Teacher Training: Young Audiences Arts for Learning Professional Development Programs

Imagine a nationwide arts-in-education programming organization, where teachers can receive tailored professional development training—in the convenience of their own classrooms. Approaching its 60th year of service, the New York City–based Young Audiences Arts for Learning programs connected 4,600 artists with more than 7 million children in 7,000 schools this past year.

Over the years, YA has grown to include a geographically diverse network of 30 affiliates with trained teaching artists who aid the organization in spreading positive arts learning to schools and teachers across the country. The affiliate teaching artists bring nationally funded network projects into local schools and communities through performance demonstrations, workshops and residency programs.

Affiliate staff members also provide professional development and training for teachers to coincide with the YA program being implemented into their school. YA’s training method focuses on the artist/teacher relationship, assessment, child development, classroom management, content, motivation and presentation skills, and it’s used to assess participants’ teaching competency. Professional development is based on a signature framework—experience it, understand it, create it and connect it—to help educators explore new ways of connecting the arts with academic lessons.

“There is a layering of mentoring to build this kind of leadership. Our rubric became a springboard for how teaching artists would work with classrooms, with students and with teachers,” says Dr. Janis Norman, YA’s director of education, research and professional development. “It provides not only standards but also a framework of how and what they need to be able to do to prepare for programs.”

The two network projects most commonly implemented are Arts for Learning Lessons and the MetLife Dance for Life. The A4L Lessons project offers a training module to enhance student literacy in grades 3–5 through arts-based instruction. One of its segments is called “Words In Motion,” where participants spend three to six hours (with follow-up coaching, as needed) on teaching concepts such as forming shapes and levels, moving in place, moving through shared space and using forms of energy like swinging and shaking to create choreography.

The MetLife Dance for Life program offers residencies both in school and after school to encourage K–12 students to appreciate the physical, emotional and intellectual benefits of dance. Janice Oliver, a former program participant and teacher at Holly Ridge Primary School in Denver, Colorado, can testify to the program’s positive impact: “Watching the students learn, work together and perform with a joyful, excited spirit is certainly a measure of success.” DT

Program Statistics

Prospective participants: Nationwide dance teachers, classroom teachers, physical education teachers, college dance majors and teaching artists, seeking professional development

Date/time; registration; location: TBD by program; teachers interested in participating should contact Dr. Janis Norman or view the Young Audiences’ network list online.

Accreditation received/requirements: Varies, but professional development is usually supported by local school districts and may provide an opportunity for teachers to earn professional-development credit. The training may also be offered in collaboration with a college or university, as part of a course for credit. Teachers may receive supplemental materials such as DVDs, guiding literature and training journals.

Director/founder: Director of education, research and professional development for YA Arts for Learning, Dr. Norman is a tenured full professor at Philadelphia’s University of the Arts. Dr. Norman was also chair of the steering committee for teacher certification and training in Pennsylvania. The former Pennsylvania Art Educator of the Year is currently on the committee for the national Arts Education Partnership and the Arts for Children and Youth in Philadelphia initiative.

Fun fact:
In 1994, YA Arts for Learning was the first organization to ever be awarded the prestigious National Medal of Arts by the White House.

Contact: Janis Norman, PhD, director of education, research and professional development, Young Audiences, Inc.; 610-688-6141; jan@ya.org; www.youngaudiences.org

Lee Erica Elder is a freelance writer in New York City.

Photo by Eric Griswald, courtesy of Young Audiences Oregon and SW Washington affiliate

Music
Mary Malleney, courtesy Osato

In most classes, dancers are encouraged to count the music, and dance with it—emphasizing accents and letting the rhythm of a song guide them.

But Marissa Osato likes to give her students an unexpected challenge: to resist hitting the beats.

In her contemporary class at EDGE Performing Arts Center in Los Angeles (which is now closed, until they find a new space), she would often play heavy trap music. She'd encourage her students to find the contrast by moving in slow, fluid, circular patterns, daring them to explore the unobvious interpretation of the steady rhythms.


"I like to give dancers a phrase of music and choreography and have them reinterpret it," she says, "to be thinkers and creators and not just replicators."

Osato learned this approach—avoiding the natural temptation of the music always being the leader—while earning her MFA in choreography at California Institute of the Arts. "When I was collaborating with a composer for my thesis, he mentioned, 'You always count in eights. Why?'"

This forced Osato out of her creative comfort zone. "The choices I made, my use of music, and its correlation to the movement were put under a microscope," she says. "I learned to not always make the music the driving motive of my work," a habit she attributes to her competition studio training as a young dancer.

