Teaching Tips
Standing on stage is as important as moving. Photo by Arthur Coopchik

When your students are onstage, every dance step matters, of course. But so does every non-dance step. The simple act of being onstage—whether standing still, walking to a position or running from one place to another—requires a constant presence. And as Kitty Carter, of Kitty Carter's Dance Factory in Dallas, Texas, points out, "walking and running are actually part of the dance. They act as transitions from step to step." So teaching your students to understand the importance of active stillness and pedestrian choreography is essential, and it will help them see the "big picture" of a performance. But it's not easy.

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A new Baltimore public school program encourages dance and science teachers to think alike.

Katie Wright-Sabbatino (left) and Science With Dance in Mind teachers improvise about photosynthesis.

“Try standing up without applying Newton’s laws,” says dance educator Rima Faber to a group of teachers. “You have to push down on the floor to go up, you have to overcome inertia, you have to overcome the force of the propulsion to stop your constant motion. Just getting up out of your chair applies all the major laws.” Through simple activities like this, Faber has been encouraging a team of Baltimore teachers to teach science through dance. The collaboration has resulted in a new program called Teaching Science With Dance in Mind that will be launched in three Baltimore public schools this fall.

Faber, who helped found the National Dance Education Organization and served as its program director until she retired this year in June, has been passionate about teaching science through dance since the 1970s, when she developed movement exercises to help her daughter grasp concepts that she couldn’t understand through verbal instruction alone. Faber and others, including Anne Green Gilbert in Seattle, have promoted movement as a key to academic learning for years. But what makes this project unique, says Faber, is that the aesthetics of dance are as important as scientific understanding. “They are given equal treatment,” she says. “Usually the art gets forfeited in favor of the academic goals. But here they are mutually respected.”

Faber pursued the idea for this program last year when she learned of a Maryland-based nonprofit group that gave grants for experiential approaches to science education. She figured getting the funding would be a long shot since the organization, Hands-On-Science, had never funded a dance project and, due to the economic downturn, was about to shut its doors. Still, she decided to try and argued her case passionately. “I invited them to move forward to the 21st century by bringing science into a new realm of pedagogy that involved kinesthetic learning,” says Faber. Hands-On-Science, impressed by her arguments and syllabus, included her project in their final granting cycle.

Previously, Faber had created dance and science lessons by asking science teachers for a list of concepts that students were having trouble understanding. Then she’d devise isolated movement exercises to help. But with the Hands-On-Science funds, Faber has been able to design a more extensive approach that addresses a breadth of concepts included in Baltimore County’s science curriculum.

She has also been able to partner with two other Baltimore-based dance educators: Suzanne Henneman, who oversees the dance curriculum for the Baltimore County Public Schools, and Katie Wright-Sabbatino, an arts integration specialist who currently teaches second grade.

From the start, Faber knew she wanted the project to involve classroom teachers as well as dance specialists. One goal was to train dancers to teach science—but she also wanted science teachers to understand dance and to be able to use it as a teaching tool. “The ultimate goal is to get science teachers to automatically think of movement as a part of their lexicon of learning possibilities,” she says. “That’s what will give this longevity.”

From January through May, Faber held training sessions that provided five dance specialists and five science/general ed teachers with necessary skills. The classes tied elements of dance—space, direction, shape, levels, rhythm, timing, phrasing and movement quality—to

scientific ideas. For example, when discussing quality of movement, Faber brought in scarves and beanbags and asked participants to describe how the objects fell—heavy, fast and direct for the beanbags and drifting, gentle, slow for the scarves. They translated these qualities into movement and also used the differences to discuss physical forces like gravity and air resistance.

After their initial training, each dance specialist was paired with a science teacher to collaboratively create movement exercises that they’ll teach as a team in primary or middle-school classrooms this fall. The teachers began by identifying parts of Baltimore’s science curriculum that they thought would be best served by dance and then worked with the dance specialists to create movement to go with those concepts. The 10 participants will

continue meeting as a group throughout the school year to discuss and assess their progress.

The teachers involved in the project have become an enthusiastic, close-knit group and are excited about this project’s potential to help a variety of students. “Some kids just don’t learn verbally, but when they experience something, they get it,” says Faber. “Without approaches like this, those children fall through the cracks. And even those who do learn well verbally enjoy this method.” Wright-Sabbatino agrees. “We think of science as being physical and concrete, but sometimes it can be very abstract,” she says. “Dance connects you to an idea and makes you feel it from the inside.” DT

 

Emily Macel is writing a book about Erick Hawkins. She lives and writes in Washington, DC.

