A Global Approach

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

Music
Mary Malleney, courtesy Osato

In most classes, dancers are encouraged to count the music, and dance with it—emphasizing accents and letting the rhythm of a song guide them.

But Marissa Osato likes to give her students an unexpected challenge: to resist hitting the beats.

In her contemporary class at EDGE Performing Arts Center in Los Angeles (which is now closed, until they find a new space), she would often play heavy trap music. She'd encourage her students to find the contrast by moving in slow, fluid, circular patterns, daring them to explore the unobvious interpretation of the steady rhythms.


"I like to give dancers a phrase of music and choreography and have them reinterpret it," she says, "to be thinkers and creators and not just replicators."

Osato learned this approach—avoiding the natural temptation of the music always being the leader—while earning her MFA in choreography at California Institute of the Arts. "When I was collaborating with a composer for my thesis, he mentioned, 'You always count in eights. Why?'"

This forced Osato out of her creative comfort zone. "The choices I made, my use of music, and its correlation to the movement were put under a microscope," she says. "I learned to not always make the music the driving motive of my work," a habit she attributes to her competition studio training as a young dancer.

While an undergraduate at the University of California, Irvine, Osato first encountered modern dance. That discovery, along with her experience dancing in Boogiezone Inc.'s off-campus hip-hop company, BREED, co-founded by Elm Pizarro, inspired her own, blended style, combining modern and hip hop with jazz. While still in college, she began working with fellow UCI student Will Johnston, and co-founded the Boogiezone Contemporary Class with Pizarro, an affordable series of classes that brought top choreographers from Los Angeles to Orange County.

"We were trying to bring the hip-hop and contemporary communities together and keep creating work for our friends," says Osato, who has taught for West Coast Dance Explosion and choreographed for studios across the country.

In 2009, Osato, Johnston and Pizarro launched Entity Contemporary Dance, which she and Johnston direct. The company, now based in Los Angeles, won the 2017 Capezio A.C.E. Awards, and, in 2019, Osato was chosen for two choreographic residencies (Joffrey Ballet's Winning Works and the USC Kaufman New Movement Residency), and became a full-time associate professor of dance at Santa Monica College.

At SMC, Osato challenges her students—and herself—by incorporating a live percussionist, a luxury that's been on pause during the pandemic. She finds that live music brings a heightened sense of awareness to the room. "I didn't realize what I didn't have until I had it," Osato says. "Live music helps dancers embody weight and heaviness, being grounded into the floor." Instead of the music dictating the movement, they're a part of it.

Osato uses the musician as a collaborator who helps stir her creativity, in real time. "I'll say 'Give me something that's airy and ambient,' and the sounds inspire me," says Osato. She loves playing with tension and release dynamics, fall and recovery, and how those can enhance and digress from the sound.

"I can't wait to get back to the studio and have that again," she says.

Osato made Dance Teacher a Spotify playlist with some of her favorite songs for class—and told us about why she loves some of them.

"Get It Together," by India.Arie

"Her voice and lyrics hit my soul and ground me every time. Dream artist. My go-to recorded music in class is soul R&B. There's simplicity about it that I really connect with."

"Turn Your Lights Down Low," by Bob Marley + The Wailers, Lauryn Hill

"A classic. This song embodies that all-encompassing love and gets the whole room groovin'."

"Diamonds," by Johnnyswim

"This song's uplifting energy and drive is infectious! So much vulnerability, honesty and joy in their voices and instrumentation."

"There Will Be Time," by Mumford & Sons, Baaba Maal

"Mumford & Sons' music has always struck a deep chord within me. Their songs are simultaneously stripped-down and complex and feel transcendent."

"With The Love In My Heart," by Jacob Collier, Metropole Orkest, Jules Buckley

"Other than it being insanely energizing and cinematic, I love how challenging the irregular meter is!"

For Parents

Darrell Grand Moultrie teaches at a past Jacob's Pillow summer intensive. Photo Christopher Duggan, courtesy Jacob's Pillow

In the past 10 months, we've grown accustomed to helping our dancers navigate virtual school, classes and performances. And while brighter, more in-person days may be around the corner—or at least on the horizon—parents may be facing yet another hurdle to help our dancers through: virtual summer-intensive auditions.

In 2020, we learned that there are some unique advantages of virtual summer programs: the lack of travel (and therefore the reduced cost) and the increased access to classes led by top artists and teachers among them. And while summer 2021 may end up looking more familiar with in-person intensives, audition season will likely remain remote and over Zoom.

Of course, summer 2021 may not be back to in-person, and that uncertainty can be a hard pill to swallow. Here, Kate Linsley, a mom and academy principal of Nashville Ballet, as well as "J.R." Glover, The Dan & Carole Burack Director of The School at Jacob's Pillow, share their advice for this complicated process.

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Teachers Trending

From left: Anthony Crickmay, Courtesy Dance Theatre of Harlem Archives; Courtesy Ballethnic

It is the urgency of going in a week or two before opening night that Lydia Abarca Mitchell loves most about coaching. But in her role as Ballethnic Dance Company's rehearsal director, she's not just getting the troupe ready for the stage. Abarca Mitchell—no relation to Arthur Mitchell—was Mitchell's first prima ballerina when he founded Dance Theatre of Harlem with Karel Shook; through her coaching, Abarca Mitchell works to pass her mentor's legacy to the next generation.

"She has the same sensibility" as Arthur Mitchell, says Ballethnic co-artistic director Nena Gilreath. "She's very direct, all about the mission and the excellence, but very caring."

Ballethnic is based in East Point, a suburban city bordering Atlanta. In a metropolitan area with a history of racism and where funding is hard-won, it is crucial for the Black-led ballet company to present polished, professional productions. "Ms. Lydia" provides the "hard last eye" before the curtain opens in front of an audience.

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