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Post- “Dance Academy” Reflections on Teaching, from a Former Gymnast

In Dance Academy, gender, Teaching, teen soaps, Television on May 14, 2012 at 10:54 am

Phoebe B.

I am a teacher, and I have just about always known that I wanted to be one. I have selfish reasons aplenty for why I love to teach, and there are just as many political reasons why I think teaching is important. But this post is about more than just my teaching experience or thoughts on teaching, rather it’s about teaching style and the teachers we see represented and reflected in popular culture. That said, my own experiences as a teacher and a student certainly provide the lens through which I understand and negotiate teaching. I am, as described by my students at various points, fun and funny, awkward, difficult and rigorous with high expectations, goofy, helpful, young-seeming, and tough. I’m sure there are many more adjectives that might describe my teaching, from my students’ perspectives or even mine for that matter, but I want to stick, at least for the moment, on the descriptions of difficult, rigorous, and tough.

I grew up doing competitive gymnastics, a sport I began at 3 or 4 and left at 17, right before my junior prom (the prom pictures still reveal quite a few left-over, and impressive, gymnastics muscles). Gymnastics, from the time I was in third grade through the time I left at 17, was my whole life or at least a giant part of it. In that sport, you learn to push yourself all the time. Your harshest critics are your biggest fans, your coaches push you beyond your perceived limits to find new limits, they spot you until they trust you can do it on your own, and they sometimes cause you pain to push you further that you thought possible or even productive. The gym was a space where all the girls on my team both suffered and triumphed together: there were tears, frustrated storming out, yelling, time outs, extra strength exercises because you talked back, and hugs and congratulations when you stuck your landing.

I was never the best gymnast or best gymnastics student, nor was I the best school student. I didn’t stand out a particular amount, but I worked really hard, often surrounded by people that were better than me. This continually pushed me to be better–to be more like them. But the tough coaches were also crucial, although it has taken me quite some years to realize and appreciate this fact. They treated us like family, we were like their kids. When we traveled together, they set our bed times, made sure that we ate enough when we went out to eat, set rules and regulations for acceptable forms of behavior and instilled in us the idea that we were responsible for ourselves, our success, and our failures.

These coaches were, and probably still are, really demanding. But their toughness made me strong and responsible and sometimes even resilient. And I would venture to say that this is true of just about all the gymnastics girls I grew up with. They were the kinds of teachers whose methods I did not always like, but whose lessons have stuck with me. They were the teachers, along with some crucial writing teachers in high school, that influenced my own teaching. They are the teachers that lead my students to label me as tough, rigorous, and demanding. But that rigor, those rules, that discipline, also allowed crucial space for fun, for experimentation, for creativity, and for self-expression.

The Dance Academy crew

This phenomenon, the tough yet caring teacher, is not one I often find reflected in pop culture. But then there was Dance Academy, the marvelous Australian TV show available on Netflix. As GLG co-founder and partner in crime Sarah T. will tell you (she is the one that convinced me to watch it), Dance Academy is amazing. And it is amazing for SO many reasons. But for now I’ll just stick to one, which is the relationship between students and teachers at the Australian National Dance Academy. There is one teacher (and by the second season she is the principal of the school), Miss Raine, who particularly strikes my fancy.

Read the rest of this entry »

True-er Detectives: “The Bletchley Circle,” Lady Sleuths, and Friendship

In feminism, gender, girl culture, TV on March 11, 2014 at 9:06 am

Phoebe B.

THE BLETCHLEY CIRCLE S1

I sit on the floor with my legs crossed, just a foot from the television, enraptured. I watch The Bletchley Circle alone, almost as if sharing the show with anyone else will change the way I feel when I’m watching it, interrupt my complete and utter devotion to the mystery.

Susan utters, “When this is over, we’ll have to be ordinary.” What she means is, We will have to pretend that we’re not brilliant. We will have to pretend we’re ordinary because we are women and smile politely at others’ accomplishments. It’s only been two minutes, but I am already devoted. I fear ordinary too. I fear boredom and expectations of marriage, children, home-owning. A life that is not your own.

I can feel my mouth forming a smile as Ted walks into the room to ask what I’m up to. I don’t want to answer and I don’t want to pause the show, because I’m worried that I might lose this feeling. But I do, and I do. Luckily, I don’t.

***

The Bletchley Circle tells the story of four former World War II code-breakers who happen to be women. The mystery at the center of the show is amazing; the characters who solve it, even more so. The series is about power in the face of powerlessness, determination and solidarity and what four brilliant women can do together. Read the rest of this entry »

GLG Year-End Picks: Phoebe’s Top 5 TV Shows

In ABC Soaps, Dance Academy, Pretty Little Liars, Scandal, Television on December 19, 2012 at 11:31 am

I watch a lot of TV. Like a lot. Thus, I was excited to put together this list, which did prove quite hard as there is a lot of fun TV out there right now. Anyway, as I made this list, I realized that all my favorite shows feature amazing leading ladies (both on and off-screen). This top five (perhaps save for PLL) is in no order in particular.

1) Pretty Little Liars

Pretty-Little-Liars-Aria-Spencer-Emily-Hanna

PLL continues its reign in my top spot. I realize this is not a 2012 show BUT last season was so good. It included such gems as a Psycho-esque season finale, a Rear Window reference, and Jenna regaining her sight in the best femme fatale scene ever. Oh and then there is Mona … the best villainess ever.

2) The Mindy Project

mindy-project__oPt

I was sold by the preview and the pilot. There is something so hilarious and charming about the Mindy Project and its hilarious and pretty awesome (and very pretty) heroine. I love Mindy’s spacey and craziness, but also that she has this super successful and amazing career. Most recently, we saw sadly that her new boyfriend turned out to be a jerk, but the highlight of the episode was how great her friends were afterwards. Basically, The Mindy Project is delightful and snarky simultaneously.

