My heart exploded as I drove up to the school and was greeted with familiar faces of dancers and teachers I’d met last August. I was shocked at how tall some of these kids had become! A year changes a lot—but it did not impact the students’ eagerness to start dancing. For the kids at Los Lojas, the freedom of creative expression is as foreign as the domesticated farm animals loitering at the school’s entrance are to me. Since my last visit I had forgotten what it was like to see herds of cattle walking down the street or baby chickens running through the chain-linked fence to the school’s concrete slab courtyard.
After the initial wave of hugs and high fives, my partner and translator Ana and I went to visit the three classes of students that will participate in this year’s residency.
My goals for my initial classes were to re-establish:
1. A sense of daily ritual
2. Clear expectations for students’ excellence, participation and responsibility
3. A community of trust so students feel safe to explore and express themselves
Taking cues from National Dance Institute, I started the first session with a mixture of sign language, chanting and rhythmic clapping series representing “I go; now you go.” No translation necessary—just a commanding figure and 100 percent commitment. New students were easily initiated into the fold and in less then five minutes we were ready to move.
My residency also infuses American literature and picture books within movement-driven instruction. Today I used the book Perfect Square, written and illustrated by Michael Hall, to teach that things are not always what they appear. Just as a square can be transformed into a bridge or a mountain, we can transform our bodies into any number of incredible things by bending, reaching and turning.
After reading the book as a class, I distributed a square of origami paper to my students and asked them to see the potential of the square in front of them. Just like in the book, they folded, ripped, bent, crumpled or whatever their hearts desired to make something new and unexpected. In no time they were creating whales swimming, stars shining, vases overflowing with flowers, and rain falling over mountaintops.
I asked, “What does this have to do with dance?” One student answered, “we are your squares and your moves will change us!”
Photo of one of my students and his transformed square.
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.