It Takes a Village

High school dance teachers forge a collaborative model

Kathleen Flynn (front) and Michelle Perosi (right) lead class at Union County Vocational-Technical School Academy for Performing Arts.

For the past year, Michelle Perosi and Kathleen Flynn have donned hard hats as often as dance shoes. As dance teachers at Union County Vocational-Technical School Academy for Performing Arts, they have witnessed firsthand the construction of a state-of-the-art performance complex for the high school in Scotch Plains, New Jersey. Slated for completion this month, the building’s careful balance of academic and performance space (it will house a theater, two dance studios and a sound recording studio, along with academic classrooms and a science lab) demonstrates the academy’s mission to provide specialized performing arts training in a rigorous academic environment.

An equal commitment to academics and artistic excellence has inspired more than the shape of the school’s new home. It has led the academy’s founders to build off-campus bridges linking students with professional dancers—and with a nearby university, where, through a unique agreement, the academy’s seniors can simultaneously earn high school and college credits.

Founded in 2008, the academy currently has 101 students, including 29 dance majors. Applicants must audition and are also evaluated based on grade point average and standardized test scores. “We want to prepare the whole child. That’s why we preach strong academics,” says principal Scott Rubin.

The first class of 47 dance and theatre arts students will be juniors this fall. Through an innovative agreement, they will leave campus for their senior year and take a full freshman college course load at nearby Kean University, including a concentration in their performing arts major. “It’s a great transition for college, and it will strengthen them dance-wise as well,” Flynn says. Though Kean does not offer a BFA in dance, Perosi and Flynn are putting their backgrounds in curriculum development (Perosi founded the full-time dance program at Ocean County Vocational-Technical School in 2001, and Flynn is former head of dance faculty at the Middlesex County School of Performing Arts in East Brunswick, NJ) to work with university administration to create a strong dance pathway within Kean’s College of Visual and Performing Arts.

With the help of a dedicated advisory board of performing arts professionals, the academy also gives students access to the professional dance world through an ongoing residency with the Carolyn Dorfman Dance Company. At least once a month, Artistic Director Carolyn Dorfman conducts a master class in modern dance technique and composition. She also sets pieces on the students and her company performs in the academy’s end-of-the-year concert. “To have the consistency of a residency that lasts all year is wonderful,” Flynn says. “Carolyn really knows our students. It’s like having an extended faculty.”

Perosi and Flynn would like to build on the idea of extended faculty by making connections to the area’s private dance studios. Academy dancers are encouraged to take 10 hours of dance class off-campus each week and Perosi and Flynn purposely schedule no rehearsals or classes after 3 pm, so that students can take classes at local studios. “We are not a threat to their programs,” says Perosi. “We are here to support what they do.”

Flynn and Perosi are excited about their roles in developing the program from its inception. “This is much different from being hired as a dance teacher somewhere and then being told what the philosophy is,” says Flynn. “Michelle and I are writing the curriculum and crafting the program. We want to teach the students to be artists. And the new building will be an artists’ home.” DT

 

Darrah Carr is a New York–based choreographer, educator and writer active in both the Irish and modern dance communities.

Photo by Dylan Scalora, courtesy of Union County Vocational-Technical School Academy for Performing Arts.

News
Courtesy Meg Brooker

As the presidential election approaches, it's a particularly meaningful time to remember that we are celebrating the centennial of the 19th Amendment, when women earned the right to vote after a decades-long battle.

Movement was more than a metaphor for the fight for women's suffrage—dancers played a real role, most notably Florence Fleming Noyes, who performed her riveting solo Dance of Freedom in 1914 to embody the struggle for women's rights.

This fall, Middle Tennessee State University director of dance Meg Brooker is reconstructing Dance of Freedom on 11 of her students. A Noyes Rhythm teacher and an Isadora Duncan scholar, Brooker is passionate about bringing historic dance practices into a contemporary context.

Keep reading... Show less
Teaching Tips
Justin Boccitto teaches a hybrid class. Photo courtesy Boccitto

Just as teachers were getting comfortable with teaching virtual classes, many studios are adding an extra challenge into the mix: in-person students learning alongside virtual students. Such hybrid classes are meant to keep class sizes down and to give students options to take class however they're comfortable.

But dividing your attention between virtual students and masked and socially distant in-person students—and giving them each a class that meets their needs—is no easy feat.

Dance Teacher asked four teachers what they've learned so far.

Keep reading... Show less
Teachers Trending
All photos by Ryan Heffington

"Annnnnnnd—we're back!"

Ryan Heffington is kneeling in front of his iPhone, looking directly into the camera, smiling behind his bushy mustache. He's in his house in the desert near Joshua Tree, California, phone propped on the floor so it stays steady, his bright shorty shorts, tank top and multiple necklaces in full view. Music is already playing—imagine you're at a club—and soon he's swaying and bouncing from side to side, the beat infusing his bones.

Keep reading... Show less

Get Dance Business Weekly in your inbox

Sign Up Used in accordance with our Privacy Policy.