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A Giant Anniversary

In feminism, Food Network, girl culture, Hunger Games, Teaching, teen soaps, violence on June 19, 2012 at 9:18 pm

Phoebe B. & Sarah T.

It seems like only yesterday that Girls Like Giants was a tiny blog-like twinkle in our eyes. But the calendar doesn’t lie: GLG is officially one year old.

So much has happened in the last 12 months, it’s as if we all exist in a perpetual state of hyper-reality. Titanic sailed back into our lives on the winds of romantic nostalgia and 3-D mania; Katniss slew our hearts with her hardcore, hard-up courage; Rihanna found love in a hopeless place; the whole internet world stopped to argue about Girls. And this blog became a place for sometimes-complicated, sometimes-funny, always-thoughtful conversations about media and popular culture.

That last development is thanks to GLG’s awesomely talented contributors and to our equally awesome readers. You are the smize in our eyes, the Knope in our hope, the Unique wonder that makes us feel glee. Basically, you’re the best. Without you, we’re just a blog in a big old black hole of nothing.

To celebrate our blog-o-versary, we’ve put together a short list of some of our favorite posts from the past year. We limited ourselves to picking just one post from each author. What were some of your favorite posts from the past year? And what kinds of subjects and topics would you like to see GLG take on in the future? Let us know in the comments — we’re all ears.

Sarah T. tackles literary sexism in “Jonathan Franzen, Edith Wharton, and the Problem of Personality.”

Phoebe B. reflects on a gymnastics-filled childhood, tough coaches, and her favorite show in “Post-Dance Academy Reflections on Teaching, from a Former Gymnast.”

Melissa S. considers how to reconcile her love of Kanye with hip hop’s frequent women-bashing in “My Beautiful Dark Twisted Affair with Misogyny, Hip Hop, and Post-Feminism.”

Chelsea B. explores how removing Katniss’s voice impacts The Hunger Games movie in “On Silencing Katniss and Lady-Feelings.”

Sarah S. revels in Vampire Diaries, Caroline, and second chances in “The Unique, Potentially Surprising Ethics of The Vampire Diaries.”

Chelsea H. examines the Food Network’s treatment of ethnicity, race, and cultural cuisines in “Food Network Star, Branding, and Ethnic Entrapment.”

Brian P. contemplates cross-playing gender in video games in “Gender/Play: The Problems, Promise, and Pleasures of Video Game Crossplaying” Part 1 and Part 2.

We also want to thank our other amazing contributors Narinda Heng, Taylor D., Jennifer Lynn Jones, Austin H., Jeni R, Sarah H., and Gina L. for allowing us to post their thoughts on everything from rock climbing to The Hunger Games, Torchwood, Rachel Dratch, Scored, and beyond.

“Bunheads”: Regrets, They Have A Few

In teen soaps, Television, Uncategorized on June 12, 2012 at 8:44 am

Sarah T.

The smart-aleck heroine at the center of ABC Family’s new dance drama Bunheads isn’t a mess — though she sure thinks she is. She has, however, messed up several times over.

In the show’s pilot episode, Michelle (Sutton Foster) reveals that she let a promising dance career slip away, gradually sliding from the American Ballet Academy to the life of a jaded Las Vegas showgirl. She lives in a bare apartment with a broken air conditioner and a fridge containing precisely one six-pack of beer.

That’s Mess #1.

Mess #2 happens when Michelle is summarily dismissed from a Chicago audition that she’d hoped would be the start of a comeback. Fearing that she’s over the hill, she opts for a different kind of overhaul. Thanks to a perfect storm of desperation, martinis, and the kindness of a mild-mannered yet ardent suitor named Hubble, she marries a practical stranger. The next morning, she wakes up in the passenger seat of a car bound for the sleepy coastal town of Paradise, California. She ogles her wedding ring, stares open-mouthed at Hubble, and falls back asleep.

As a sucker for heroines who make big mistakes and live through them, I’m already pretty much set to love Michelle without reserves. As played with screwball-comedy jauntiness by Broadway darling Foster, she’s a complicated woman: brittle, warm, goofy, disappointed. She’s willed herself into tailspin for most of her life, using parties and drinks and easy laughs to muffle the nagging doubts that clip at her heels.

“You’ve squandered a lot of potential,” her new mother-in-law tells her. She’s a former professional dancer herself, so she knows what she’s talking about.

“I know,” Michelle says.

“Are you sorry?”

“Every day of my life.” Read the rest of this entry »

Girls Like Giants Presents: Our 2011 Preferences – Games Part 2

In gender on January 3, 2012 at 3:24 pm

Brian P. (aka Cyanotic)

5: Plants vs Zombies (everything)

There are too many games about zombies, but not enough games in which those zombies wear football helmets, attack from pogo stick, or cross suburban swimming pools on children’s inflatable duck innertubes. Clever, cute, addictive, cheap real time strategy and puzzle game with solid replay value. Get it for your iPhone/Pad/Pod/what you have/has you.


[P vs Z]

4: Bioshock 2 (360, PS3, Windows, Mac version January 2012)

The first Bioshock introduced us to Rapture, the sunken, failed 1950’s utopia of Andrew Ryan, (a figure inspired by the philosophy of Ayn Rand, because, hey, Aynagram). The game’s most clever conceit, revealed during its big plot twist/reveal, offered a fascinating commentary on the nature of games themselves: what is a ‘character’ in a medium in which control over (at least your) character is shared and conditional? What is the relationship between the ‘player’ and the ‘played’? How do games in which the player is given moral choices—indeed agency—coexist with the less cheerful reality that one’s character/avatar is nothing more than an automaton, to be used and abused as the player sees fit? Read the rest of this entry »