Archive for February 28th, 2018

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Dance Ed Grant Story

February 28, 2018

Hebron Academy

In December I traveled to Hebron for a visit with Teaching Artist, dancer Karen Montanaro and Director of Drama, Sarah Coleman, Hebron Academy. Hebron Academy received funding from the Dance Education grant from the Maine Arts Commission. I really appreciated the opportunity to see the dance residency in action. I was reminded of what dance education provides that is unique to the discipline. The list of skills students have a chance to develop is very long. Thanks to Sarah and Karen for providing their reflections on the residency.

SARAH’S REFLECTIONS

Hebron Academy was pleased to receive a grant from the Maine Arts Commission to support a residency with Karen Montanaro over two weeks in December. The goal of this residency was two-fold. First to provide an opportunity for students in the classes to experience the art form of dance/movement. Second, for the school to offer a dance/movement opportunity with the hope of continuing to develop interest in after-school opportunities, and eventually classes in dance.
 
Karen worked with three high school performing arts classes on movement, presence, and performance. Students were challenged to use their bodies in ways that were very different from their daily routine – to move, to improv and to explore. At first, this was an extremely challenging and uncomfortable experience for students, but as they became more familiar with Karen they were able to release some of their self-consciousness and participate with more freedom. In writing about their experience students shared reflections such as,
  • ” I truly believe that she opened a door to an unknown side of myself. Through the unusual games and dance movements, she helped me gain confidence moving and using my body as a tool.”
  • “Having Karen in our class was definitely a fun and relaxing experience…with her there [were] no expectations or even limits.”
  • “From that week I explored [a] part of myself [that] I usually don’t.”
As a former teaching artist for many years, the experience with Karen was both typical and special. It was typical in that with anything new, different and disruptive to the traditional approaches to class participation (sitting) many students are resistant. It was special because with Karen, who brings her open, honest, authentic self to every class, students can’t help but release and play. Most importantly she challenges them to practice vulnerability – something we talk about often in our arts classes, but is hard to highlight daily. Even with the large amount of resistance she faced with our 9th graders, she continued to support and gently nudge them to let down their guard at a pace that was more comfortable to them.
A fellow 9th-grade teacher shared the other day that music was on in another class setting and a number of the students starting doing the movement sequence Karen had taught them. That feels like a true moment of impact, and success.

KAREN’S REFLECTIONS
I taught three very different classes and each class had its own positive aspects and signs of success. Two of the classes were electives. These two classes were positive experiences from start to finish. Each student came in ready to learn and try new things. Shyness and self-consciousness showed up in various ways (i.e., moving tentatively rather than boldly, speaking softly rather than speaking to be heard), but all of the students in these classes began to move with more authority and confidence. They willingly stepped beyond their comfort zones — where real learning takes place.
Success in these classes took the form of an enlarged movement vocabulary, more skill and precision in mime and dance techniques and an improved ability to access their own, truly original movement impulses. A lightness-of-mood “greased” these steep learning curves.  With each new skill, students progressed from tentative awkwardness to almost stage-worthy performance.
The more challenging class was the ninth grade arts class with thirty six students. About a third of the class was fully on-board from the beginning, but the remaining two thirds were almost paralyzed by self-consciousness. I told them that I was caught “between a rock and hard place” because the only way my class was going to work was if they agreed to be there. I couldn’t do anything without them. On the last day, all the students danced! They ran and leapt into position and we went through the choreography full tilt. By now, they knew the steps and I was thrilled to see even the most reluctant students moving with more energy and precision. It was clear to me that they had found themselves on the other side of a very threatening learning curve; a learning curve unique to the dance-experience that involves visibility, spontaneity, energy and expressive risk-taking. Watching this class move with willingness and assertiveness, I had a revelation that I shared with them. I told them that my highest hope for this class is that they will experience a type of movement that makes them feel so good inside their skin, they won’t need outside approval.  Paradoxically when you lose this sense of need, thats when you gain real friends  friends that will help you rather than hold you back
I learned invaluable lessons from all the students. They reinforced the importance of what I do and why I do it. My goal is to create a safe environment where they can take huge emotional risks; an environment that allows them to step out of the digital world and into the full light of day — to experience their energy, visibility, intelligence and originality working together in profoundly expressive ways and to love presenting themselves to the world this way.

The Maine Arts Commission will provide the dance grant once again this year thanks to a generous donation from a performance put together by a collaborative group of dance educators. Two other locations are enjoying this funding, I will provide information each of them after my visits to the schools.

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