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The burgeoning field of multimodality research has made inroads with that of situated cognition to provide nuanced understandings of human learning and development in ways that have discredited long-held distinctions in developmental research between mental activity (thinking/conceptual) and physical activity (doing/applied). How embodied learning intersects with aesthetic perception in arts learning, however, has largely failed to capture the curiosity of scholars within these traditions. I attend to this oversight by adapting Charles Goodwin’s conceptualization of professional vision in my study of professional proprioception in children’s learning of ballet folklórico.
I conduct this video ethnographic research at a small ballet folklórico studio in El Paso, Texas near the US and Mexico border. The children at the school are between the ages of four years and twelve years and are of Mexican descent. The data I present for this talk primarily are derived from the video documentation of classes at the studio; I select key incidents (Erickson, 1977) to analyze that demonstrate moments of refinement (e.g., sound of the foot hitting the floor, positioning of the torso) of the children’s practice. Following the approach taken by Marjorie Goodwin and Asta Cekaite (2018) in their study of embodiment in everyday family practices, I examine these key incidents in terms of how the visual, aural, and haptic senses are co-implicated as an “intersensorial” (Howe, 2005, p. 7) practice and detail their sequential and simultaneous social organization. I draw upon interviews with teachers and family members as well as my research into the history of ballet folklórico education in the US and Mexico to relate these key incidents to their wider social context.
My analyses develop a category scheme comprised of the varied proprioceptive responses teachers wish for students to acquire. Lightness of being while hitting the foot to the floor to make a clear sound, ways of hearing the sound the teacher makes and replicating the rhythm in one’s own body, ways of feeling the lift of the torso that communicates the charro (proud and dignified) posture of the bailarin are a few examples of this category scheme. I also describe how the teachers interweave a variety of instructional approaches comprised of multiple symbol systems in order to communicate to students these cognitive and embodied discriminations. A teacher, for example, might cradle a young dancer from behind to show her how to lean on an angle into the posture or ask the child dancers to “listen” with their eyes closed as she performs the rhythm of the footwork. Lastly, I show how emotional valiance overlays this teaching in a manner that shows both an ethic of care for the children while also demanding their competency through hard work so as honor the tradition of the cultural dance. In these ways my analysis begins to detail the complex cultural and historical organization of teaching and learning in ballet folklórico—practices that are multisemiotic, multisensorial, and cognitive in combination.