The International Baccalaureate launches an intercultural dance curriculum for high school students.
Dance students at Newark Academy tested the IB's pilot dance curriculum.
Of course, dancers use their feet. But can you imagine movement that only uses the feet? What about an entire dance where the performers only use their hands? How do the hands and feet instigate larger movements? These are the kinds of questions guiding the structured improvisations of dance students at Newark Academy, a private middle and high school in Livingston, New Jersey, and one of 1,300 schools across the country certified to participate in one of the International Baccalaureate’s (IB) programs.
“The IB curriculum encourages students to be risk-takers and to embrace other cultures, by developing a world view outside of themselves and beyond their dance background before they came to Newark Academy,” says Yvette Luxenberg, the school’s dance director. In the improv exercise, for example, some students use hand movements that draw from their study of bharata natyam, a style of classical Indian dance. “Picking a theme such as ‘hands and feet’ for a structured improvisation forces the students out of their comfort zones and teaches them that dance is more than just doing lots of pirouettes or getting your leg by your ear,” she says.
Under Luxenberg’s direction, dance students at Newark Academy have been part of a pilot program for the last three years, testing the IB’s new dance curriculum before its official launch next month. The dance program will complement the IB’s overall goals: to produce critical thinkers and promote understanding and respect for difference.
Founded in 1968, the IB is a nonprofit organization that prepares students for life in a rapidly globalizing world by using a rigorous, intercultural curriculum. The IB currently partners with 3,264 schools in 141 countries, each of which has undergone an extensive application and certification process. An IB school can choose to follow any or all of the organization’s three academic programs, including the two-year Diploma Programme for students ages 16–19, which is designed to prepare students for success in college.
The Diploma Programme has long included music, theater and visual arts, grouped together as one of six academic subject areas that comprise a student’s overall education. In 1999, following requests from numerous IB schools to add dance, the organization assembled an international team of half a dozen experts (including Sharon Friedler of Swarthmore College, Ze’eva Cohen of Princeton University and Grant Strate, formerly of Simon Fraser University) to begin planning a curriculum. “We started with an empty sheet of paper and asked, ‘What would be a satisfying dance course from an international perspective?’” says Caroline Harman, acting curriculum area head for the arts division. “We did not want a hierarchical perspective. We wanted to be clear that dance is dance across the world.”
The resulting three-pronged curriculum includes performance, world dance studies and composition and analysis. Over the course of the two-year program, students must perform in one to three pieces choreographed either by their dance teacher or a guest artist. They also have to create two to three dances themselves. Finally, the students complete a research project comparing two different dance cultures—one they are familiar with and one new to them—which culminates in a 1,500- or 2,500-word written report. The IB encourages teachers to support the students’ research with master classes, interviews with practitioners from diverse dance cultures or field trips to concerts, workshops and festivals. “Understanding that dance is an academic subject that involves scholarly work and has questions and answers really opens the students up,” Luxenberg says. “They realize that, in the same way that you study math or science, you can study dance.”
Dance teachers assess their students’ dance performances using IB rubrics. The evaluations are then checked by external IB examiners, who also review the performances by DVD and grade the essays, which ensures fair and accurate evaluations across a variety of cultural contexts.
Recognizing that different dance cultures will have different needs, the IB leaves decisions regarding dance teacher certification requirements up to individual schools. However, Luxenberg, who has a BA in dance and Spanish from Wesleyan University and an MFA in dance from Hollins/ADF, says teachers will feel most comfortable with the curriculum if they have a strong technical base in a few styles, experience with research and a good foundation in composition. “Teachers find it challenging and rewarding in equal measure,” says Sharon Friedler, director of Swarthmore College’s dance program and the IB’s chief examiner for dance. To help, the IB maintains an online curriculum center where participating teachers can share dialogue, ask questions and provide feedback on their programs. “It requires a great deal of imagination in order to open your students’ eyes to a wide range of dance styles.”
Participation also requires a sizable amount of organizational work. “It’s my responsibility to guide students through the program, to remind them of the particular requirements and to make sure they’ve completed the right amount of choreographic material,” Luxenberg says. “I make a DVD for each student and post numerous notices on the bulletin board.” But these efforts provide rewards for both the students and the teachers. Luxenberg says she can use the videotaped performances to show her dancers what the examiners are looking for. And when they complete the program, the students get DVD copies of their work. “At the end of the two years, they have this wonderful gift of all the work they’ve done,” Luxenberg says.
