Teachers' Tools: Up Close With Erika Malone

Teachers share the philosophies and materials that make them successful in their careers and classes.

Malone poses with 6- to 11-year-old dancers in National City, CA.

The first time Erika Malone combined her passion for dance with activism, it was as a member of Eveoke Dance Theatre, a company with a mission to raise awareness of social issues. “I’ve felt torn my whole life between art for performance and art for healing,” she says; she is about to earn a master’s degree in expressive arts therapy. As a teaching artist in San Diego K–6 classrooms, she finds a fulfilling balance.

In some of the schools she visits, many students live below the poverty line and struggle with English as a second language. Malone uses a portion of her time in these classrooms to teach literacy through movement. A game with scarves gets dancers using prepositions like “above,” “around” and “behind.” She asks them to think of adjectives to describe the movement. “I use my voice a lot and get them using their words, too,” she says. “We’re doing all this call-and-response where they’re learning the language with their body and the movement, and they don’t even realize it.”

Sometimes, her dance classes have hidden lessons that are more social-emotional than academic. For example, while planning a residency, one classroom teacher expressed concern that students were far too quick to give up on challenging schoolwork tasks. So during the weekly hour-long sessions, Malone and the kids created dances on themes of resilience and persevering to overcome obstacles. To discourage anyone from throwing in the towel, she kept movement high-expression but low-skill, meaning she gave technically simple steps but asked students to try different styles or vary their energy. “There’s a sense of exploration and experimentation, but I negate that possibility of making anything too hard,” she says. Over time, Malone and the classroom teacher noticed students were more willing to stick with a tough task, both in dance and academics. DT

To calm her mind: The Gaiam yoga app. “Having a centered mind and grounded body is key for my teaching philosophy of kindness and patience.”

For Fitness: “I recently started taking rowing (crew) lessons at Mission Bay. Now that I’m coming to the end of my 30s, I’m interested in using my body in ways other than dance.”

Recommended reading: Releasing the Imagination, by Maxine Greene. “Her writing helps me see that art has enormous potential to wake people up and to develop the 21st-century skills we need to thrive.”

Props: Djembe, ribbon sticks, scarves, parachute, colorful cones and foam dice with emotions, actions or characters written on them.

Snack time: “I love cashews and dates with almond butter in the afternoon.”

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Photos: ©Thinkstock (5); courtesy of Erika Malone

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