The Ecuador trip was a success, and I’m now back in the States. For my last blog, I wanted to reflect on how thankful I am to be a dance educator.

 

I feel lucky that my passion for dance and teaching enabled me to travel to Inca ruins, explore 16th century art in an otherwise cloistered convent and inspire children at Los Lojas school. (Not to mention this trip also provided the perfect backdrop to propose to my now fiancé!) This was a summer that used dance the way I believe it should be used—as a way to connect cultures, form friendships and foster dialog through learning. Nothing fills me with the same joy as teaching dance and sharing my passion with others.

 

Too often a career in dance is only equated with performing. But I’ve always known that was not for me. To me, there is nothing more fulfilling or life changing than when I am pushed beyond my comfort zone and commit fully and creatively to the educational process. I’ll take these experiences over any curtain call at Lincoln Center.

 

 

Adam Holms is director of ballet education for The Performing Arts Center of Connecticut. For the past three years, he’s traveled to Guayaquil Ecuador to bring dance education to students, ages 6–18.

Stay tuned for Adam’s tips for keeping male dancers engaged and participatory in an upcoming issue of Dance Teacher!

 

I’m not ashamed to admit that there are few things in this world that I love as much as The Nutcracker. I’ve danced my fair share of Snow Cavaliers and Nutcracker Princes and I even own an Abraham Lincoln nutcracker figurine reading the Gettysburg Address. So you can only imagine how excited I was when my friends in Samborondon, Ecuador asked me to set their first production.

 

My early stages of preparation began with a conversation with the schools directors to find out what the cultural significance of The Nutcracker was in Ecuadorian culture. I quickly learned that in a country that is 99 percent Roman Catholic, Tchaikovsky’s Nutcracker does not go seamlessly hand-in-hand with their holiday season. Instead, the culture here this time of year revolves around religion. I learned that besides sharing and eating nuts on Christmas Eve, there’s not much connection to The Nutcracker—and it’s rarely, if ever, seen in a way that Americans are accustomed.

 

Before rehearsals began I asked myself, “How can I teach a ballet that is so iconic to me in a place where the cultural relevance is slim to none?” So I decided to begin our first day with a discussion that started out with the question: What is the first word that comes to mind when I say “Nutcracker?” To my surprise, answers weren’t that far off: Answers included happiness, candies, imagination, toys, and dreams.

 

Once I knew my dancers were engaged, I broadened the discussion to include my own experiences with the ballet i.e., performing different parts when growing up, hearing Tchaikovsky’s music constantly played in malls and grocery stores, and seeing the ballet performed as a staple of almost every major ballet company in the US. I followed this by asking how my experiences compare to their experiences with The Nutcracker? This question seemed to be a little harder to answer—a few dancers had read the story, but the majority of students only knew the ballet from a Barbie DVD.

 

Overall, spending a rehearsal discussing our cultural differences and experiences really helped the process. Not only did it inform students of the story of The Nutcracker, it helped make them personally and emotionally invested in the upcoming rehearsal process because we had taken the time to share and listen to each other. Since the students recognized that this ballet was important to me, they want to make me proud and for themselves, create their own Nutcracker traditions. Rehearsals are ready to begin!

 

I am mentoring students in choreography workshops at the Universidad Espiritu Santo for three weeks. The classes are design to explore the choreographic process using exercises to help students develop their own choreographic voices.

 

The university students are most accustomed to the rigors of Cuban Ballet methodology, and many of my exercises seem foreign to them. We discussed that it’s because unlike ballet, there’s no right or wrong when it comes to choreography. In ballet class, it’s easy to tell if a pirouette is off-balance or turned in, but critiquing a peer’s work or assessing your own process is so free, and sometimes scary. So, I usually give my students a prompt for each exercise or improvisation (though I do give them complete freedom within the set confines).

 

After three days of 4-hour sessions, I felt my dancers were ready to tackle their first major assignment: to create a solo performed to a poem of their choice. I was surprised in my students’ broad range of selected poetry—they found works both in English and Spanish, written by poets including Edgar Allen Poe, Pablo Neruda and Bob Dylan.

