Thursday, April 30, 2009

Thoughts on Teaching

School's started again. I'm teaching three courses at two different universities this term. Business English at the Georg-August University in Göttingen and a Business English course plus an intermediate English course at Uni-Kassel. This is a big step up from last semester's one course, and the commute to Göttingen makes for some long Wednesday's so far, but I'm adjusting, even getting into it.

Two of my classes are pretty big (24 students) and one is mercifully smaller (14 students). For the most part, the students are good, with a couple dingbats thrown in just to keep it lively.

I think sometimes that it suits me. Other times I feel like I'm dancing as fast as I can. I'm getting better at preparing for each class, so that it stays interesting, so the students don't do too much of one thing, so I can balance reading and writing and speaking and listening in every lesson. All three of my classes are three and a half hours long, so there's a lot of time to do a lot of things. It's also long enough that I come home pretty thrashed after a class.

One thing that makes me uncomfortable is that the whole thing feels somewhat like a performance, that I am trying to shuck around until these kids like English, or at least respond. I think eventually I'll learn to do more with less energy, but so far I'm trying to keep things from getting boring by peppering them with questions and making them respond on the spot.

My students must think I'm a freak.

There are a couple other teachers from Kassel who also teach up in Göttingen, so I'm making friends with them on the ten minute walk between the language center and the train station: an Arabic and French teacher named Amar, who's pretty cool, and a Khazakstani-born Russian who also makes the Wednesday commute.

Maybe it's somewhat cliché, but I keep coming back to this poem in my head when I'm teaching, and I kinda wish I could share it with the students, but I know it wouldn't make a lick of sense to them. I guess I get to keep that to myself.

Tuesday, April 21, 2009

Further instructions

On the corner at the end of the block...

And, yes, the b-side dub version is hotter than July...

Summer can't come soon enough.

Monday, April 20, 2009

Friday, April 17, 2009

Signs of Spring

Sunday in the park....

Overlooking Kassel....

Bunny hunting.

Everyone wants a place in the sun...

Or a whiff of the blooming trees.

Slowly the Markthalle returns to life: radishes, bärlauch, dandelion greens, spinach...

And Kathy in from New York to enjoy them with.

She saw a Wagner opera (alone - long story), and the Tanzabend 2 (with Fred).

And the next day took a trip to Göttingen.

Outside the city, the hills are alive.


And in the city, the ladies are.


Saturday, April 11, 2009

Happy Easter

now we eat the chocolate soccer ball...

Wednesday, April 8, 2009

Rockstar Homework

In a former life, Eva was a rockstar...

She was in a cool indie rock band with her sister (left). I used to work in clubs and would always get depressed by bad band names, and delighted by good ones. "Coach said not to" is a REALLY good one.

They got a lot of shine at SXSW (THE big music festival in Austin, TX) three years ago. Much like these guys did this year. But Eva wanted to dance, so now she's here, taking it to a different stage.

Last week she asked if we could have music lessons. I play nothing, but as you may know, I have records. Eva claims spotty music knowledge, so we arranged for a series of listening sessions. Last night went like this:

Uptown soul. Strictly for the grown and sexy. Adult music for serious times.


Portrait of the artist in exile - any album that begins "One day I had to leave my country..." is a must.

We wrapped up Lesson I with another artist who took it to Europe when things got too heavy in the new world. This is live in Paris. This scares me sometimes.

You have your assignment. See you next week.

Monday, April 6, 2009

"Write down anything green that you see"

A great writing exercise. French toast with kiwi and fresh fig. The green chair is coincidental.

The rim of the plate is green.

And then the things I find after breakfast...

Saturday, April 4, 2009


First warm days, open the windows, the bees returning.

They come in drunk...

stagger around for a few hours...

We clean them off the sills, lying back-up, for a week or so, then don't see them for a year.

Thursday, April 2, 2009

How do you remember all the steps?

Dancers get this question all the time. The answer? Rehearsal. We rehearse 8 hours a day, 5 days a week, for approximately 10 weeks in order to create a new piece. The other answer? Repetition. Though some started in their late teens, the majority of the dancers in the company have been taking daily dance class since we were children. Class is where you learn the steps and patterns and techniques. It's not so different from learning a language. You learn words, then phrases, which combined become sentences. Pretty soon you can repeat anything that is said to you quite easily, make up your own stories off the top of your head, and have conversations.

We do the same with movements. By the time we have finished our education and started to work professionally, we have repeated the same sequences, steps, and phrases so often that they come without thinking. But the repetition doesn't stop. In our daily training, we learn and remember short combinations quickly to keep this skill fresh. And during rehearsal, we create entire phrases and sequences by improvisation and experimentation, trying to find new things, movements we have never seen or done before. You could say we spend one half of our lives as dancers learning patterns for movement, and the other half trying to forget them and find new ones. They may not be big movements at all; sometimes it's gestures, walking patterns, or a body posture that conveys a certain emotion that we're searching for. Regardless, it's practicing them - repetition - that's essential. And that's what we do every day in rehearsal.

Here's a look back at our last rehearsal process, thanks to our Tanz II assistant Magda's photographs.

Start with some daydreaming during the ballet barre. Schöne Deutschland...

Find movements where you cling to each other "like your life depends on it."

Imagine you are in a box when there is no box. The one wall must become all four walls.

Discuss the lift ...

then practice it.

Catch your partner high in your arms, but don't take an extra step to find your balance.

A little play-acting ...

A little dress-up.

At the front of the room: a table full of people observing, writing corrections and developing other aspects of the piece. Director, Rehearsal Director, Costume Designer, Dramaturg, Assistants....

And of course, lots and lots of work on refining the movements. Sometimes we try to synchronize what we do, even down to the position of the hands, and the direction of the gaze.

Other times, everyone does their own thing.

And how does it all turn out? Cut and paste this link for a glimpse of the new piece.

Wednesday, April 1, 2009


Ever since Madeline dropped in for the premiere two weekends ago...

it's been lurking. It started as a gray haze....

then the coats started getting lighter, and now sunglasses are in order.

Time to wake up!

It's springtime in Kassel!