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Pedagogy 5.3 (2005) 379-408

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Dancing Bodies in the Classroom:

Moving toward an Embodied Pedagogy

I have always been acutely aware of the presence of my body in those settings that, in fact, invite us to invest so deeply in a mind/body split so that, in a sense, you're almost always at odds with the existing structure, whether you are a black woman student or professor. But if you want to remain, you've got, in a sense, to remember yourself—because to remember yourself is to see yourself always as a body in a system that has not become accustomed to your presence or to your physicality.
—bell hooks

When I began training as an associate instructor at a Big Ten school, I was twenty-five years old. My mentor suggested not to announce to our students that this was our first semester teaching. She claimed students would never know we were novice teachers, as they would assume whoever was in front of the classroom was the expert. My instructor seemed to presume that the physical context of the classroom would supersede the fact that the body of the teacher and the bodies of the students weren't that different. As the teacher, I had, after all, institutional authority. I found this proclamation reassuring, as I now had one less thing to worry about in relation to my new role as teacher.

Used to being a student and not a teacher, I entered the classroom on my very first day of teaching and did what students do—I took a seat at the seminar table. Though I was wearing a cotton skirt with my sleeveless shirt, [End Page 379] once I sat down, I was visible only from the waist up and so looked no more formally attired than the students. With a pile of books and several folders in front of me, I sat full of anticipation, occasionally making eye contact with students, simply nodding or smiling, not talking to anyone. Some students were silent, but others chatted, asking one another various questions (Have you heard anything about the teacher? Did you buy the books?). Anxious, I wasn't sure if I should talk with students, letting them know "the teacher" was right there. I wondered whether I should introduce myself at this point or wait until class had started. I worried that I had already waited too long to say something, yet I continued to sit silently. With a few students present and others filing in, the atmosphere felt casual but with some nervous energy (mine as well as the students').

Just before class was supposed to begin, I remembered to put my name and course number on the board, as this was one of the handy tips I heard in teacher orientation. Concerned about doing everything just right, I quickly stood up to write on the board. At that moment, my body declared itself that of the teacher. As I was at the board, the bell rang to signal the official start of class. I confirmed this declaration of my body when, turning away from the board, I announced (with as much confidence as I could muster) my name and the course number and asked students to check their schedules to verify that they were in the right class.

Some students had quizzical looks on their faces; many glanced at one another, looking for some kind of guidance or confirmation—Is she really the teacher?, their expressions seemed to be asking. Though physically present, my body was not read as a teacher's body. I looked too young; I did not look sufficiently "other." Some students quickly reread me in light of my announcement, probably thinking, "Oh, she's not a nerdy student. She's the teacher. That makes sense." Nevertheless, some still didn't seem to think it made sense. I was already feeling awkward, as "teacher" was a new role for me, but now I felt especially awkward, fearful that some of them would not accept me...


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