Friedler expects that interest in the dance program will grow exponentially as teachers and students realize the benefits of the IB curriculum. “Students learn to respect and also to be in awe of the number of dance cultures there are in the world,” Harman says. “The IB dance curriculum offers a way for them to think through their body and to link their body with their mind and spirit.” DT
Darrah Carr is a New York–based choreographer, educator and writer, active in both the Irish and modern dance communities.
Photoby Alex Cena, courtesy Yvette Luxenberg
A Minnesota after-school tap program thrives.
In fall 2008, Ellen Keane walked into North End Elementary School in a low-income area of St. Paul, Minnesota, with a mission to teach tap to kids who couldn’t afford lessons. The principal at the time, Hamilton Bell, embraced the idea. “He was thrilled when I said that I wanted to write a grant in order to launch a tap program at his school,” Keane says.
While the initial meeting was easy, the fundraising process took a long time. Working with two staff members from the school, Keane applied to five organizations before finally receiving a $2,000 grant from Target in July 2010. “I never would have thought that it would have taken that long. I thought that we’d be in the school within six months!” Keane recalls. Last October, with funding secured, Keane and her sister, Cathy Keane Wind, launched twice-weekly tap classes for 20 students as part of North End’s after-school enrichment program. Additional support came from the Dancing Fair, a local shoe warehouse that donated tap shoes for every student.
The sisters, who co-direct the St. Paul–based Keane Sense of Rhythm tap company, intend to develop a long-term relationship with North End, which means that their current students—second- and third-graders—have the potential to learn extended skills over time.
“Consistency is what we are looking for, rather than a one-off tap class that a kid gets to take once in their life,” Keane says. “Plus, if we start when they are young enough, even if they have a tough urban skin, we can still get through and develop a relationship.” The school administrators agree, and hope the program will continue to grow.
“The ultimate goal is to have tap be part of the curriculum,” says Shannon McParland, a curriculum specialist and site-coordinator of extended day programs at North End. “It helps the students develop socially and academically. What they learn in that class can carry them through life.”
Both sisters have more than 20 years of experience teaching dance to children in various settings, from studios to the local arts high school. Keane is also licensed in Minnesota as a community expert, which means that she can teach public school children in an unsupervised classroom. After working out scheduling logistics, the school has taken a hands-off approach, leaving the sisters free to design their own program.
Establishing personal relationships with the students has been crucial. North End has a diverse population and most of the students are eligible for free or reduced lunch. “Every child in the room needs something special from us,” Keane says. “That has abated somewhat as we learn their names and spend time with them before class. For them just to know that we are coming back and that they can count on us has been huge.” The sisters also boost morale by presenting each child with a certificate of achievement at the end of the semester.
The personal approach is proving successful. “The tap program is one of the only after-school programs where the students are consistently there,” McParland says. “Their attendance speaks volumes.” The sisters have also brought in an assistant, Tony Farrar, a 22-year-old African-American tap dancer, which McParland says has helped strengthen the program. “The kids look up to him as a role model—it’s what so many of them are looking for in their lives.”
Keane admits that she didn’t expect it would take three experienced teachers to teach 20 kids, but establishing appropriate dance class etiquette has been a challenge. “I was shocked on the first day. I knew that that it would be chaotic, because lots of first classes are like that. But it was amazing to see how long it took us to get them to listen. It wasn’t anything like what I expected,” she says. Keane Wind has found it beneficial to learn the school’s language for behavioral guidelines. “The teachers at North End talk a lot about respecting each other’s space,” she says, “which has been helpful language to establish boundaries in dance class.”
When students show good behavior, the sisters conclude class with dance battles. (Keane Wind came up with the idea after seeing students in Slayton, MN, battle while she was doing a guest-teaching residency.) “The kids love to show off for each other,” Keane Wind says. “They always ask to battle, but we hold off until the end of class and use it as a motivator.”
A typical class also includes technique, improvisation and tap history, which allows the sisters to tie in the school’s overall learning standards. “Our class applies to social studies, for example, because we discuss American history as seen through the eyes of tap dancers,” Keane explains. “We talk about the great migration after the Emancipation Proclamation, when African Americans moved to northern cities and met Irish immigrants in overcrowded tenements.”