 

Here is the breakdown of the assignment:

1.     Choose a poem that holds personal meaning.

2.     Underline specific words or phrases that will act as movement accents. (During performance, these underlined words or phrases will also serve as audio and choreographic landmarks, as a classmate will read the poem aloud.)

3.     Transform the poem into a rhythmic composition by adding pauses in the form of ticks or vertical lines either between words or stanzas. These pauses can be used for dramatic effect, or to add time for longer movement phrases. For example, one line might look like this: Gone //// far away // into the silent // land //

4.     Working with a group, introduce and read each poem—first as originally written and secondly as your own composition with pauses and rests. (Notice that when the poem is read with students’ rhythmic interpretations it takes on a more emotional and personal feel.)

5.     Now the dancing: Layer movement over the poem using the composed pauses, also paying special attention to the underlined words or stanzas that initially stood out.

6.     Show and share—perform one solo at a time then discuss and critique.

 

 I’ve always been inspired by the written word. This year, I’m using Maya Angelou’s poem, Life Doesn’t Frighten Me, as the cornerstone for my daily lessons and the culminating performance of my residency at Los Lojas community school.   

 

Part of the final performance will include a special mixed media presentation of Life Doesn’t Frighten Me. For this piece, I selected 21 dancers who would return each afternoon—in addition to their daily 45-minute class—to rehearse. (I chose the 21 students based on their attendance and class participation, a willingness to take risks, leadership and teamwork skills and their general spirit toward their peers and performing.) We’re going to perform the same choreography three ways: to the poem being read in English; to the poem being read in Spanish; and finally, without the poem —to music from the film My Neighbor Totora. 

 

Angelou’s poem highlights a certain rite of passage for all children: To deny what frightens them most, while secretly allowing those fears to lie dormant in the forefront of their minds—that growing up is learning to acknowledge those fears without letting them overtake one’s actions. Angelou had said: “I wrote this poem for all children who whistle in the dark and who refuse to admit that they are frightened out of their wits.”

 

This particularly resonates with my residency: Through dance, I want the dancers at Los Lojas to be able to face their own fears head on and feel supported within our community. I fully believe that when children are faced with a seemingly insurmountable task, they will always rise to the occasion if they feel supported and loved.

 

After reading the poem and learning some of the choreography for the special piece, I asked students to reflect on that day’s work. Here are some of my favorite questions and answers: 

 

How did it make you feel to be one of the 21 students chosen to dance the poem?

“I feel that I can conquer what I set my mind to.” - Cesar Pacheco, 12 

 

How does the poem make you feel?

“I used to be so afraid to dance, now I am overcoming this fear and enjoying it.” - Nicole Sanchez, 9

“It’s teaching me to be strong and not scared. I used to be so afraid when I was left home alone. Now I feel more secure.” - Diana Martinez, 10 (pictured)

 

What have you learned so far in dance classes?

“I’ve learned to have self control. Sometimes I can be aggressive, but in dance class I think twice before behaving like that. It makes me realize that behaving like that was wrong.” - Victor Landy, 12

 

 

 

  
 Adam Holms M.A. is director of ballet education for The Performing Arts Center of Connecticut and is a graduate of the NYU/ABT Masters program in ballet pedagogy and teaching dance in the professions. He holds a B.S in secondary education and ballet performance from Butler University. For the past three years, he’s traveled to Guayaquil Ecuador to bring dance education to students, ages 6–18. Dance Teacher asked him to blog about his experiences on this summer’s trip.

 

My heart exploded as I drove up to the school and was greeted with familiar faces of dancers and teachers I’d met last August. I was shocked at how tall some of these kids had become! A year changes a lot—but it did not impact the students’ eagerness to start dancing. For the kids at Los Lojas, the freedom of creative expression is as foreign as the domesticated farm animals loitering at the school’s entrance are to me. Since my last visit I had forgotten what it was like to see herds of cattle walking down the street or baby chickens running through the chain-linked fence to the school’s concrete slab courtyard.

 

After the initial wave of hugs and high fives, my partner and translator Ana and I went to visit the three classes of students that will participate in this year’s residency.

