In the Magazine

Global Moves

Making a case for world-dance units

Sherone Price at the American Dance Festival

Students today live in a different world from those five years ago. Dance is on nearly every TV station, and YouTube has revolutionized the accessibility of dance, especially hip hop. Nearly every student comes into the K–12 classroom with some experience or opinion of dance—though usually not in ballet, modern or improvisation, the forms traditionally taught in public schools.

“We don’t teach in a vacuum any longer,” says Marty Sprague, a veteran K–12 teacher currently at the Juanita Sanchez Educational Complex High School in Rhode Island. Sprague began her focus on world dance to further her school’s cross-cultural mission. But like others, she has found that bringing world dance into the classroom complements the increasing popularity and availability of styles like hip hop and salsa outside it.

Cultural Connections

Today’s hip-hop, musical theater, jazz and even ballet choreographers (à la Jirí Kylián) draw strongly from world dance, particularly African and Latin forms. These styles feel very immediate to students, who can then be intrigued to discover that their ancestors danced nearly the same moves that are popular today. “Krumping, a lot of the b-boy work, and even the isolations and ball changes of jazz are deeply rooted in African dance,” says Sherone Price, who teaches West African dance through outreach programs hosted by the American Dance Festival. “Kids say, ‘Oh wow, that looks like this!’ And you can say, ‘This is where that came from.’”

Opening a world-dance unit by having students research the dance styles of their family’s cultural background can help them establish a personal connection to dance, as well as an understanding and appreciation of their heritage. “There is a self-love that you get when you learn West African dance,” says Andrea Markus, New York–based teaching artist who holds residencies in elementary and middle schools. “Self-hate is one of the issues that some kids in our school system are working through. One of the ultimate disses for kids now is to call them ‘African.’ When I teach African dance, kids can see a positive, beautiful, fun artform that has come out of the African continent.”

Markus also finds that West African dance can transform a disjointed class into a supportive community. Near the end of class, for example, she conducts a solo circle in which each student can improvise to the beat, while her strict encouragement-only policy keeps peer reactions positive. “By the end, kids just naturally cheer for each other,” she says. “I watch kids who are ready to be negative just transform, and it’s beautiful.”

World-dance forms also appeal to young men who resist dance. Price has had particular success with the South African gumboot dance, which is similar to step dancing, or “stepping,” which uses simple movements like military turns, salutes and body percussion. “Boys gravitate to it, because they feel like they can accomplish it,” he says.

Echoing this idea, Sprague says that high schoolers just starting out in dance often need to relearn what it is to play. She teaches social dances like the German D’Hammerschmiedsgselln (blacksmith’s dance) or Virginia reel. They’re just difficult enough to keep students thinking, but simple and repetitive enough to encourage a little friendly competition. “I have these huge guys just skipping and laughing,” she says. “Some of them have very dangerous after-school activities. But they are still kids at heart. It’s my job to give them a safe place to visit that part of themselves.”

A Bridge to Classical Styles

Technical benefits can also cross over from non-Western styles into ballet or jazz. In addition to strengthening muscles and fostering a new sense of musicality, Price says that the self-expression of world dance can “stretch the dancer’s sense of performance,” especially if he or she is more reserved.

Placing a world-dance unit, such as West African, toward the beginning of the school year before moving into ballet or modern can keep students from tensing up. “The kids learn to be a little more loose while still learning technique, and that translates into other styles,” says Markus. It also gets the students moving and feeling confident right from the start. “The rhythm, the jumping and the sweating makes it fun. And then if I ask them to do something quirky or strange like roll on the floor or stand in this weird position, they trust me more after that fun, high-energy experience.”

Getting Started

Susan Strong incorporates African, Chinese, Indian and hula dancing into her K–third-grade curriculum at The Chapin School in New York City. To educate herself on the styles, Strong makes a point of attending performances and  classes, as well as looking to her student base for inspiration. For instance, a few girls in her third-grade class have experience with classical Indian dance. “The girls are so proud to demonstrate and share the connection between their family and the culture,” she says. “When the students see that it’s important to the girls’ families, it means something; it gives them more respect for the culture and the movement itself.”

Strong recommends contacting a local college dance program where students with world dance expertise might have interest in giving a class or demonstration. She also uses the DVD African Dance 4 Children by Júlio T. Leitão, the artistic director of Batoto Yetu, a children’s African dance group in New York (see sidebar). She shows the performance segments in class and then teaches the steps herself.

Perhaps most importantly, teachers shouldn’t be afraid to learn alongside students. “I think teachers have a fear: If I’m not an expert, I can’t teach it. But it’s OK,” Markus says. She recommends starting out by attending local cultural festivals and checking with arts-in-education organizations about available grants to bring in artists or attend professional development conferences.

It helps to be open with students so that you are both learning and discovering new elements of the culture together. “I tell my students, ‘You can ask me any question,’” Marcus says, “because those unanswered questions are the scary ones. They say, ‘Is it true that in Africa they do this?’ I want them to ask me, because then I can talk about it and say, ‘Well, no that’s not true.’ Or ‘Yes, that is true.’ It’s about open communication.” DT

Resources for World Dance

BOOK/DVD: Exploring Dance Forms and Styles: A Guide to Concert, World, Social and Historical Dance, by Helene Scheff, Marty Sprague and Susan McGreevy-Nichols. Human Kinetics, 2010.