North End faculty are working with the sisters to devise rubrics that demonstrate how their tap class meets standards not only in social studies but also in math, where there’s an overlap with counting and subdivision. In order to ensure that the program continues, North End’s current principal, Barbara Evangelist, has put Keane on staff and given her a small salary. A recent grant from the Minnesota Regional Arts Council has also supported the program through this spring. “We are finally doing what we are supposed to be doing,” Keane says. “This feels deep and meaningful.” DT
Darrah Carr is a New York City–based choreographer, educator and writer, active in both the Irish and modern dance communities.
Photo by Wickham Samuel, courtesy of North End and Franklin Elementary School
Mentoring for new K–12 dance teachers
Susan Rainey with her PS 122 middle school students
This month, plenty of new K–12 dance teachers will anxiously make their classroom debuts. Susan Rainey, who starts her third year as a full-time dance teacher at PS 122 middle school in Queens this fall, remembers her first-day jitters all too well. But thanks to a New York City Department of Education mentoring program, she’s had plenty of backstage support and peer guidance during her early years—even though she’s the only dance teacher in her school.
The Arnhold New Dance Teacher Support Program was established two years ago by Joan Finkelstein, director of dance at the New York City Department of Education, and Jody Arnhold, who co-founded the Dance Education Laboratory at the 92nd Street Y Harkness Dance Center with Finkelstein. The program, offered to all of the city’s new dance teachers, pairs seasoned teachers with those just starting out. “The first or second year for any teacher is challenging,” says Finkelstein. “But it’s particularly challenging for teachers of dance. Often they are the only ones in the building who are teaching that content area.” Having a mentor eases the transition from student to full-time teacher and provides practical advice that only years of experience in a public school dance classroom can provide. “It’s so hard to begin. It’s important to have help and to have someone to talk to,” says Arnhold.
Funded by The Arnhold Foundation, the program provides first- and second-year dance teachers with three classroom visits followed by assessment sessions. The visits are spaced throughout the school year so that teachers have time to implement their mentor’s suggestions effectively. Each teacher also receives a toolkit of materials, including books, DVDs and dance-motif notation cards.
To help launch and enhance the new teacher’s program, the school also receives a stipend that can be used to purchase additional materials, sign up for professional development workshops, bring in guest artists or take students to a concert. So far the program has served 27 new teachers and currently has four mentors (including Arnhold), all of whom are seasoned dance educators with years of experience and wisdom to share.
Of the many challenges that new teachers face, classroom management often ranks at the top of the list. “New dance teachers have so much theory, but it’s kind of a shock to be in your own classroom,” says Arnhold, where there are all sorts of practical matters that can throw a new teacher off. “How do you get kids in and out of the classroom? Where do their shoes and socks go? Who should not sit next to each other? Mentors can help with these simple strategies, which are really not so simple,” says Arnhold.
One of the four mentors is Mary Barnett, whose long history in the field includes professional work with the Alvin Ailey, Martha Graham and Lar Lubovitch companies, as well as 12 years of teaching at Talent Unlimited High School in Manhattan. “Ninety-nine percent of the time, I hear that discipline is a problem,” Barnett says. “After I observe the class, however, I find that it’s very seldom a real discipline problem. It’s actually an organizational problem.” As a mentor, she helps new teachers refine their class design in ways that draw students in and keep them engaged, thus reducing the need for discipline.
“Mary really helped me structure my classes—from the warm-up, to the theme for the day, to the culminating activity,” says Rainey. “She helped me figure out exactly what it was that I wanted to introduce and have students know by the end of each unit. Before Mary’s visits, I was trying to do too much in too short an amount of time.” But based on Barnett’s advice, Rainey reduced the number of units she had originally planned and doubled the time she spent exploring the material of the remaining units. “I made the units longer so I could get more accomplished within each one and the kids would have more time to absorb the information. In a sense, I’m doing more by doing less,” she says.
One of Rainey’s goals in restructuring her lessons was to put greater focus on technique. Since some of her students had no dance experience, she had been fearful of demanding too much from them. She had begun the year with an improvisational warm-up instead of a series of set exercises. “I would call out different ways to move across the floor, but I didn’t incorporate technique,” says Rainey. Barnett and Rainey devised a warm-up combining ballet exercises with Horton technique. Barnett also encouraged Rainey to identify specific technical skills for each unit and to build those skills into her class from the warm-up through the floor exercises and into student choreography projects. “Many of my students had difficulty pointing their feet in passé, for example. So, during the warm-up, we’d start with a plié and then have them point their foot at the ankle and then bring their foot up to the knee. After practicing that a few times, we’d develop it further by adding a passé relevé,” Rainey explains. “Later in class, we’d work on spotting and turning by practicing plié passé in four directions, followed by plié relevé in four directions, and, finally, by a plié into a passé turn.”