While an undergraduate at the University of California, Irvine, Osato first encountered modern dance. That discovery, along with her experience dancing in Boogiezone Inc.'s off-campus hip-hop company, BREED, co-founded by Elm Pizarro, inspired her own, blended style, combining modern and hip hop with jazz. While still in college, she began working with fellow UCI student Will Johnston, and co-founded the Boogiezone Contemporary Class with Pizarro, an affordable series of classes that brought top choreographers from Los Angeles to Orange County.

"We were trying to bring the hip-hop and contemporary communities together and keep creating work for our friends," says Osato, who has taught for West Coast Dance Explosion and choreographed for studios across the country.

In 2009, Osato, Johnston and Pizarro launched Entity Contemporary Dance, which she and Johnston direct. The company, now based in Los Angeles, won the 2017 Capezio A.C.E. Awards, and, in 2019, Osato was chosen for two choreographic residencies (Joffrey Ballet's Winning Works and the USC Kaufman New Movement Residency), and became a full-time associate professor of dance at Santa Monica College.

At SMC, Osato challenges her students—and herself—by incorporating a live percussionist, a luxury that's been on pause during the pandemic. She finds that live music brings a heightened sense of awareness to the room. "I didn't realize what I didn't have until I had it," Osato says. "Live music helps dancers embody weight and heaviness, being grounded into the floor." Instead of the music dictating the movement, they're a part of it.

Osato uses the musician as a collaborator who helps stir her creativity, in real time. "I'll say 'Give me something that's airy and ambient,' and the sounds inspire me," says Osato. She loves playing with tension and release dynamics, fall and recovery, and how those can enhance and digress from the sound.

"I can't wait to get back to the studio and have that again," she says.

Osato made Dance Teacher a Spotify playlist with some of her favorite songs for class—and told us about why she loves some of them.

"Get It Together," by India.Arie

"Her voice and lyrics hit my soul and ground me every time. Dream artist. My go-to recorded music in class is soul R&B. There's simplicity about it that I really connect with."

"Turn Your Lights Down Low," by Bob Marley + The Wailers, Lauryn Hill

"A classic. This song embodies that all-encompassing love and gets the whole room groovin'."

"Diamonds," by Johnnyswim

"This song's uplifting energy and drive is infectious! So much vulnerability, honesty and joy in their voices and instrumentation."

"There Will Be Time," by Mumford & Sons, Baaba Maal

"Mumford & Sons' music has always struck a deep chord within me. Their songs are simultaneously stripped-down and complex and feel transcendent."

"With The Love In My Heart," by Jacob Collier, Metropole Orkest, Jules Buckley

"Other than it being insanely energizing and cinematic, I love how challenging the irregular meter is!"

For Parents

Darrell Grand Moultrie teaches at a past Jacob's Pillow summer intensive. Photo Christopher Duggan, courtesy Jacob's Pillow

In the past 10 months, we've grown accustomed to helping our dancers navigate virtual school, classes and performances. And while brighter, more in-person days may be around the corner—or at least on the horizon—parents may be facing yet another hurdle to help our dancers through: virtual summer-intensive auditions.

In 2020, we learned that there are some unique advantages of virtual summer programs: the lack of travel (and therefore the reduced cost) and the increased access to classes led by top artists and teachers among them. And while summer 2021 may end up looking more familiar with in-person intensives, audition season will likely remain remote and over Zoom.

Of course, summer 2021 may not be back to in-person, and that uncertainty can be a hard pill to swallow. Here, Kate Linsley, a mom and academy principal of Nashville Ballet, as well as "J.R." Glover, The Dan & Carole Burack Director of The School at Jacob's Pillow, share their advice for this complicated process.

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Teachers Trending

From left: Anthony Crickmay, Courtesy Dance Theatre of Harlem Archives; Courtesy Ballethnic

It is the urgency of going in a week or two before opening night that Lydia Abarca Mitchell loves most about coaching. But in her role as Ballethnic Dance Company's rehearsal director, she's not just getting the troupe ready for the stage. Abarca Mitchell—no relation to Arthur Mitchell—was Mitchell's first prima ballerina when he founded Dance Theatre of Harlem with Karel Shook; through her coaching, Abarca Mitchell works to pass her mentor's legacy to the next generation.

"She has the same sensibility" as Arthur Mitchell, says Ballethnic co-artistic director Nena Gilreath. "She's very direct, all about the mission and the excellence, but very caring."

Ballethnic is based in East Point, a suburban city bordering Atlanta. In a metropolitan area with a history of racism and where funding is hard-won, it is crucial for the Black-led ballet company to present polished, professional productions. "Ms. Lydia" provides the "hard last eye" before the curtain opens in front of an audience.

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