Photo by Rima faber

 

Sean Murphy introduces positive alternatives to kids from a tough neighborhood.SEAN MURPHY

Partham Middle School

Laurence, Massachusetts

Sean Murphy’s story is right out of Billy Elliot. Young Sean, growing up in Newry, a small industrial town in Northern Ireland, didn’t fit in with his peers. Because dancing for boys was uncommon at the time in his town, he got up the nerve to approach a teacher at an all-girl convent school. There, in a physics laboratory among Bunsen burners, Mary Glaze taught him to dance. Years later Murphy has become the kind of influential teacher that made him the man he is today.

For the past three years, Murphy has taught dance and reading to 7th- and 8th-grade boys and girls in a low-income community in Lawrence, MA. “The school is in a tough neighborhood and there are a lot of not so good things happening outside, but the kids are happy in my classroom,” Murphy says.

“The first time they came into my class, they wouldn’t move, and for them to remove their shoes and sit on the floor was the biggest thing,” he says about the boys from the predominantly Latino neighborhood. “It took a couple of months to have these macho boys  come in and lie on the floor and close their eyes and move in a semi-darkened room. They’re learning how to trust each other and their own bodies in space.”

With a background in modern dance and Laban Movement Analysis, Murphy teaches the way he was taught: getting the kids to move around on the floor and to feel the impulses for movement. He focuses on the freedom of expression rather than perfection. “We run in space, we carve in space, we play with level changes. I don’t look for the perfect second or the perfect arabesque; it’s what each of these young men and women can give me,” he says. “It’s their arabesque. It’s their second position.”

Murphy is proud that dance seems to help his students stay out of trouble outside the classroom. They go on to college, top boarding schools and vocational careers. And because many of them need help with their reading skills, he conducts a before-school reading program. “I get them to function for their next stage in their wonderful lives,” he says.

After moving from Northern Ireland to the U.S., Murphy studied in NYC with Alwin Nikolais and Murray Louis. He later earned a BFA and MFA from The Boston Conservatory. Jennifer Scanlon, former principal dancer with José Limón Dance Company who now teaches at The Boston Conservatory, says Murphy’s imagination makes him a great teacher—along with his boundless energy and passion.

“What I think is amazing is that he teaches history and art and he connects everything. He gets the kids involved in their heritage and themselves,” she says. “José Limón said, as a dancer, you must be courageous and compassionate, and to be a teacher I think that goes, too. Sean has that. He identifies with his students and makes them feel proud of who they are.”

Prior to joining the faculty of Parthum Middle School, Murphy worked for eight years for the school district in nearby Medford. He has taught around the Boston area at the Winchester Ballet Conservatory and at the New England Conservatory. In 1999, he founded his own modern dance troupe, Sean Murphy’s Moving Theatre Images.

In his free time, Murphy runs an after-school dance program that yields two major productions a year. They’ve done A Christmas Carol, The Nutcracker, The Happy Prince by Oscar Wilde and The Secret Garden. This past spring, they presented Disney’s High School Musical. The shows are so popular that as many as 200 children show up to audition for parts. The productions become a school-wide effort—custodians build the sets, teachers design and make costumes—and the parents and Lawrence community fill the theater to see their children perform. “It’s the escapism that we all look for—that time when we can be someone else that frees us up to be who we are.”

Photo by Erik Jacobs, courtesy of Sean Murphy

“I’m always rallying for less homework and more art,” says Lori Belilove, artistic director of the Isadora Duncan Dance Foundation. For the past several years, Belilove has put that mantra into motion with a group of dancers she fondly refers to as the Beliloveables (a play on Isadora Duncan’s dancers, the Isadorables). Belilove’s life’s work has been to keep alive the spirit and free-flowing nature of the Isadora Duncan dance technique—which emphasizes the human form, improvisation and emotion—and these students are prime examples of her success.

 

The Beliloveables are homeschooled and their parents belong to the New York City Home Educators Alliance (NYCHEA). The relationship began when one of the now-Beliloveable mothers contacted Belilove in 2007 to inquire about starting a Duncan class for homeschoolers. She and her daughter had seen Belilove’s company perform and thought that the Duncan style and technique would resonate with families in the NYCHEA community.

