After a career spent honing her own teaching methods, Rima Faber leads the charge for national standards. 

Faber’s Saturday morning class at Joy of Motion Dance Center, Washington, DC

Spend a Saturday morning with Rima Faber and her 2-, 3- and 4-year-old dancers at Joy of Motion Dance Center in Washington, DC, and it’s easy to see why her teaching is lauded. Minutes before class, as she organizes her bag of tricks—scarves, books, palm-sized stuffed animals and assorted other teaching tools—she says, “Everything I do has a purpose in learning dance and in learning learning and in learning to be creative.”

Faber is an evangelist when it comes to teaching dance to children. She founded the Washington, DC–based youth studio and company The Primary Movers in 1979, which for 21 years served as a laboratory for implementing her methods and theories of how to impart big ideas about movement, creativity, imagination and mind-body connections to little people. In 1998 she was instrumental in founding the National Dance Education Organization, the largest nonprofit group for dance teachers spanning pre-K to higher education. Most recently she has been chair of the dance task force for the National Coalition for Core Arts Standards, which this month has released new national standards for teaching dance.

“Rima is a master teacher,” says Karen Bradley, an associate professor at University of Maryland and a member of the dance standards team. “She’s engaging, she’s aware of every single thing that’s going on in the room, she responds in the moment to what they’re doing—if they wander off, she knows how to pull them back in—she’s funny, they’re amused by her, as well, and she knows how to talk to little kids.”

Like a mother hen with a coif of cropped red hair, she firmly leads her flock of wiggly youngsters, never missing a beat reining in the misdirected or distracted, coddling the hesitant ones and complimenting everyone, individually and as a group. “Three-year-olds are just grasping that they have a body, just grasping language and just beginning to understand protocols,” she says, noting that to start the class, she asks all the students to enter together, so they will feel integrated into the group from the outset—and so they won’t run wildly around the studio before everyone arrives. From there she introduces a song with movements that allow her charges to fly away like pigeons, but return to her at the nest. A brief segment on stretching teaches functional anatomy and body hemispheres: “What can we stretch?” she asks. “Our arms,” a pink-clad 3-year-old offers. “Can we stretch our arms front and back, up and down?” Some in the class suggest other parts: elbows, knees, hips. But in a few brief minutes, Faber changes pace and activity, before anyone can get bored or distracted.

There’s a method and plenty of science behind all these seemingly simple exercises. And Faber wants to see teaching of dance, from the youngest preschoolers to those in higher education, evolve. She was invited to helm a committee of artists and educators formed in 2011 to articulate the national core standards for dance. The group she calls her “dream team” met over a period of three years and came to a consensus on what students at every stage should understand about the art of dance. The national voluntary arts education standards—which in addition to dance include media arts, music, theater, visual arts—describe what students should know at each grade level and specifies what makes them ready for college and career.

While physical mastery plays a part in the standards, Faber says the goal is to understand dance and dancemaking. In doing this, students enhance cognitive learning, develop critical thinking and understand approaches to making art. “Just as we want to teach students not just to memorize a book but to understand the meaning of what they’re reading, and to write their own book, why should we be teaching dance that is only specific steps? We want to teach our students to read and speak dance, to create dance.”

“I joke that I spent the first 20 years of my life getting the best training there was, then I spent the rest of my life
undoing it.”

The first national arts education standards created in 1994 have served as a blueprint for two generations of dance teachers, especially those in public education, for whom the standards were originally created. With the politicized and growing emphasis on core standards nationwide, Faber said it was time to update the standards for 21st-century classroom and studio teachers. The standards are both general enough to serve a broad cross-section of dance educators and specific enough that teachers from early childhood to college will be able to build lesson plans, classroom activities and curriculums that incorporate cognitive development. Eventually, there will be online video examples to make assessments easier and more uniform.

Beyond prepping children for rare careers with professional dance companies, the idea is that dance is essential to developing young brains. It’s a tool for teaching creativity, language acquisition, gross and fine motor skills, synthesis of ideas and critical thinking. The standards are built as a grade-by-grade progression. A high school student might be asked to “project meaning to an audience by projecting artistic intent from more than one genre or dance style and explain what a dancer must do.” It’s more, Faber points out, than just accomplishing a flashy leap or a high kick. “It’s the understanding of what a dancer has to do. And by the end of that term, they should be able to explain that,” she says. In the early childhood classroom, there is a greater focus on motor development, coordination and refinement of basic movement skills. For example, can a student discern the difference between a skip and a gallop and demonstrate that physically? What about the difference between a hop, a jump and a leap? And can a child see a skill and replicate it fairly well on his or her own body?

