is a dilemma worth having. A homeschooling mother documents the rise and fall of her children’s home made fort.

Firstly, what a great construction. You can immediately see the lessons of stability and structure that the kids are trying to understand. And wow, they somehow got that nailed or screwed together like that. It fell over. Brilliant! I don’t read anything about what they learnt about the technical and safety issues but there’s a host of material there and that provides real tacit learning they will never forget and might take another child to grow up, do an engineering or building degree or never understand.

Secondly, pedagogy. The trickiest part of homeschooling is that parents aren’t professional educators BUT you need to treat yourself as if you are. And the professional, essentially, is a person who can think independently in a problem solving situation. Often that means by asking a dozen questions of the situation so the correct method can be applied. You would be quite right to ask about safety. And here the parents are also doing some action research (some people get paid to do it). The dissonance described is very important. It is being alert to the nagging question that something needs to be resolved. To me it is all about the competence of children to be independent in various situations, and the competence comes from the communication with their parents. So the questions to get truthful about are: am I being a great communicator with my children?; and, for this particular situation, can I mentor my children appropriately to the task? Technical know-how might need to come from a third source but requires great communication from the parents in any case. Safety and competence increases as these two things converge in a wonderful interaction of enquiry and action.

Thirdly, risk is culturally determined. We can actually take more risk in western society because of the good access to emergency medicine if things go wrong. In some parts of the world, even today, failure, a broken leg, means death. Therefore small children might be closer to mothers because of large environmental risk, than even in our clingy society, yet are quickly moved on to a more competent phase. A child of 12 is really doing everything an adult would do and understanding the risks. There is capacity for competence in risk analysis as well.

A word on independence. This does not mean alone. It means confidence with your own abilities of mind. And those abilities are social, metaphorical, technical, and spiritual. Together they mean bringing your best game to working well in teams or as a society.

Making Beautiful Minds

This is from an excitingly wonderful interview that will inspire every family  raising children, and every person wanting to achieve their dreams: Practice makes perfect? Here is my summary.

It takes 10,000 hours of deliberate practice / deep practice to make an expert;

All greats have to work really hard and working really hard is not rational, it’s not a common sense thing to do. It takes a certain amount of irrationality, a certain amount of sort of call it passion, call it love, call it craziness but that is part of the ignition process and it flows from our sense of identity.

When the action of their sport, or their passion or their art becomes linked to their identity you can tap into all kinds of energy that they can put into practice that they can put into building that skill.

Practice in the right way and be motivated in the right way.

When you operate from the edge of your ability, learning velocity increases greatly when you operate in what scientists call the sweet spot on the edge of your ability. On the very uncomfortable razor edge of your ability your learning goes up and it doesn’t go up just a little it increases quite a lot. And that means reaching for a specific target, for a certain type of motion, or a certain chord on a musical instrument, whatever task you’re trying to do, reaching, failing and reaching again.

Our brains are built to learn, evolution has built us to learn when we’re in this heightened intensity reaching and failing and reaching again, that’s the construction act, that’s new wires connecting in your brain, that’s faster circuitry being built.

Napping is important when ‘hotbedding’ practice.

Three to five hours a day seems to be the limit for the amount of hard intense and deliberate practice that you can do

It is a construction process in which we’re building wires in our brain, we’re connecting, we’re building something that is actually there inside your brain and that takes a certain amount of energy which implies something is going to limit it.

We are wasting our time if we’re not working in the deep practice zone.

Australian music psychologist Garry McPherson, calculated that a clarinettist did 10 times as much practice in a brief minute of a song in deep practice than in ‘sloppy’ practice. And he said she really should go out and play, she should go out in the yard and kick a ball around because she’s wasting her time just sort of going through the motions and not stretching herself.

Deliberate practice starts with about 10 to 15 minutes. The ability to sustain the time that you can engage in deliberate practice increases as a function of how much training and your skill level in that particular domain.

The more expert you become at your skill the more expert you become at this deliberate practice.

