Rachel Caldwell graduated from the University of North Texas with a BFA in Dance and from Mills College with a MFA in Dance Performance and Choreography. She is from Houston, Texas, where she grew up studying ballet, tap, jazz, modern, hip hop and Scottish highland dance. Rachel is a Contributing Editor for Dance Teacher and writes the History and K-12 columns.
Nyama McCarthy-Brown leads class. Courtesy of McCarthy-Brown
For the past 20 years, Ohio State University professor Nyama McCarthy-Brown has been advocating for dance pedagogy that embraces students' cultural backgrounds. "When you look at a textbook and all you see is Western-based dances or people moving in ways that point back to a Eurocentric culture, how do you value other cultures?" she asks. "How do we value other cultures when we're not seeing them in every place that we're told is important?"
In her 2017 book Dance Pedagogy for a Diverse World: Culturally Relevant Teaching in Theory, Research and Practice, McCarthy-Brown details her approach, which hinges on researching the cultural backgrounds of the students in the room and teaching with these in mind. Integrating students' cultural practices into dance curriculum, especially in K–12 schools, enables students to be seen and valued, and to have a more positive learning experience.
With a plethora of activities to choose from, why should an elementary-schooler choose dance? To speak on the topic and continue the discussion about childhood development is Luna Dance Institute teaching artist Heather Stockton, who teaches K–5 students in Oakland Unified School District.
It's no trade secret that dance is excellent for physical, mental and emotional health. However, there are specific developmental milestones that make it all the more valuable to young children. Whether it's fostering their independence or helping them to develop motor skills, dance can help support children's growth in myriad ways.
Though she loved choreographing, the high school student showcase wasn't quite enough for Julie Deleger, a recent graduate of The College Preparatory School in Oakland, California. The answer for her was an independent-study project during her last semester there. "Choreography is so personal that sometimes you need to take more or less time with it," she says. "Doing it on my own was really helpful. I let the project guide me rather than having to adhere to a specific set of rules."
Deanna Paolantonio leads a workshop. Photo courtesy of Paolantonio
Deanna Paolantonio had been interested in body positivity long before diabetes ever crossed her mind. As a Zumba and Pilates instructor who had just earned her master's degree in dance studies, she focused her research on the relationship between fitness and body image for women and young girls. Then, at age 25, just as she was accepted into the PhD program at York University in Toronto, she was diagnosed with type 1 diabetes (T1D).
Robin Nasatir (center) with Peter Brown and Vicki Gunter. Photo by Christian Peacock
On a sunny Thursday morning in Berkeley, California, Robin Nasatir leads her modern class through a classic seated floor warm-up full of luscious curves and tilts to the soothing grooves of Bobby McFerrin. Though her modern style is rooted in traditional José Limón and Erick Hawkins techniques, the makeup of her class is far from conventional. Her students range in age from 30 all the way to early 80s.
While taking class in 2006, Marisa Hamamoto felt a tingling sensation in her elbows, then suddenly collapsed to the floor. She was hospitalized and diagnosed with spinal cord infarction, a rare spinal stroke that left her paralyzed from the neck down. Despite being told by her doctor that she may never walk again, let alone dance, Hamamoto miraculously walked out of the hospital two months later.
Since her stroke, Hamamoto has found a new lease on life. She has channeled her indomitable will to overcome adversity into a dance company that marries her love of ballroom dance with her passion for social activism. Los Angeles–based Infinite Flow is the first professional wheelchair ballroom dance company in the U.S. Over the past four years it has become a torchbearer for social change, performing worldwide and offering workshops and school assemblies to educate audiences about accessibility and inclusion.
Photo by Erika Record, courtesy of Texas Woman's University
Looking back on his early dance education, Matthew Henley, an assistant professor at Texas Woman's University in Denton, remembers the grading process as being rather "opaque." "Any assessments seemed to be verbal, informal and casual. Most everyone got A's," he says.
Henley spent eight years teaching in elementary schools as a guest artist in New York and New Jersey before earning his MFA in dance and a PhD in educational psychology from the University of Washington. He's developed a concept-based approach to grading dance technique, which he uses in his modern dance class at TWU. His grading system could prove especially useful in K–12 school dance classes where teachers must submit grades.