Cultivating Relationships with Fellow STEAMers

The Cultivating Ensembles in STEM Education and Research (CESTEMER) 2015 conference brought together “a community of practice and research that explores the relevance of performance and performing arts to creating STEM fields as humanistic, collaborative, inclusive, and highly innovative fields of practice.” In other words, like-minded individuals that are working in a space that is not yet well established.

We were selected to give a workshop for fellow attendees. We decided to repeat our tumor killing bacteria (TKB) dance to receive feedback about our creative performance art. We attracted a small, intimate, and open group… that was, surprisingly, a little uncomfortable with dancing in front of each other. But, given the nature of the conference, they gave us our full attention and participation. The activity went smoothly, and everyone ended up enjoying themselves in co-creating the movement sequence. However, we were surprised to learn more during the feedback session about exactly why it had worked so well.

We had the opportunity to hear from very articulate participants about why they felt comfortable during the whole process. It turns out we were co-facilitating a friendlier environment than we knew. We build each TKB dance session from movements that are improvised by participants, and we select ones to add to a dance sequence based on how the group is responding and what seems fun. We personally like to move in ways that amuse us and give us pleasure, and we hope for that for our participants, too. Novices often enter a dance activity assuming success will be based on technique or performance skills, but this needn’t be the case. At the CESTEMER workshop, participants emphasized that they felt like no one was being judged on their dancing abilities. In addition, the fact that we were dancing with everyone rather than just directing the movement added a level of approachability. Unbeknownst to us, we were encouraging the phrase “Dance like no one is watching.” Our ability to co-facilitate and move at the same time, and to keep the activity flowing without pausing for detailed explanations, kept the groove going.

The CESTEMER conference offered a wide range of activities fusing the arts and sciences. It also featured a tremendously playful and open atmosphere. Well-established professionals came together to enjoy sharing new ways of learning with others who wouldn’t look at them askance for taking a more creative approach to their work.

The initial reticence of the participants in our workshop was particularly interesting in this context. Dance and science both suffer from a reputation for being the distant preserve of “experts”, something that cannot be dabbled in or played with. This barrier to both our forms is one that STEM Dance-ology seeks to address directly, not just with encouraging words, but also with participatory action! With multiple iterations of the TKB dance, we are honing our ability to accomplish this balance and are now confident in exploring many more scientific topics with creative movement. Our workshop participants were glad that they dove in, and we hope many more people will be too.

-Amanda & Shaila

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