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Dance Grant Recipient: Prescott School

April 4, 2018

MAC Dance Education Grant – Chrissy Fowler

The Maine Arts Commission (MAC) established the Dance Education grant in 2015 to provide funding for schools to provide a learning opportunity for students in grades PK-12. Four schools, hundreds of learners, and four dance teaching artists from the MAC teaching artist roster have benefited from the funding. This funding is made possible through a dance performance sponsored by several community dance studios and school dance education programs in Maine.

Traditional social dance artist, Chrissy Fowler has been working in Prescott School, Washington this year providing instruction for the school’s K-6 students and staff. This dance residency is made possible from the Dance Education grant.

You can find Chrissy’s teaching artist profile on the Maine Arts Commission roster. The dance education grant is available right now for those interested in obtaining funds for the 2018-19 school year. For more information please go to the blog post called DANCE EDUCATION FUNDING. The deadline is Wednesday, May 2. 

Here’s the story from this year’s grant recipient… Thank you Chrissy for providing it.

Chrissy earned her M.Ed. in 1996 and started calling both community and contra dances in 1999. She has led school residencies for about a decade, and has been an educator for aeons. Leading contra dance residencies lets her combine PK-12 teaching and traditional New England social dance, the dance form which lets her identify as a “dancer” even though she doesn’t feel physically graceful. In this tradition, you work with a partner as well as everyone else in your set. Although there are sometimes roles which can be danced by anyone (e.g. “lady” or “gent”), there is no designated leader or follower. All dancers have equal agency in making the dance work—and we’re all in it together. Chrissy loves that! She’s also on the board of a local non-profit, Belfast Flying Shoes, which has a comprehensive outreach program including support for school dance residencies, such as the one at Prescott School.

RESIDENCY DESCRIPTION

All of my residencies have common goals: everyone participates in the dancing, exhibits pro-social behaviors, and makes connections across grade levels, and the residency culminates with a community dance for students, staff, and families.

At Prescott, we’re trying a few new things. First, my visits are structured in three mini-residencies, each comprised of four weekly visits and a culminating dance. Spreading it out over three seasons (fall, late winter, and late spring) has allowed me to integrate a bit more into the school community.

The residency also specifically connects to local history. Charlie Overlock, who fiddled and called for dances for 66 years, was born in Washington. He led dances all over his hometown and nearby. I’ve shared some of Charlie’s story with the students and I’ve taught dances I don’t usually use in schools – such as the foxtrot, which featured prominently in his program for the Washington High School Class of 1921’s graduation dance.

Finally, I was privileged to meet with the staff before the start of school, to find out what they wanted from the residency. Based on their input, I have made a special effort to articulate ways they can use the dances in their own classrooms (e.g. adapting them for movement breaks) and I’m putting together an annotated bibliography of children’s literature related to dance, especially various forms of traditional social dance. (When complete, the bibliography will be available to others via chrissyfowler.com and belfastflyingshoes.org)

GREATEST BENEFITS 

I lead dance residencies in many schools; some have me back every year. I think students, staff, and families value the chance to connect in a fun and active way… with eye contact, broad smiles, cooperation for all ages, and a lot of moving to music. And I think that’s the same at Prescott. We’ve witnessed a lot of joy and delight, and the best part is that contra dancing is something that they can do in their community for the rest of their lives. Maybe even with their own children.

LANGUAGE

Rather than any specific vocabulary words, I hope the learners take with them the kinesthetic language of moving their bodies through space in particular patterns. Contra dance figures such as “do-si-do” or “allemande left” are very positional, and there is also a tremendously strong left:right, clockwise:counter-clockwise dimension. We know that movement builds cognitive pathways, and contra dance can be a great way to learn, concretely, about equal and opposite forces, patterns, or directionality. The various figures also can support strong proprioceptive and vestibular systems, although that’s certainly not something I’d expect learners to articulate!

I also hope that they experience some social-emotional learning, such as the thrill of positively connecting with someone by dancing with them. Or doing the hard work of getting through a dance that’s challenging—either because the figures are complex or because you have to muster the inner strength to be kind and respectful to someone who’s not your favorite dance partner.

FUTURE REMEMBRANCE

It would be a thrill if anyone remembered the ways that contra dance is part of their own local history in Washington. Beyond that, I hope they internalize that moving – together – to songs and fiddle tunes can be both social and fun for all ages… and at any level of gracefulness!

WHAT PARTICIPANTS ARE SAYING

When students were asked for their response to the opportunity to learn with and from Chrissy, 6th graders said:

  • It is fun to learn to social dance.
  • It’s really different than I thought it would be.
  • I think it kind of feels like country but also feels a little like Scottish dancing.

Grade 6 teacher, Jim Freyenhagen:

I have been amazed at how quickly the students picked up the rhythm and the steps. The dancing makes them interact (in a positive way) with kids they don’t normally interact with.

Not only are they learning to dance but they are practicing their social skills with their peers and younger students.

Principal, Nancy Stover:

I think one of the highlights of this residency has been watching (through Chrissy’s magical techniques) how the students and staff have been able to abandon their inhibitions and try something out of their comfort zone. It has been amazing to observe students who struggle with peer relationships walk up to someone from another grade and ask if they could be their partner. It’s also heartwarming to see how well the older and younger students work together. They help each other learn the dance steps with patience and kindness, laughing and smiling all the way.

The community dance was a huge success! Parents and community members participated and those that initially observed from the audience, joined in and before the evening had ended, everyone was on the dance floor. The word spread throughout the community and we’ve had many people ask when the next community dance is scheduled. This residency has been one of the most rewarding I’ve experienced. It gives everyone a sense of belonging and inclusion while having fun! 

COMMUNITY MEMBER, HAZEL KOPISHKE, HISTORY

Charles E. Overlock was born in Washington in 1870.  His father Samuel played fiddle for kitchen dances. At the age of 6 or 7 Charles was sneaking his father’s fiddle and learning to play.  He played for his first kitchen dance at the age of 11 and continued playing for dances for 66 years. For the first years, most of the fiddle playing was for dances in homes in the neighborhood that could be  walked to. Later he would travel by horse and buggy, and in 1916 in his first automobile, to play at the many grange halls and dance halls in the area often traveling from 5 to 20 miles. Through the years the Overlock Orchestra included his wife Clara and daughter Josephine playing organ and piano and his son E. Burnell  on drums along with local cornet players. His orchestra usually consisted of 2 or 3 people but did grow to 4, 5 and once 6 members. He played for more than 300 dances at Light’s Pavillion located within sight of his home on Rt 220 between Washington village and So. Liberty.

Charles Overlock was a country fiddler that could not read music but kept people dancing for many, many years.

This information was taken from the book Sixty-Six Years A Country Fiddler, Charles E. Overlock  by E. Burnell Overlock, published 1984.

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