In the studio, Faber brings a rich and varied background to her work with even the youngest dance students. She began her early dance training in Manhattan, where she grew up immersed in the artistic world. Her father, Harry Gitlin, was a lighting designer and colleague of luminaries like Frank Lloyd Wright, Charles Eames and Eero Saarinen. As a child she studied with Blanche Evan, a pioneer in dance therapy, and Anna Sokolow, and, by 13, Faber was taking adult classes at the Martha Graham School of Contemporary Dance. In high school she was invited to take company class, where she encountered Graham and many of the dancers from that golden era, among them Bertram Ross, Yuriko, Helen McGehee and Stuart Hodes.

She was drawn to academics, as well, and set out for Bennington College at 17, where she fell in love with Cunningham technique. After college she worked in New York with the Judson Church crowd, went to Yvonne Rainer’s loft, where she experienced Steve Paxton’s early contact improvisation experiments, and did street dances with Deborah Hay. Over the years Faber has acquired vast knowledge and experience in multiple somatic and body techniques, which she incorporates into her lessons and into the standards.

“I joke that I spent the first 20 years of my life getting the best training there was,” she says, laughing, “and then I spent the rest of my life undoing it. I kept the essence, the power of movement, the dynamic, the emotional energy that children especially relate to.”

Instead of explanations, Faber favors vivid images and practical tools to help children conceptualize abstract ideas, especially since she says they can’t really abstract until about age 10 or 11. “I can’t just say, ‘Let your head move upward and forward.’ They won’t relate to that.” Instead, to work on vertical alignment, she might give each a palm-sized stuffed animal to place on the head and have them move about without it falling. “An animal on their head is sensory integration; it’s something they can feel,” she says.

“Why should we teach dance that is only specific steps? We want to teach our students to read and speak dance, to create dance.”

One of Faber’s many teaching success stories over the years is Philadelphia-based teacher and choreographer Meg Foley, who took classes and danced with Faber’s Primary Movers from 4 until her early teen years. “I was encouraged to be curious, open and to not know as well as to seek,” she says. The emphasis on improvisation from a very young age has made Foley fearless as a choreographer. “Looking back I realize there was a lot of discovery. Rima did not explain the pedagogy to us. Rather, she let us just experience it, knowing that ultimately it will actually become a part of the student. She trusts the intelligence of the mind-body theories.”

As the core dance standards get disseminated, Faber hopes that teachers around the country—those in public schools and those in studios and conservatories alike—will also trust the cognitive approach encouraged in the standards. “These standards focus on the process of arts making, not on the content,” she says. “We are not dictating what teachers should be teaching. We are dictating the general process: What do people need to know who have to make art?” DT

For the complete core dance standards, go to arteducators.org/research/nccas.

Lisa Traiger writes about the performing arts and teaches dance appreciation in Rockville, Maryland.

 

Photos by Linda Spillers

 

Dance Teachers Trending
Barbara Bashaw in Thompson Hall of Columbia Teachers College. Photo by Kyle Froman

Barbara Bashaw has always been a pioneer. Since kicking off her career in education by building a dance program from the ground up at an elementary school in Brooklyn, she's gone on to become an inspiring force in teacher training. Now, as director of the new doctoral program in dance education at Columbia University's renowned Teachers College and as executive director of the even newer Arnhold Institute for Dance Education Research, Policy & Leadership, she's in a position to effect change nationwide.

"The study of dance education is a young field," Bashaw says. "Music and visual arts are far ahead of us, in terms of the research that has been done, as well as the foothold they have in education. Anywhere education is being discussed, we want to put dance on the table—and that means developing researchers and championing research that will push public policy." In a climate where arts education feels both more endangered and more necessary than ever, Bashaw is ready to blaze a trail.

Keep reading...
Instagram
Karen Hildebrand (center) with 2019 DT Awardee Marisa Hamamoto and members of Infinite Flow. Photo by Joe Toreno

Every year in our summer issue, we honor four dance educators for their outstanding contributions to the field. Recipients have included studio owners, professors, program directors, K–12 teachers and more, whose specialties run the gamut of dance genres.

We need your help to identify this year's best in the profession. Do you have a colleague or mentor who deserves to be recognized as a leader and role model?

Send your nomination by March 1, 2020. You can e-mail us at danceteachereditors@dancemedia.com with the following details:

Keep reading...
Sponsored by Akada Software
Photo by Jenny Studios, courtesy of Utah Dance Artists

Running a dance school used to involve a seemingly endless stream of paperwork. But thanks to the advent of software tailored specifically for dance studios' needs, those hours formerly spent pushing papers can now be put to better use.

