Helping K—12 students feel empowered through dance
“The most exciting thing is the moment when students realize that they’re the masters of this instrument,” says Kim Stroud, arts director of the Greater Hartford Academy of the Arts in Hartford, Connecticut, a magnet school for grades 9–12. “Not that they necessarily have mastery of their bodies—but they can be the masters. I love it.” A former Martha Graham Dance Company member for 11 years, Stroud teaches a Graham-based modern class at the school, in addition to overseeing the faculty and curriculum planning.
Since joining the faculty in 1993, Stroud has helped the program grow from 200 to 700 students. (A middle-school program is also slated to open this fall.) She also leads community classes for at-risk youth in Hartford and directs the dance program at the Center for Creative Youth at Wesleyan University, a summer program for high-schoolers. In 2002, she pioneered a summer arts residency in Cape Verde, Africa, active for four summers.
“I took five teachers and 10 students the first year,” says Stroud. “But I told my teachers, ‘We’re not going to be the Americans who tell you how it’s done. We’re going to collaboratively teach each other,’” she says.
Stroud paired each American teacher with an African teacher, and together they taught their cultures’ different approaches to dance, music, art and theater. The dance program highlighted improvisation and composition. “We’d show what our aesthetic looks like when we create dances, then they showed us theirs,” she says. “Then we’d collaborate. The students had to take each other’s movement and make it work together.”
Stroud says that living in Africa was a shock to her students. “Electricity was iffy,” she says. “We sat without air-conditioning in August and washed our clothes in the sink. But it was the most amazing experience."
By the final summer in 2008, the program had grown to include 30 American and 50 African students. But little did Stroud know the program she built would help unite communities on Cape Verde’s 10 islands. “When we auditioned for the program, we took the most talented kids, from both the lower and upper classes,” she says. “Later we were told that it was the first time that these people worked together and families allowed it to happen.”
Regardless of the environment she’s teaching in, Stroud’s mission remains the same: Help students feel empowered through dance. “Some students make decisions because they don’t think that they have options, or power over anything,” she says. “But it’s as simple as learning that your right leg is totally in your control—that you have power over something. And that’s what dance did for me. I’m the first person in my family to go to college. I’m the first to travel outside the United States—because of dance.”
Photo by Rich Davis, courtesy of Kim Stroud