I’ve always been inspired by the written word. This year, I’m using Maya Angelou’s poem, Life Doesn’t Frighten Me, as the cornerstone for my daily lessons and the culminating performance of my residency at Los Lojas community school.
Part of the final performance will include a special mixed media presentation of Life Doesn’t Frighten Me. For this piece, I selected 21 dancers who would return each afternoon—in addition to their daily 45-minute class—to rehearse. (I chose the 21 students based on their attendance and class participation, a willingness to take risks, leadership and teamwork skills and their general spirit toward their peers and performing.) We’re going to perform the same choreography three ways: to the poem being read in English; to the poem being read in Spanish; and finally, without the poem —to music from the film My Neighbor Totora.
Angelou’s poem highlights a certain rite of passage for all children: To deny what frightens them most, while secretly allowing those fears to lie dormant in the forefront of their minds—that growing up is learning to acknowledge those fears without letting them overtake one’s actions. Angelou had said: “I wrote this poem for all children who whistle in the dark and who refuse to admit that they are frightened out of their wits.”
This particularly resonates with my residency: Through dance, I want the dancers at Los Lojas to be able to face their own fears head on and feel supported within our community. I fully believe that when children are faced with a seemingly insurmountable task, they will always rise to the occasion if they feel supported and loved.
After reading the poem and learning some of the choreography for the special piece, I asked students to reflect on that day’s work. Here are some of my favorite questions and answers:
How did it make you feel to be one of the 21 students chosen to dance the poem?
“I feel that I can conquer what I set my mind to.” - Cesar Pacheco, 12
How does the poem make you feel?
“I used to be so afraid to dance, now I am overcoming this fear and enjoying it.” - Nicole Sanchez, 9
“It’s teaching me to be strong and not scared. I used to be so afraid when I was left home alone. Now I feel more secure.” - Diana Martinez, 10 (pictured)
What have you learned so far in dance classes?
“I’ve learned to have self control. Sometimes I can be aggressive, but in dance class I think twice before behaving like that. It makes me realize that behaving like that was wrong.” - Victor Landy, 12
Adam Holms M.A. is director of ballet education for The Performing Arts Center of Connecticut and is a graduate of the NYU/ABT Masters program in ballet pedagogy and teaching dance in the professions. He holds a B.S in secondary education and ballet performance from Butler University. For the past three years, he’s traveled to Guayaquil Ecuador to bring dance education to students, ages 6–18. Dance Teacher asked him to blog about his experiences on this summer’s trip.