 

“There’s this wonderful symbiosis with this homeschooler community here in New York City where these young ladies are able to do more cultural activities than if they were going to school,” Belilove says. “I think that when they come from such a background where the teaching style is filled with questions and explorations and possibility, it helps to bring the Isadora Duncan work back to life.”

 

Last year, the Beliloveables premiered onstage along with Belilove’s professional company at Judson Memorial Church. In April, the company hosted a gala fundraiser for training workshops for the Beliloveables at New York City Center. This summer they plan to perform at Dance Theater Workshop during the World Dance Alliance, as well as at the Alice Austen House on Staten Island.

 

Barbara Cohen’s daughters Emma, 14, and Lucy, 11, are 2 of the 10 Beliloveables. The benefits that her daughters get from training with Belilove versus other dance schools are twofold. “First is the essence of the Duncan style and technique. The natural movement doesn’t take the child’s body where it shouldn’t be,” Cohen says. The other difference is the way Belilove trains a dancer. “I see her deep trust in the girls to get where they need to be, each one at her own pace. The ages of the Beliloveables range from 9 to 16. That’s a big range, developmentally,” she says. “I love that Lori’s teaching is so distant from a one-size-fits-all approach. I think this speaks to my homeschooling sensibility—the idea that every flower blossoms in its own time and rushing that unfolding is never a good or healthy idea.”

 

Belilove finds that these students are incredibly receptive to the technique. “The homeschoolers are not filled with the same ‘don’ts’ that come with life in school,” she says. “They’re much more emotionally mature. They tend to be freer spirits. Their relation to the dance is one of pure joy.” DT

 

Click here for video excerpts from The Red Thread, performed by Lori Bellilove & The Isadora Duncan Dance Company.

 

Emily Macel is writing a book on Erick Hawkins. She lives in Washington, DC.

 

Photo by Mark Sadan, courtesy of Lori Bellilove. Belliloveables (L-R in the circle) Morgana Cragnotti, Rachel Herzog, Emma Cohen, Samantha Jo Vicens, Chanda Cragnotti and Lucy Cohen.


“The important thing is that the art being created now be related to now, to our time. Art should be a reflection and a comment on contemporary life.” Modern dance pioneer Anna Sokolow wrote this in 1965 in Dance Magazine. Yet her art, which was always created in the moment, has a timeless and universal appeal, worthy of celebrating long after her death.

This month marks the 100th anniversary of Sokolow’s birth. In celebration, Artistic Director Jim May and his Sokolow Theatre Dance Ensemble will perform Rooms and Kafka at the Boston Conservatory, February 19–20. In April, they’ll perform a newly discovered Sokolow work, Murals, at the Joyce SoHo. And in October, the company will hold a gala celebration at the Ailey Citigroup Theater.

May, a disciple of Sokolow’s for 35 years, says: “I’m a bridge. I’m the one to transfer what she gave to me to give to the next generation.”
Sokolow was born in Hartford, Connecticut, and raised in New York’s West Village, where she began her training at the Neighborhood Playhouse with Martha Graham and Louis Horst. Sokolow emerged onto the modern dance scene in 1929 as a member of the Graham Dance Company, and in 1933 she created her first major composition for a group, Anti-War Trilogy. In 1936, dance critic John Martin wrote in America Dancing: “From whatever angle Anna Sokolow is regarded, she appears to be destined for the front rank of the next generation of dancers—completely individual, forthright and unaffected.”

By the late ’30s she had formed her own dance company and was associated with the New Dance Group. In 1939 she went to Mexico, where she stayed for 10 years and helped to create the National Academy of Dance through the Mexican Ministry of Fine Arts.

During the ’50s Sokolow was creating works like Rooms. Of Sokolow’s iconic piece of choreography, May says, “Rooms changed the course of modern dance and it was the first work you could say was contemporary. Before Rooms, dances were about famous literary people, like the Moor’s Pavane. But when Rooms hit, it was about you and me, people on the street, performed to jazz music. It revolutionized how we thought about dance.”

How does a work like this, made in 1955, hold up today? May says, “Sokolow Theatre Dance toured France about three years ago and the teenagers would wait at the stage door. They would say, ‘This is us. These chairs represent us sitting at the computer and express what we feel.’” In November, May set Rooms on the Netherlands-based dance company Introdans, which performed the piece at the Netherlands Dance Festival. He is also reconstructing Rooms on the José Limón Company, which will perform it at the Baryshnikov Arts Center February 9. DT


Emily Macel, former associate editor at Dance Magazine, lives and writes in Washington, DC.

