Rachel Caldwell graduated from the University of North Texas with a BFA in Dance and from Mills College with a MFA in Dance Performance and Choreography. She is from Houston, Texas, where she grew up studying ballet, tap, jazz, modern, hip hop and Scottish highland dance. Rachel is a Contributing Editor for Dance Teacher and writes the History and K-12 columns.
Ensuring that the timing of a 90-minute class delivers the best results can be struggle. Here, two teachers discuss the importance of leaving enough time to maximize your dancers' strength.
In Lexington, Kentucky, a good 70 percent of Jennifer Reynolds' 3- to 12-year-old ballet students speak Spanish at home. To accommodate the dancers and families of the Bluegrass Youth Ballet Valley Park Outreach Program, she teaches bilingually in English and Spanish. "Often the parents feel like they're left out of different things in society," she says. "It's wonderful to be able to create a space for the families to take their child to ballet class, participate and not feel nervous about it because they know what's going on."
Teaching in two languages takes extra time, skill and attention, but the rewards are evident not only with students, but for the teachers, as well. "I feel like it helps me have more humility," says Luna Dance Institute teaching artist Cherie Hill. "It helps me open up my mind and consider my connection with the students, what our differences are and how I can expand my knowledge to include what they know."
Finding Common Ground Through Language
Hill developed her own formula for conducting creative dance in both English and Spanish when Berkeley, California–based Luna Dance Institute began working with two elementary schools in Oakland. Since she is not bilingual herself, she worked closely with a classroom teacher to incorporate Spanish terminology into her weekly lessons. "I would tell her what the four or five main concepts for the week would be, and then she would send me translations for them in Spanish," she says.
Hill creates a "word wall" with the week's terms written out in both languages (rise/subir, fall/caer, advance/avanzar, retreat/retirarse) accompanied by pictures and Laban symbols. She teaches the class primarily in English, but emphasizes those terms by saying them in Spanish first, and then repeating them in English. It's helpful to have the classroom teacher in the room in case she hits a bump in the road with language.
Reynolds' experience is quite different, since she is a trained interpreter and fluent in both Spanish and English. She teaches most of her classes in both languages equally, but adjusts depending on the class. "I've gotten into a rhythm of interpreting myself," she says. "I say something in one language, and I just repeat it in the other language." This takes more time, but Reynolds says it's well worth it to break down the language barrier and make everyone feel welcome in her class.
Cherie Hill developed her approach when Luna Dance Institute began working with Spanish-speaking students in Oakland, CA. Photo courtesy of Luna Dance Institute
As their students get older and progress, both teachers phase their classes into more English. Reynolds says she can often switch to teaching solely in English by the time the students are in their teens. "It's not a set formula," she says. "I'm flexible with where the kids are at and what's needed."
Hill notes, "I've seen students' English comprehension really expand and improve through dance."
When Bridging the Gap Yields Big Rewards
One surprising benefit of the bilingual classroom is language acquisition by the English speakers. Not only do the Spanish speakers grow more comfortable with English over time, but both Reynolds and Hill have seen their English speakers start comprehending Spanish. In particular, the consistent routine of a dance class lends itself to drawing parallels between the two languages.
And with increased understanding of language comes a growing acceptance of diversity. "I love to see the kids grow and become friends and have fun together in class," says Reynolds. "They don't even realize that they look different or sound different from one another."
Teaching bilingually can create a warm atmosphere in the community, as well. While Reynolds' approach has allowed her to include many parents in their children's dance education, Hill cites the positive relationships she has developed with classroom teachers. "A lot of them really enjoy when we can teach in English because their students are learning that vocabulary," she says.
In a progressively more diverse world, bilingual dance education offers students valuable skills for the future. "I think that learning to speak, listen and write in more than just one language is extremely helpful in any job," says Reynolds.
Fundamentally, both teachers agree that whatever gets children dancing is well worth it. "For us to be able to move together is the ultimate success," says Hill. "When we're moving together, we're doing what we came to do despite the language barrier."
When it comes to teaching dance, teachers often find themselves wishing they had 10 more minutes to fit in that final grand jeté sequence across the floor or the last 16 counts of the hip-hop combination they prepared. In a K–12 environment, a time crunch is even more likely. Between increasingly limited slots for arts electives and the challenges of navigating a block schedule, time is a precious commodity. Here, three seasoned K–12 educators share their strategies for making every minute count.
Melecio Estrella, the associate artistic director of Oakland, California–based vertical dance company BANDALOOP, has been an aerial dancer for 15 years. With aerial dance becoming increasingly popular, Estrella shares five things to consider before jumping into an apparatus and up into the sky.
Master teacher, choreographer and artistic director Gus Giordano was a fierce advocate for jazz dance. He created the Giordano technique, organized the first Jazz Dance World Congress and founded Gus Giordano Jazz Dance Chicago, the first dance company devoted solely to jazz. When jazz dance had yet to find its footing in American concert dance and education, Giordano legitimized it in the eyes of critics, audiences and dancers alike.
When it comes to the competition circuit, each new year brings a plethora of choreographic, music and fashion trends to the dance floor—from dancing in socks to dancing with props. To cap off a great year of dance, Dance Teacher spoke with competition judge Lauren Renck about four of her favorite trends she saw this year.
In his Bollywood dance classes at AATMA Performing Arts, Amit Shah lets the music dictate which dance techniques the class will hone in on that day. "Bollywood dancing is really depicting a particular song," he says. "It's all about storytelling. So, we focus on the lyrics and emotions of the music first, and then establish the technique that will help tell that story." Because a lot of the music in Bollywood films fuses multiple genres, Shah does the same with the movement. For example, he might combine hip-hop steps with movements from the Indian folk dance bhangra.
University of Utah professor Molly Heller choreographs works that demand 100 percent commitment from her dancers. Her most recent piece Very Vary saw her cast of six speak, scream, laugh, cry and make a range of radical facial expressions in movement that was technically challenging, dynamic and highly expressive.
Getting that level of commitment from your dancers isn't easy, especially when it comes to facial expressions and vocalization. Heller shares six ways that she brings out excellent performance quality in her dancers. Try them with your students.