"Nobody opens a dance studio because they want to do administrative work," says Brett Stuckey, who leads Akada Software's support team. "It's our job to get you out of the office and back into your classroom."

We talked to Stuckey about how a studio software program can streamline operations, so you can put your energy toward your students.

Keep reading...
Dance Teacher Tips

Susan Pilarre has been closely tied to the School of American Ballet for nearly her entire life.

From her first class there at age 11 through her 16-year career with its affiliated company, New York City Ballet, Pilarre learned directly from the great choreographer George Balanchine, absorbing the details of his unique style. Sensing her innate understanding of his principles, Balanchine encouraged her to teach; she joined SAB's permanent faculty in 1986. Since then, she has become recognized as an authority on Balanchine's teachings, instilling SAB and NYCB's distinctive speed, clarity and energy into generations of dancers.

Here, Pilarre shares how the specifics that Balanchine insisted upon in class contribute to the strength, beauty and musicality that define his style—and dispels common misconceptions.

Keep reading...

To celebrate Valentine's Day in the most dance-centric way possible, we sat down with five powerhouse dance-teaching couples to talk about their love stories. What do they admire about each other? What are their couple goals and their teaching philosophies, and how do they make their relationships work, especially when they work together? Get ready to swoon!

Keep reading...
For Parents
Photo by Paul B. Goode, courtesy of BAE

Watching through the studio windows—or even from the sidelines in a Mommy and Me class—can surely make parents wonder what exactly our little tykes are getting out of weekly ballet lessons. After all, they're repeating the same things class after class. Are they bored? Are they progressing? Why are they doing that again?

Keep reading...
Site Network
Photo by Nina Lokmadzhieva, courtesy of Varna IBC

The oldest ballet competition in the world doesn't have the funds for the show to go on: The 29th edition of the Varna International Ballet Competition, scheduled for July 12–30, 2020, has been postponed indefinitely.

Keep reading...
Dance Teacher Tips
Getty Images

Q: I have a 15-year-old student who has problems keeping her heel fully on the ground during a demi-plié. How can I help her?

Keep reading...
Site Network
The eight 2020 Prix de Lausanne prize winners. Photo by Rodrigo Buas, courtesy of PdL

The 2020 Prix de Lausanne has officially come to a close after a thrilling week of classes, coaching sessions, competition performances and networking forums. The annual competition, which was live streamed around the world and watched over 1.1 million times, gave 77 dancers an opportunity to perform and take class in front of an international panel of judges. In addition to a classical variation, candidates had to master a contemporary solo by Mauro Bigonzetti, Jean-Christophe Maillot, Cathy Marston, Wayne McGregor, Heinz Spoerli or Richard Wherlock.

Keep reading...
Dance News
Photo by Wendy Turner, courtesy of Boulder Jazz Dance Workshop

This summer, as for the past 42 years, students will flock to Colorado to immerse themselves in jazz dance training and performance. High school and college students, professional artists and teaching artists alike will find opportunities for growth and connection.

The Boulder Jazz Dance Workshop honors tradition while also embracing innovation and change within the jazz dance genre and dance field in general. Before executive/artistic director Lara Branen began the Workshop, she and her co-founder Michael Geiger had studied at separate times with San Francisco jazz teachers Ann Garvin, Linda Heine and Ed Mock. Later Lynn Simonson became their primary inspiration. Each year Branen invites new guest artists to join long-term faculty who devotedly return year after year, including: Wade Madsen (modern dance), Nancy Cranbourne (jazz), Christy McNeil Chand (jazz) and Meghan Lawitz (contemporary). This summer will include lyrical, musical theater rep and a heels class, in addition to the program's regular offerings.

Keep reading...
Site Network
Getty Images

Nope, there's still no Oscar for Best Choreography—but we now get to reveal the winner of our own Dance Spirit award for Best Movie Choreography of 2019! Though we're big fans of all seven of the nominated choreographers, and think each one deserves to be acknowledged for their contributions to some of our favorite films this year, there can only be one winner. And based on your votes, that is...

Keep reading...
Site Network
Photo courtesy of Meier

Pointe shoes are high-maintenance. New pairs are not only expensive, but time consuming. So it's no surprise that many dancers try to extend the lifespan of each shoe. But did you know that dancing on dead shoes can increase your risk for a variety of injuries?

Keep reading...

mailbox

Get DanceTeacher in your inbox