In Professor of Dance Donna Davenport’s first-year seminar “The Mindful Body,” students explore the facets of mindfulness — including integrity, gratitude and acceptance — against an interdisciplinary backdrop that includes the history and philosophy of yoga, social justice education, storytelling, movement as metaphor and intergroup dialogue.
Throughout the semester, students practice mindfulness in everyday contexts, from writing to eating, while incorporating the tenets in public performances as well as fundraising for pre-Thanksgiving donations to the HWS Food Pantry.
The disparate aspects of the seminar converged in a “mindfulness ritual,” performed at the meditation labyrinth in Geneva’s Jefferson Street Park in November, which Davenport characterizes less as a visual performance, which requires spectatorship or a present audience, than a ritual.
Mindfulness, she notes, is a habit, an everyday opportunity to reflect, which demanded that the performance “was not choreography like the way I usually teach it.”
The class visited two labyrinths in Rochester to get acquainted with such spaces and prepare for the event at Jefferson Street Park, which students decorated with hundreds of luminescent aquarium pebbles and candles. Beyond those elements, the ritual consisted of a series of coordinated yoga poses “embodying personal integrity,” Davenport says, which highlights the semester-long course goals challenging students to connect their physical practices to social justice principles, to be brave enough to explore sensitive topics with peers and to unlearn habits of thought and action.
In the fall, HWS offered 36 first-year seminars designed to provide a foundation for students’ intellectual lives both inside and outside the classroom by helping them to develop critical thinking and communication skills and practices. The seminars also help them to enculturate themselves within the Colleges’ intellectual and ethical values and practices and establish a strong network of relationships with peers and mentors on campus. The seminar topics vary each year, as do the professors who teach them, so the classroom discussions are always fresh and interesting.