MADE in France students celebrate and create.

Liz Claire discovered experimental modern dance during a concert at Washington University in St. Louis, where the audience was invited to lob golf balls at choreographer and performer David Dorfman. The experience inspired her. Now, nearly a decade and a half later, as the founder and director of a summer study program focused on dance and design, Claire gives students tools to create work that, like Dorfman’s piece, mix choreography and objects—but with a distinctly European twist.

The program, MADE (Movement Arts and Design in Europe) in France, is a monthlong workshop that sends 18 students to Paris and the countryside of Mélisey to explore notions of European dance theater. They study art, culture and technique with European artists, and, guided by dancers, designers and composers, they create choreography for a final performance. The workshop, created and run by Washington University, helps students effectively combine choreography, sound, costuming and design.

It was the mid-’90s when Claire saw the piece by Dorfman, who is a Washington University graduate and now heads the dance department at Connecticut College. At the time, Claire was studying literature and history. But she was so intrigued by the performance, she decided to minor in dance and went on to perform with Dorfman’s company, a French troupe called Au Cul du Loup, and PersonWidrigDanceTheater. Along the way, she fell in love with the European notion of dance theater, and after earning a PhD at NYU  in Performance Studies in 2004, she approached Washington University with the idea of MADE in France.

The program consists of two parts. For the first 10 days, the students research French culture in Paris. They go to museums, attend contemporary performances and study design and dramaturgy for dance. They sketch and take notes on paintings, sculptures, furniture, costumes and decor.

“Progressively with each new site and performance, the students begin to identify patterns and design elements that they repeatedly seek out and/or reject,” says Claire. “Some are drawn to strong bold lines and contrasting colors, or ironic juxtapositions of soft delicate things in dangerous situations.” This field research helps students identify dramaturgical elements that will guide them once they begin their creative process.

Part two of the program takes place in the small village of Mélisey at an 18th century refurbished farmhouse owned by Dominique Montain and Henri Ogier, co-artistic directors of Au Cul du Loup. It contains two dance studios, a design workshop, a cinema and accommodations. Guided by a group of European artists as well as professors from Washington University and Connecticut College, the students spend the next three weeks using their Paris research to create.

In Mélisey, the days are filled with classes. MADE in France faculty have so far come from France, Italy, Germany and the U.S. “It has an international festival atmosphere,” says Claire. The morning begins with dance technique taught by Connecticut College dance professor Lisa Race and Washington University’s David Marchant. This is followed by a master class with a European artist, such as aerial dance artists Enrico Tedde and Virginia Heinen. During the afternoons, students study design. In 2008 and 2009, design classes were taught by costume designer Bonnie Kruger. In 2010, when the program’s focus will be music, the class will be on sound design and taught by French composer David Lesser.

Students also have daily opportunities to show their work and get feedback. “The professors collectively teach a one-hour session during which the student groups show what they’ve worked on—choreography, objects, costumes, music—in the past 24 hours,” says Claire.

MADE in France is limited to 18 students, which, says Claire, allows for a “close-knit community.” Its enrollment is open to students across the U.S. The 2009 attendees came from a variety of schools, including Yale, Rice, Brown and George Mason Universities. And while the majority of attendees are dancers, a few are design students who collaborate with the choreographers and study dance alongside them.

Noelle Bohaty attended MADE in France in 2008 just after graduating from Washington University with majors in philosophy-neuroscience-psychology and dance. She says the program taught her  how to collaborate effectively with designers. For her MADE in France project, Bohaty did copious research. But once in the studio, she had to meld her project with that of the designer with whom she was teamed.

In fact, Bohaty was so intrigued by the design element that she spent most of her time in France absorbing costume and technical ideas and left much of the choreographic exploration for later. “A lot of programs help you improve technique, but not your intellect about dance,” says Bohaty.

“Liz and her crew push you to think about what you’re doing, about why you’re doing it and how you can effectively communicate the ideas and images in your mind.” DT

Emily Macel, former associate editor of Dance Magazine, lives and writes in Washington, DC.

Photo by Leah Varga, courtesy of MADE in France

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