Dance News

JUNTOS Collective Brings Dance Teachers to Underserved Communities (and It's What the World Needs Now)

Eleanor Frechette with student. Photo courtesy of JUNTOS Collective

JUNTOS Collective uses dance education to connect with underserved communities in Mexico, Guatemala and Nicaragua. Now in its ninth year, the nonprofit selects students from college dance programs and conservatories to be instructors and performers during annual two-week trips. Locations that JUNTOS visits include orphanages, low-income dance schools, hospitals, retirement homes and centers for HIV-positive children. The organization just returned from Guatemala and will travel to Nicaragua, August 7–20.

"JUNTOS emphasizes the necessity of creating a strong class through adequate planning, strategizing, and effective teaching," says Eleanor Frechette (Ailey/Fordham '19), who participated in the program this year. "Throughout the trip, directors Joanna Poz-Molesky and Amy McMurchie give thoughtful notes on your workshop, providing feedback on how to further improve your particular teaching style."

Eleanor Frechette dancing during JUNTOS Collective performance. Photo courtesy of JUNTOS Collective

Along the way, teachers learn to adapt to different challenges they encounter. "On my first trip to Mexico, I was daunted by the task of teaching a class in Spanish," Frechette says. "Through many mistakes and mix-ups between words, I realized that the people I am teaching are genuinely interested in what I have to share. I find it easier now to ask for help, and to say '¿Como se dice?' whenever I am unsure of vocabulary." Another approach she learned was just to open her heart in class: "JUNTOS involves an exchange between cultures, not simply teaching dance. Understanding that I have just as much to learn from my students as they do from me helps ease the nerves of mispronouncing a Spanish word."

Eleanor Frechette teaching through JUNTOS Collective. Photo courtesy of JUNTOS Collective

Other challenges go beyond verbal language barriers. In some settings, Frechette and fellow teachers were advised against physically correcting dancers. On another occasion, they taught hearing-impaired children, but had to work with the fact that sign language in Guatemala is different than in the U.S. "My best strategy for that workshop was to consciously utilize my body to show a combination," she explains. "After all, you need not know the language to teach a good dance class; dance is the language we communicate with. I also made sure to include tactile combinations that can be easily discerned without words."

Frechette says that putting herself in new situations and learning adaptability in her teaching style allowed her to grow as a teacher, as well as reap its benefits. "Personally, my biggest reward from teaching is seeing my students light up when dance makes them think a different way," she says. "We aren't expecting to save the world, but I do believe that dance can save lives."

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How does your studio handle enrollment for boys? Photo courtesy of Shona Roebuck

I recently set up a classical ballet partnering master class for my youth dance company. A pas de deux class, if you will—think Swan Lake, Sleeping Beauty and The Nutcracker, etc., chock full of promenades, pirouettes and lifts.

I knew we would have plenty of girls interested in signing up, but enlisting boys is always a challenge.

Without much thought, we offered it for free to boys who attended because, here's the thing: no boys = no class. At least, in a ballet partnering class—every Sugar Plum Fairy needs a Cavalier, right?

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Photo by Sean Boyd, courtesy of White

Julie Hammond White is an associate professor at the University of Southern Mississippi, where she directs the dance education BFA. Here, the mother of two (Townsend, 10, and Dominic, 7) takes us through a typical week of juggling her personal and professional life. We caught up with White in October on the first day of work after her fall break. —Jill Randall


6:30–10 am Up and trying to rouse the boys. Throw in a load of laundry, pack lunches, set out uniforms. Drop kids off at school and head to the library. Finish planning advanced ballet.

10:30–11 Read 99 (?!) work e-mails. Taking a few days off is a bad idea…

11 am–12:30 pm Teach advanced ballet. I'm doing what I call "vitamin phrases": 2- to 3-minute phrases that focus on one aspect of ballet (this week, petit allégro).

12:40–1:55 Teach Methods in Dance Education. This is a course that all juniors, regardless of their major (performance/choreography or dance ed), must take to learn how to effectively teach dance in K–12, studios, higher education or community programs.

3:30–4 Grab a quick salad at restaurant across the street. Read letters from the promotion committee—passed the first stage of being recommended for full professor!

4–6 Grade DED 360 papers. These take a while. DED 360 is one of two writing- and speaking-intensive classes for the major. In their papers, students comment on eight areas of diversity as defined by the National Council for Accreditation of Teacher Education and find a media resource that addresses each to compare and contrast their views.

7–8 Grocery: bread, cantaloupe, Go-GURTS, apples, bananas, peanut butter, Nutella, pasta, cheese and oatmeal.

8–9 Laundry. Three loads. Also do a quick pickup of the house.

9 Boys home from day with Dad. They shower, brush teeth and set out their clothes for tomorrow. I sign homework and read them a story. Hugs and kisses, then bed by 10 pm.

10–10:30 More e-mails. Bed.

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