 

My goals for my initial classes were to re-establish:

1. A sense of daily ritual

2. Clear expectations for students’ excellence, participation and responsibility

3. A community of trust so students feel safe to explore and express themselves

 

Taking cues from National Dance Institute, I started the first session with a mixture of sign language, chanting and rhythmic clapping series representing “I go; now you go.” No translation necessary—just a commanding figure and 100 percent commitment. New students were easily initiated into the fold and in less then five minutes we were ready to move.

 

My residency also infuses American literature and picture books within movement-driven instruction. Today I used the book Perfect Square, written and illustrated by Michael Hall, to teach that things are not always what they appear. Just as a square can be transformed into a bridge or a mountain, we can transform our bodies into any number of incredible things by bending, reaching and turning.

 

After reading the book as a class, I distributed a square of origami paper to my students and asked them to see the potential of the square in front of them. Just like in the book, they folded, ripped, bent, crumpled or whatever their hearts desired to make something new and unexpected. In no time they were creating whales swimming, stars shining, vases overflowing with flowers, and rain falling over mountaintops.

 

I asked, “What does this have to do with dance?” One student answered, “we are your squares and your moves will change us!”

 

 

Photo of one of my students and his transformed square.


 

Adam Holms M.A. is director of ballet education for The Performing Arts Center of Connecticut and is a graduate of the NYU/ABT Masters program in ballet pedagogy and teaching dance in the professions. He holds a B.S in secondary education and ballet performance from Butler University. For the past three years, he’s traveled to Guayaquil Ecuador to bring dance education to students, ages 6–18. Dance Teacher asked him to blog about his experiences on this summer’s trip.


 

Adam Holms is the director of ballet education of the Performing Arts Center of Connecticut. For the past three years, he’s traveled to Guayaquil, Ecuador to bring dance education to students, ages 6–18. Dance Teacher asked him to blog about his experiences on this summer’s trip.

 

Three years ago while teaching a training seminar for Dance Educators of America, I befriended two Ecuadorian women: Ana Jarrin and Gigi Leone. They are the co-founders and directors of a private dance school in Guayaquil, Centro Ludico Artistico Pirouette (CLAP). The three of us joined forces to forge the foundation of an international teaching partnership. Through CLAP, we’ve established dance residencies in public schools, encouraging children of all experiences and technical abilities to feel a sense of success and purpose throughout their lives.

 

My mission is simple: To bridge cultural differences through the universal understanding of movement and artistic expression; to encourage the exchange of teaching methodologies and pedagogical practices; and to share the passion for self-expression with children who would normally never have the opportunity to realize their own physical potential and artistic voice.

 

This summer, my work in Guayaquil will be in three distinct areas:

1. Conservatory based instruction at CLAP. I’ll be setting the Nutcracker on students, ages 6–18. In addition to teaching students, part of my work here will be training dance teachers in Ecuador to run and create arts outreach programs. This partnership also includes curriculum design and implementation, helping teachers design and structure their own classes and set choreography.

 

2. Outreach and community based instruction through the implementation of a dance residency within the Los Lojas Community School, focusing on children in rural, impoverished communities in grades 3, 4 and 5.

 

3. Higher education based instruction through my work as a visiting professor at the Universidad de Especialidades Espiritu Santo. At the University, I will be teaching choreography classes and workshops for pedagogy and methodology.

 

I know this experience will reflect those of past teaching adventures (at home or abroad), but my lesson plans and ideas will have to be altered, my classroom and studio management skills will be tested, and things will undoubtedly be lost through translation. Did I mention I don’t speak Spanish? But all the while, I’ll be reminded of the brilliance that is found within children who are encouraged, mentored, and supported to dance.

 

My departure date: July 31. Ecuador here I come!

 


 

Adam Holms M.A. is director of ballet education for The Performing Arts Center of Connecticut and is a graduate of the NYU/ABT Masters program in ballet pedagogy and teaching dance in the professions. He holds a B.S in secondary education concentrating in American history as well as a degree in ballet performance from Butler University. In addition to his work at PACC, Holms works for ABT’s outreach programs in NYC public schools and is on the faculty of Dance Educators of America’s annual teaching seminar.

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