Rainey found that her students were excited about incorporating new technical skills into their own choreography and that their overall attitude improved. “They liked the challenge of learning technique. It kept them engaged and better behaved because they were focusing on something specific that enhanced them and made them better dancers,” Rainey says. “Students like being successful and I think they felt successful in my class.”
As a result of her mentorship, Rainey is starting the new school year with clear objectives for her students and a better sense of how to design engaging units. “I definitely feel more confident about my classroom management skills and the quality of education that I’m offering,” she says. “I know that my students are walking away with something—whether it is stronger technique or simply a feeling of being more comfortable in their bodies and more confident in themselves.” DT
Darrah Carr is a New York–based choreographer, educator and writer active in both the Irish and modern dance communities.
Photo by Donnelly Marks, courtesy of Susan Rainey
High school dance teachers forge a collaborative model
Kathleen Flynn (front) and Michelle Perosi (right) lead class at Union County Vocational-Technical School Academy for Performing Arts.
For the past year, Michelle Perosi and Kathleen Flynn have donned hard hats as often as dance shoes. As dance teachers at Union County Vocational-Technical School Academy for Performing Arts, they have witnessed firsthand the construction of a state-of-the-art performance complex for the high school in Scotch Plains, New Jersey. Slated for completion this month, the building’s careful balance of academic and performance space (it will house a theater, two dance studios and a sound recording studio, along with academic classrooms and a science lab) demonstrates the academy’s mission to provide specialized performing arts training in a rigorous academic environment.
An equal commitment to academics and artistic excellence has inspired more than the shape of the school’s new home. It has led the academy’s founders to build off-campus bridges linking students with professional dancers—and with a nearby university, where, through a unique agreement, the academy’s seniors can simultaneously earn high school and college credits.
Founded in 2008, the academy currently has 101 students, including 29 dance majors. Applicants must audition and are also evaluated based on grade point average and standardized test scores. “We want to prepare the whole child. That’s why we preach strong academics,” says principal Scott Rubin.
The first class of 47 dance and theatre arts students will be juniors this fall. Through an innovative agreement, they will leave campus for their senior year and take a full freshman college course load at nearby Kean University, including a concentration in their performing arts major. “It’s a great transition for college, and it will strengthen them dance-wise as well,” Flynn says. Though Kean does not offer a BFA in dance, Perosi and Flynn are putting their backgrounds in curriculum development (Perosi founded the full-time dance program at Ocean County Vocational-Technical School in 2001, and Flynn is former head of dance faculty at the Middlesex County School of Performing Arts in East Brunswick, NJ) to work with university administration to create a strong dance pathway within Kean’s College of Visual and Performing Arts.
With the help of a dedicated advisory board of performing arts professionals, the academy also gives students access to the professional dance world through an ongoing residency with the Carolyn Dorfman Dance Company. At least once a month, Artistic Director Carolyn Dorfman conducts a master class in modern dance technique and composition. She also sets pieces on the students and her company performs in the academy’s end-of-the-year concert. “To have the consistency of a residency that lasts all year is wonderful,” Flynn says. “Carolyn really knows our students. It’s like having an extended faculty.”
Perosi and Flynn would like to build on the idea of extended faculty by making connections to the area’s private dance studios. Academy dancers are encouraged to take 10 hours of dance class off-campus each week and Perosi and Flynn purposely schedule no rehearsals or classes after 3 pm, so that students can take classes at local studios. “We are not a threat to their programs,” says Perosi. “We are here to support what they do.”
Flynn and Perosi are excited about their roles in developing the program from its inception. “This is much different from being hired as a dance teacher somewhere and then being told what the philosophy is,” says Flynn. “Michelle and I are writing the curriculum and crafting the program. We want to teach the students to be artists. And the new building will be an artists’ home.” DT
Darrah Carr is a New York–based choreographer, educator and writer active in both the Irish and modern dance communities.
Photo by Dylan Scalora, courtesy of Union County Vocational-Technical School Academy for Performing Arts.