News

JUNTOS Collective Brings Dance Teachers to Underserved Communities (and It's What the World Needs Now)

Eleanor Frechette with student. Photo courtesy of JUNTOS Collective

JUNTOS Collective uses dance education to connect with underserved communities in Mexico, Guatemala and Nicaragua. Now in its ninth year, the nonprofit selects students from college dance programs and conservatories to be instructors and performers during annual two-week trips. Locations that JUNTOS visits include orphanages, low-income dance schools, hospitals, retirement homes and centers for HIV-positive children. The organization just returned from Guatemala and will travel to Nicaragua, August 7–20.


"JUNTOS emphasizes the necessity of creating a strong class through adequate planning, strategizing, and effective teaching," says Eleanor Frechette (Ailey/Fordham '19), who participated in the program this year. "Throughout the trip, directors Joanna Poz-Molesky and Amy McMurchie give thoughtful notes on your workshop, providing feedback on how to further improve your particular teaching style."

Eleanor Frechette dancing during JUNTOS Collective performance. Photo courtesy of JUNTOS Collective

Along the way, teachers learn to adapt to different challenges they encounter. "On my first trip to Mexico, I was daunted by the task of teaching a class in Spanish," Frechette says. "Through many mistakes and mix-ups between words, I realized that the people I am teaching are genuinely interested in what I have to share. I find it easier now to ask for help, and to say '¿Como se dice?' whenever I am unsure of vocabulary." Another approach she learned was just to open her heart in class: "JUNTOS involves an exchange between cultures, not simply teaching dance. Understanding that I have just as much to learn from my students as they do from me helps ease the nerves of mispronouncing a Spanish word."

Eleanor Frechette teaching through JUNTOS Collective. Photo courtesy of JUNTOS Collective

Other challenges go beyond verbal language barriers. In some settings, Frechette and fellow teachers were advised against physically correcting dancers. On another occasion, they taught hearing-impaired children, but had to work with the fact that sign language in Guatemala is different than in the U.S. "My best strategy for that workshop was to consciously utilize my body to show a combination," she explains. "After all, you need not know the language to teach a good dance class; dance is the language we communicate with. I also made sure to include tactile combinations that can be easily discerned without words."

Frechette says that putting herself in new situations and learning adaptability in her teaching style allowed her to grow as a teacher, as well as reap its benefits. "Personally, my biggest reward from teaching is seeing my students light up when dance makes them think a different way," she says. "We aren't expecting to save the world, but I do believe that dance can save lives."

Music
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Securing the correct music licensing for your studio is an important step in creating a financially sound business. "Music licensing is something studio owners seem to either embrace or ignore completely," says Clint Salter, CEO and founder of the Dance Studio Owners Association. While it may seem like it's a situation in which it's easier to ask for forgiveness rather than permission—that is, to wait until you're approached by a music-rights organization before purchasing a license—Salter disagrees, citing Peloton, the exercise company that produces streaming at-home workouts. In February, Peloton settled a music-licensing suit with the National Music Publishers' Association out-of-court for an undisclosed amount. Originally, NMPA had sought $300 million in damages from Peloton. "It can get extremely expensive," says Salter. "It's not worth it for a studio to get caught up in that."

As you continue to explore a hybrid online/in-person version of your class schedule, it's crucial that your music licenses include coverage for livestreamed instruction—which comes with its own particular requirements. Here are some answers to frequently asked questions about music licensing—in both normal times and COVID times—as well as some safe music bets that won't pose any issues.

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Teaching Tips
A 2019 Dancewave training. Photo by Effy Grey, courtesy Dancewave

By now, most dance educators hopefully understand that they have a responsibility to address racism in the studio. But knowing that you need to be actively cultivating racial equity isn't the same thing as knowing how to do so.

Of course, there's no easy answer, and no perfect approach. As social justice advocate David King emphasized at a recent interactive webinar, "Cultivating Racial Equity in the Classroom," this work is never-ending. The event, hosted by Dancewave (which just launched a new racial-equity curriculum) was a good starting point, though, and offered some helpful takeaways for dance educators committed to racial justice.

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Higher Ed
The author, Robyn Watson. Photo courtesy Watson

Recently, I posted a thread of tweets elucidating the lack of respect for tap dance in college dance programs, and arguing that it should be a requirement for dance majors.

According to onstageblog.com, out of the 30 top-ranked college dance programs in the U.S., tap dance is offered at 19 of them, but only one school requires majors to take more than a beginner course—Oklahoma City University. Many prestigious dance programs, like the ones at NYU Tisch School of the Arts and SUNY Purchase, don't offer a single course in tap dance.

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