Watch these kids, but more importantly, watch the teachers!

The first thing you’ll notice in this video is how many children are dancing. And if you’re like me, the next thing you’ll see is all the teachers (in orange and blue) who are on the floor, dancing full-out to keep the kids moving in unison and with energy.

As part of a new outreach program called Dance eXchange, Philadelphia-based contemporary company BalletX is spending 11 weeks teaching dance at Andrew Jackson, a local pre-K–8 public school.

In preparation for the residency, BalletX company members and staff trained with teachers from New York’s National Dance Institute to learn the organization’s methods for building dance skills while promoting self-confidence.

Watching the video, you can feel the positive vibe in the room and see the progress third- to fifth-grade participants have made just one week into the voluntary after-school program. Since students have not necessarily been exposed to dance before, teachers stick to simple choreography with waving, bouncing, clapping and counting out loud. In addition to this performance, Dance eXchange will present a mid-semester and final showcase that will be open to students, families and the public.

Who could forget last May’s news story on the troubled elementary school transformed by administrators’ decision to decrease security and hire more arts teachers? Those inspiring results just scratch the surface of topics covered in the latest report from the National Dance Education Organization (NDEO).

Evidence: A Report on The Impact of Dance in the K–12 Setting compiles research from over 200 documents discussing dance’s impact on classroom learning in the 21st century. The findings point to dance's benefits in improving brain performance and cognition, increasing test scores, lowering drop-out rates, improving emotional well-being and boosting morale. In short, Evidence is a handy compilation of scientific proof that we need dance in K–12 classrooms.

Ready to begin advocating for dance in your local schools? Educate yourself with the full report at ndeo.org.

Photo by John Spicer, courtesy of San Francisco Ballet

An anti-bullying program helps high school students find their voices.

Andrew Nemr’s tap show for schools addresses bullying.

Standing at a microphone, a young woman relives a scene that tormented her throughout her school life: classmates mocking her Long Island accent. In another moment, a young man revisits his childhood battle with a misdiagnosis of Tourette syndrome, and a third performer shares his struggle to navigate violence in high school. As each scene unfolds, the stories evolve into rhythmic tap journeys; the dance becomes a catharsis for the narrators, developing slowly during dialogue breaks, building in speed and intensity.

Come Together, a performance created by hoofer Andrew J. Nemr for his NYC-based tap company Cats Paying Dues (CPD PLUS), could not have developed at a more appropriate time. Bullying awareness and prevention endeavors in K–12 are a hot topic, and in late 2010, New Jersey passed an “Anti-Bullying Bill of Rights Act.” Also known as “HIB” (Harassment Intimidation Bullying), it requires schools to participate in bullying awareness at all levels, from student to teacher to bus driver. And while many programs may address bullying and conflict resolution through improvisation or modern dance, Nemr is convinced that tap is particularly effective.

For bullied students too shy to speak up, the driving rhythms of tap can be empowering. “There’s something visceral about using one’s body to make noise,” says Nemr. “If the student can live vicariously through us for a second, that can possibly take the edge off something that he’s going through.”

A student of Gregory Hines and a founding member of Savion Glover’s company TiDii, Nemr formed his own company in 2005. His choreography has long focused on storytelling, and while working on a piece about addiction in 2011, he got the idea for a show that speaks to teens.

Nemr remembers being hit and shoved in high school, though it was during a time when bullying wasn’t a topic openly addressed. With the new work, he wanted to start a conversation that teachers, counselors and students can continue after the show. “The tension is particularly tangible in the space after we’ve told our stories,” he says. “Our hope is that it gives a kid the confidence to go to a counselor or address something they’re going through.”

Nemr contacted his former creative arts teacher Michael Polizzi, who is the superintendent of schools in New Milford, New Jersey, to pitch the idea. Polizzi latched on and put Nemr in contact with the school’s HIB coordinator. She filled Nemr in on the top issues the students face, such as internet bullying and the challenge of pursuing an artform other students don’t appreciate. Nemr featured the true stories of his cast members, but speaking with the coordinator helped make the stories relevant to current students. Polizzi also encouraged Nemr to bracket each dance number with generous amounts of text. “Students have to be able to make connections between the dance and the narratives so that the message doesn’t get swallowed by the dance,” Polizzi says.

Since the initial presentation, Nemr’s group has performed at another NJ high school and a New York elementary school. A final 15-minute Q&A session that’s directed by the students is a particularly strong element of each show. “They poke at us quite a bit, trying to dig deeper into the situation surrounding the story,” Nemr says. These sessions are perhaps most instructive for teachers and counselors present at the performance, who can see student reactions to the stories.

During the New Milford showings, students remained remarkably attentive, and Polizzi believes that they saw something of themselves in the performances. “In the beginning, it comes across as simple entertainment,” he says. But as the dancers’ stories emerge, the atmosphere can get slightly uncomfortable. “Andrew’s version of tap is very modernistic with driving rhythms—it kind of reminds me of a Metallica concert,” he says. “It builds the momentum and consumes an audience. And when you blend in different themes, it gives a deeper meaning.” DT

Ashley Rivers is a Calderwood Fellow in writing at Emerson College.

Photo by Don DeWitt, courtesy of Andrew Nemr

Get Dance Business Weekly in your inbox

Sign Up Used in accordance with our Privacy Policy.