VHS: Dancing, 8-part video series by Rhoda Grauer. A Thirteen/WNET production, 1993.

BOOK: Dancing: The Pleasure, Power, and Art of Movement, by Gerald Jonas. Harry N. Abrams, 1992 (companion to video series).

DVD: African Dance 4 Children, by Júlio T. Leitão. Interactive Cultural Media, 2005.

BOOK/DVD/CD: Multicultural Folk Dance Guide, DVD and CD, by Christy Lane. Human Kinetics, 2007.

DVD: West African Dance, by Abdoulaye Camara and Nikola Clay. National Film Network, 2004.

DVD: Wongai (Let’s Go!), by Youssouf Koumbassa. B-rave Studio, 2000.

 

Ashley Rivers is a dancer in Boston and a Calderwood Fellow in writing at Emerson College. Photo by Grant Halverson, ©American Dance Festival

 

 

Dancer Health
Photo by Igor Burlak, courtesy of Tamara King

A raspy voice and sore muscles are not obligatory for teachers, but that's often what happens after hours of teaching. Being a dance teacher is physically, mentally and emotionally demanding. Unfortunately, whether it's because you're pressed for time or that you're focused solely on your students, self-care isn't always the top priority. You might think you don't have time to attend to your personal well-being, but what you really don't have time for is an injury. Here are seven strategies that will help keep you injury-free and at the top of your game.

Keep reading... Show less
It takes strength and suppleness to reach new heights of flexibility. (Photo by Emily Giacalone; dancer: Dorothy Nunez)

There is a flexibility freak show going on in the dance world. Between out-of-this-world extensions on “So You Think You Can Dance" and a boundaries-pushing contemporary scene, it seems the bar for bendiness gets higher every year.

Keep reading... Show less
Thinkstock

When I am lying down on my back with my feet together and knees apart and press down on my knees, my hips pop. It feels really good. However, now when my hips don't pop, they hurt, and my lower back starts to hurt as well. What do I do to get them to pop, and is it even healthy?

Keep reading... Show less
Dance Buzz

Bobbi Jene is another poignant film to add to this year's must-see list of dance documentaries.

After 10 years living in Israel and dancing with Ohad Naharin's Batsheva Dance, American dancer Bobbi Jene Smith decides to leave the company –and the life she's come to know–in search of finding her own path as a dancer and choreographer.

Keep reading... Show less
Dancer Health
Photo by Jim Lafferty; modeled by Sydney Magruder, courtesy of Broadway Dance Center

"If you don't have strong abdominal muscles, you sag into your lower back, your pelvis usually tips and you're hanging out and slumped into your hip joints," says Deborah Vogel, movement analyst, neuromuscular expert and co-founder of the Center for Dance Medicine in New York City. "It just has this whole chain reaction."

The effects of poor core strength can be dire for dancers: from weak and tight hip flexors, which negatively impact extensions, to lower-back discomfort and misaligned shoulders and necks. "Having well-toned abdominals for your posture is the primary reason why you should do stabilizing exercises," says Vogel. "It will allow you to bring your pelvis into correct alignment and good posture."

Keep reading... Show less
How-To
In Motion's senior company dancers and Candice after a showcase performance in Bermuda, (2016). Photo courtesy of Culmer-Smith

When I was 23, an e-mail circulated among my former college dance classmates at Towson University, regarding a teaching position as the jazz director at the In Motion School of Dance studio in Bermuda. I applied, and after a few e-mails, I got offered the job.

Four weeks later, I packed up my tiny little car in Denver, where I was a dancer for the Cleo Parker Robinson Dance Ensemble, and drove across the country to my hometown in Maryland, before flying out for my new life in Bermuda.

Looking back now, I had no idea what I was getting myself into. I didn't have time to think through how I should prepare and what I needed to do to officially apply for a work permit. I was mostly concerned with how I was going to pack all my clothes and belongings into two suitcases. If I could go back, I wish I would've had a more specific guide to what teaching in another country entailed.

In an effort to share my experience, here's what I wish I would've known before I left and what I learned over my 10 years living and working as a dance teacher abroad.

Keep reading... Show less
Dancer Health
At age 12, doctors advised Paige Fraser to stop dancing and have surgery. Instead, she chose physical therapy and team of chiropractors and massage specialists to help work through her condition. She has just begun her 5th season with Visceral Dance, based in Chicago.

Scoliosis is a condition in which the spine, when viewed from the back, has one or more curves. The vertebrae are abnormally rotated, which creates twisting and more prominent visibility of the rib cage on one side, and it is most commonly seen in adolescents ages 10 and older. Most cases cannot be reversed, but they can be controlled, for example dancer Paige Fraser who despite suffering from severe scoliosis, has thrived as a dancer. Dance teachers can play an essential role in spotting the condition at an early stage.

“Teachers can help to notice that scoliosis is there in the first place," says Sophia Fatouros, a New York City–based dance teacher and and former professional ballet dancer who has struggled with scoliosis since she was 12. “Parents do not always see their children in tight clothes, like leotards."

Keep reading... Show less

Sponsored

Videos

Sponsored

mailbox

Get DanceTeacher in your inbox

Win It!

Sponsored