Posts Tagged ‘Karen Montanaro’


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.


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.

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.


In the News

January 21, 2018

Karen Montanaro goes dancing

Recently over one hundred fourth grade students at Cascade Brook School in Farmington had the chance to work with dancer and teaching artist Karen Montanaro. Karen sent a letter home to parents that included: “It gives young people a chance to tap into and express what they do best, and that is MOVE. When children are allowed to do what they do best, they are allowed to be themselves, to know themselves, to feel good about themselves and to apply themselves to whatever they do.”

You can read the article from the Daily Bulldog.


MALI Update

February 1, 2016

Leadership initiative moving forward

Several Maine Arts Leadership Initiative (MALI) Teacher Leaders are presenting workshops throughout the state. Many will be on the schedules for the Maine Art Education Association (MAEA) conference and the Maine Music Educators Association (MMEA) All-State conference.

The MAEA conference will be on Saturday, April 9, Lewiston Middle School, 8:30 – 3:00. Registration will be available in the near future at All-State will be held at UMaine, Orono, May 19 and 20. Registration is available now at

IMG_3762 2MALI Leadership Team met this past Friday and Saturday at Husson University for their annual retreat to reflect on the feedback from phase 5. Even though phase 5 is still underway the team had plenty of feedback from the Teacher Leaders. It was a great meeting and rough ideas for phase 6 are being considered. In March MALI Teacher Leaders will come together to take the preliminary work to the next level of planning. In early spring a call for Phase 6 Teacher Leaders will be announced. Please watch this blog and the Maine Arts Education List-serv for information.

Karen_Montanaro_135x135During the retreat the team also had the privilege of having dancer Karen Montanaro present her drafted TED talk. Many of you know Karen and are aware of her commitment to performance. To hear her speak on arts education and see the passion in her whole self was a special treat. Her performance is thought provoking. Karen is interested in providing the talk for others. Please contact her at if you are interested in bringing a group together to hear it.

JohnMorris_135x135In addition, John Morris, Dancer educator and MALI Teacher Leader facilitated work on creativity. John created comprehensive resources on creativity that are available on the MALI Resource Bank at If you are looking for a way to communicate with your school staff (arts or other content) John’s resource provides guidelines that can help provide the opportunity. Please check out the creativity resource that he created called Creativity in Education: Discussion Group Format at If you have any questions please contact John at

Screen Shot 2016-01-30 at 7.39.26 PMMALIs future looks bright due to the commitment of many extraordinary Maine visual and performing arts educators. It continues to be a thrill to work with the MALI folks including the thoughtfulness of the Leadership Team members:

  • MALI co-founder Rob Westerberg, music educator, York High School
  • MALI co-founder Catherine Ring, Executive Director New England Institute for Teacher Education
  • MAEA representative Suzanne Goulet, Waterville High School Art Educator
  • MMEA representative Pam Kinsey, K-12 Music Educator, Easton Schools
  • Kate Smith PreK-3, Central Ele School, South Berwick Music Educator
  • Theresa Cerceo K-12, MSAD 33 in Frenchville / St Agatha school district, Visual Art Educator
  • Beth Lambert, Visual and Performing Arts Specialist, Maine Department of Education
  • Barbara Vinal, IMG_3749 2IMG_3745

Karen Montanaro

November 13, 2015

Why have an teaching artist in your school?

Karen Montanaro has participated in hundreds of artists in residences for many years. She is a skilled artist and a skilled teaching artist. You may be planning a residency for your students or perhaps you’ve brought teaching artists to your students for a number of years. If so,  I am sure you will enjoy this video of a culminating performance from three 4th grade classes after only three, 45 minute workshops with each of the classes.

Karen is a member of the Maine Arts Commission Teaching Artist roster located at If you are a Teaching Artist and interested in applying to be listed on the roster we accepting applications until Wednesday, December 2. Applications and the details for applying are available at


In Today’s News

July 27, 2014

Portland Press Herald

In the Audience section of today’s news Bob Keyes writes about Celebration Barn Theater, the space that world famous mime Tony Montanaro started in 1972. Tony passed away in 2002 but his vision of “workshops and teaching space for aspiring artists” continues in the barn in South Paris. Many of you know (and love) Karen Montanaro (Tony’s wife) who has attended and presented at many of Maine’s arts education professional development workshops and conferences. Karen is known for her energized presentations that bring everyone to their feet and moving. Don’t miss the article and video clips by clicking here.


Dancing and Children

October 21, 2012


Recently Karen Montanaro sent me a photo (posted below) of a young child dancing in front of a painting by the Irish painter, John Lavery. The painting of Anna Pavlova was created in 1911. A further search lead Karen to a blog post with information about the painter and the artwork. It reminded me of a book called Dancing in the Streets by Barbara Ehrenreich that includes the traditions of dancing that are embedded in many cultures around the world. Our need as human beings to come together and celebrate through dance is a natural part of development. We can’t locate the origin of the photograph but is certainly is wonderful!

And from there another email this week from Anne Kofler with a short video of dancers who move into the shape of an elephant. Turns out it was a commercial. I sent it on to Karen Montanaro who confirmed that the dancers Pilobolus had a performance that includes the elephant. You can check it out at this blog as it was performed on Late Night with Conan O’Brien, July 2008. I know they’ve performed at Bates Dance Festival and Portland Ovations. I understand Pilobolus has other connections to Maine. The work dates back to the early 1970s. You can learn more about them in this Portland Press Herald article from 2010.

Speaking of Bates Dance Festival I just received their electronic newsletter. They’ve celebrated their 30th year and had quite a summer with wonderful performances. You can read all about it on their site. They have amazing opportunities for Maine students, along with young and veteran dancers from around the world. If you are not familiar with the program: Founded in 1982, the Bates Dance Festival is a summer program of Bates College whose mission is: to bring an artistically and ethnically diverse group of outstanding contemporary dance artists to Maine during the summer months to teach, perform, and create new work; to encourage and inspire established and emerging artists by giving them a creative, supportive place in which to work; and to actively engage people from the community and region in a full range of dance performances, workshops and discussions. Maine arts educator Nancy Salmon has been with Bates Dance Festival for many years along with dedicating many years to promoting arts education in Maine!


Henry Reacts to Music

April 28, 2012

Video shows man in nursing home responses to music

Artist educator Karen Montanaro shared this YouTube video with me. Henry is provided with an ipod and immediately reacts Henry has while listening to music. Philosopher, Immanuel Kant once called music “the quickening art”. In this video Henry responds physically, emotionally, and verbally to the music as it appears to awaken him.

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