The kind of cognitive ways that you process what’s happening is actually the key for you to be able to engage in very complex training: Learn what to pay attention to;Learn what to kind of perceive eg as a doctor you’re more aware of the connections between different types of symptoms when you see them but it also allows you to know a way here reflecting on when you run into problems, how you basically need to change the way you’re thinking about something in order to improve your performance.

All the musicians said that they much preferred to kind of make music with their friends than actually sitting by themselves actually engaging in improving their performance. Top performers, those identified by their teachers as potential international soloists who reported spending more time doing solo intensive / deliberative practice right from early on in their careers. They really want to get better so having the sense that you’re actually improving your performance and thereby increasing your chances to become a professional musician that’s what drives the engagement and deliberate practice as opposed to that it’s a great feeling to do it.

All music students said that they could only sustain that concentration for about 45 minutes to an hour. So basically at that point they felt exhausted so that they now took a break and we found nobody who was able to sustain kind of this level of focussed concentration for more than four hours.

The 10,000 hours figure came from asking them going back and we had a biographical interview where we asked them when they started playing music and had them estimate them year by year how many hours of practice that they engaged in.

Jacqui Cooper: Aerial skiing is somersaults done at the height of four storey buildings skiing off a ramp at 60 70kph, you’re in the air about three seconds performing multiple flips and twists and you come down and land on a gradient of 38 degrees on a sloped landing hill. It’s a complex movement that takes 15 years of work behind it. It’s high risk and so every element of it needs to be perfect. You start every day trying to make small improvements and the improvements we are taking about only the coach might be able to see it but as an athlete you’re doing so much that you can’t even see gradual improvement, it takes that long to get so good at any one element, it’s just constant repetitive, repetitive work. When I tell people that I believe that I wasn’t that much of a talented athlete they are like ‘Oh, don’t be ridiculous, you won so many things’. And I’m like yes, that was maybe from a little bit of talent but it’s the stuff that I had inside me that you can’t learn like the heart, and the drive, and the desire, the persistence and determination – all of that is what gave me a big pool of maybe talent but the actual talent for acrobatics I wasn’t talented at all.

Expert athletes ability is the remarkable achievement to actually analyse and control their bodies, acquiring all sorts of control structures that allow them now to engage in the appropriate training to get the benefits of that training that will accumulate to their superior performance.

There’s hardly any studies that have looked at high level performance and related it to genetics. The evidence is not available at this point. Even if there were some genes that were correlated with performance perhaps there are other ways in which you can achieve that same performance in just a different way with a different training approach.

Constructing a skill does mean sculpting the structure of your brain. As we learn and remember new skills the connections between relevant neurons is strengthened ‘neurons that fire together wire together’.

Myelin is a sheath around nerves that makes the electricity move faster to the next synapse.  When we practice we get more of it. Myelin is a sort of broadband for our brain. Every beautiful skill is actually a circuit that’s in our brain. Myelin is how we build fast accurate circuits. All the speed that we see in motion, all the speed of thought that we see, all the beautiful fluency that’s created by very fast, very accurate electricity is due to the myelin. Myelin growth is proportional to the hours of practice.

Developmentally it arrives in a natural wave throughout our childhood from the back of the brain in the front beginning with kind of motor units and moving towards higher functions. So there are these ideal periods which is one of the reasons why you don’t see any top soccer players for instance who started playing soccer when they were 15, they don’t exist, because when you’re younger you’re able to myelinate and grow these fast great circuitry that you simply don’t have the opportunity to when you’re older.

Myelination doesn’t stop either as we age, it’s just that fresh young brains have an advantage.

Once you learn about the way the brain actually works and what you learn about the way skill is actually constructed you begin to pay attention to other parts of life, you begin to pay attention to things you didn’t notice before, you begin to pay attention to little differences in passion, you begin to pay attention to little differences in the way people practice. When you stop seeing it as a possession and start seeing it as something that we all can build it’s sort of more of a democratic vision and more of an exciting vision in a way.

It’s beautiful and exciting because it speaks to the potential that we all have. The human brain is very, very big 100 billion neurons in the brain which makes for 100 trillion possible connections, more than there are stars in the sky so this idea that we can grow this thing and figure out how it grows and grow it in our families, in our sports teams, in our schools.