Tuesday, March 25, 2014

Teaching, dancing, & decision-making with Adriane

Adriane teaching her academic class in reading & writing.

If you were asked to find similarities between TESOL and dance, what would you come up with? Anyone not working in either field would probably dismiss any commonality between the two unless, of course, you consider the possibility of teachers dancing in class, which as we know is not totally out of the question.

If you dance or teach for a living, you're probably more apt to point out connections--dancers convey messages to an audience, while teachers do do their share of entertaining. However, if you dance AND teach, then the similarities stand out more and the connections deepen.

Adriane Lee is all too familiar with these similarities and connections. As one of NYLC's senior ESL instructors, she's logged in countless hours lesson planning, teaching, and brainstorming for the ESL classroom--more than 6 years worth. Her background in dance, however, goes back further as a young girl of about 8 in Orange County, California, where dancing to MTV videos solely for fun led to ballet lessons as a teenager and later helped her decide to change her focus from physics to dance at the University of California at Berkeley.

She remembers declaring her major in dance as not being easy as she didn't want to disappoint her parents, and even with their support, she didn't feel the sense of excitement she thought one should have when making such a major decision.

"It just felt comfortable," she says remembering her decision to pursue dance as a major.

Perhaps comfortable is just as good as exciting or even better. While physics connected the dots for her and made sense of the math that she learned to enjoy in high school as it placed the abstractness and tediousness of calculus and algebra in context, dance slowly revealed itself to her until she realized it had been the one interest that had stayed consistent throughout her life.

As it turned out, the comfortable decision also just felt right. She eventually earned a B.A. in Dance and Performance Studies at U.C. Berkeley. She then moved east to experience life as an artist and to develop her skills.

Adriane moved to New York in 2001 after receiving what she calls a fantastic education out west and became part of the dance community here, taking dance classes in the West Village learning the Cunningham technique, a dance style renowned among dancers, in a studio run by the creator of the technique, Merce Cunningham, himself.

"I just felt like an artist in New York, and it felt good," she explains reminiscing about her early years in Manhattan hanging out and learning together with friends from college and improving her craft.

Eventually, she moved into the world of choreography, where she learned to flex and develop a different set of skills and started to use her talent and maturity in dance in a leadership role. Managing a group of dancers required looking at a performance differently, and she had to develop the ability to see the bigger picture, to piece together sequences of steps and lifts, and time these moves with the music while also keeping the costumes in mind during rehearsal.

In 2008-2009, Adriane became the Fresh Tracks Resident Artist at Dance Theater Workshop (now New York Live Arts), a position that provided her with rehearsal space and a place to showcase her talent by letting her create and present an original dance performance. The residency also offered workshops and mentorship programs that allowed her to discuss artistic and business issues with members of the dance community.

All this isn't as far flung from TESOL as it might seem at first glance. Adriane came across teaching ESL as she looked for ways to support her artist's life in New York. She started teaching at NYLC shortly after earning her CELTA at Teaching House NYC in November 2007.
Luis, Adriane, Taylor, & Vanessa at NYLC Midtown.

Choreographing, she found, uses the same kinds of leadership skills as coordinating in an ESL school. In addition to being an instructor and the school's first activities coordinator, Adriane was the evening and weekends coordinator at New York Language Center's Jackson Heights branch until early March when she decided to give up the position to take a break and reassess her goals for her future.

Placing students in the right classes, managing and being there for the teachers, working with curriculum development, making quick decisions at times to make things at school run smoothly, she found, use skills that run parallel to the ones she uses when working with dancers in putting a performance together.

Adriane sees both TESOL and dance as process-based and all about getting from A to B. Both jobs require a constant need to be aware of what you are doing, to reflect on what you've just done, and to reevaluate in order to do better the next time.

While the process is similar, the clarity of the goals in each field actually differ, according to her. TESOL usually has clear goals from the start and can be mapped out in a lesson plan albeit with some degree of flexibility and improvisation, and student learning is often the clear endpoint. The goals in dance, however, are less obvious in the beginning. Dancers are given tasks and the choreographer has to observe and evaluate how a group looks to decide what happens next.

Adriane continues to teach at NYLC's Midtown branch until her break from TESOL begins in May and she heads back to California. The open road awaits her, both literally and metaphorically, and she's about to embark on some major soul searching where she will try to look deep in herself and as far as she can into her future. She isn't sure yet whether her road will lead back to New York or TESOL or an M.F.A. or to something and somewhere completely different. Whereever her next journey leads, however, she's grateful for lessons learned from both dance and TESOL.

Dance, she says, has broadened her awareness of so many things in life.

"My level of appreciation has skyrocketed," she says, "including my awareness of process, subtlety, and the different scales of time and space."

In the classroom, her moments of bliss happen when lessons go according to plan, when she sees the looks of epiphany on students' faces when they get the lesson, and when she witnesses friendships form in her classroom among students from different cultural backgrounds even with limited English.

Her decision to move to California, in a way, uses a skill she has been honing in both TESOL and dance: to be decisive, to make a move and not simply to let things happen. We wish her the best and hope that our paths cross in the future whether it be in TESOL, in a performance hall, in New York, or elsewhere.

ADRIANE'S TIPS: Read about Adriane's practical advice on how to improve your English while watching your favorite shows! They're at our Studying English blog.

-- written by Joe Yu, ESL instructor

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