Dance for Language Learning – Kristin Kusanovich shares her explorations of words and dance.
Taking a Sabbatical – Beth Megill discusses our need to rest and recuperation.
Family Dance – Meg Teran reports from National Dance Day.
CDEA Reports – CDEA Prepares for NDEO in Chicago.
Return to Fall
As the fall semester starts, we have another opportunity for a fresh beginning. How are you planning to use yours? Do you have new lesson plans brewing? Are you sketching plans to explore new creative endeavors?
Fall semester is a dancer educator’s New Year; it is time for us to examine all that we have done in the past year and define new goals for our future. As you start to make your plans don’t forget to include CDEA as part of your support network. It is during these times of change that we need each other most.
This fall season will include the return of monthly regional breakfasts, an informal time for friendship and connection at local restaurants. If there is not one close to you, consider organizing your own. These opportunities are what can keep us strong and resilient as we embark on our next adventures in dance education.
On Behalf of CDEA, Beth Megill (SoCal President)
Family Dance For National Dance Day
by Meg Teran
Our recent mini-workshop in relationship-based dance at the National Dance Day in Los Angeles was full of laughter and joy. We are grateful to the Dizzy Feet Foundation for funding family dance programs in Northern and Southern California, and for inviting us to share a taste of this work at the National Dance Day celebration on July 26, 2014. A group from The Wooden Floor and from LAUSD gathered together to lead participants in creating connected shapes and exploring space, time and energy. Ruth Ramos Torres, a dance teaching artist in the Arts Branch of LAUSD, and Jenn Bassage Bonfil, a dancer with Backhausdance and faculty member of The Wooden Floor, joined me to facilitate the workshop. Sisters and alumnae of The Wooden Floor, Crystal and Amber Morales demonstrated their improvised responses to the dance prompts. Craig Shields, a musician and educator at Rennaissance Arts Academy in Eagle Rock, kept us on pace with djembe and cajón.
This workshop came about because of our recent work with Luna Dance Institute. Ruth Ramos Torres, Maya Luz Gordon, Rosemary Robertson and I were interns with Luna Dance Institute from 2011-2013, and during this time we piloted several series of family dance classes at elementary schools, libraries and dance organizations in Los Angeles, Ventura and Orange Counties. We extend our gratitude to Patricia Reedy and Nancy Ng, directors of Luna Dance Institute, for guiding us. They created MPACT, Moving Parents and Children Together, 15 years ago. The program still thrives in the Bay Area, bringing the relationship enhancing power of the art of dance to families who have been separated due to homelessness, substance abuse, immigration, or other reasons. In an MPACT class, families who are in the process of reunification have the opportunity to strengthen their bond as they dance and play together in a safe environment.
For more information about the history and continued development of this groundbreaking work, please visit http://lunadanceinstitute.org/mpact/.
Reflections On Taking a Sabbatical
by Beth Megill
Last spring I finished my 10th year teaching dance full time in higher education. I started my teaching career the fall after receiving my MFA at UC Irvine. I was incredibly lucky and grateful for the opportunity to teach as an interim professor right out of grad school. It has been a nonstop adventure in dance education ever since. Out of necessity and personal interest self-care has become a recent passion (and practice of mine). I have been asking myself: what is my deepest intention as an educator and as a person? I decided to submit by sabbatical project proposal in part as a practice for articulating my vision and gaining clarity for my next steps in life.
I spent last year completing a year-long meditation called “A Year to Live.” The premise was simple: How would you lead your life if you were given just one year to live? 365 days. This journey was one of discovery and learning, and I couldn’t have done it alone. I had a group of fellow meditators who accompanied me on this challenge.
What I discovered in my year to live is a deeper appreciation for my personal mission. My work with CDEA had just begun, and I sensed that I could (and should) make a difference in the dance education world and the dance world as a whole. My mission in life became much clearer as I let go of the excess distractions and focused in on the key elements of my goals as a teacher, choreographer, and person.
The opportunity for a sabbatical seemed like the perfect chance for me to take time to do some of this “life mission” work. I chose a project focused on creating solid dance curriculum that reflected recent developments in my pedagogical vision for dance education—and I applied. I didn’t expect to get it. But, I like to think that my project, being driven by my desire for growth in dance education practices stood out not only for its promised curricular benefits but for the sense of clarity in purpose that I was able to communicate in my proposal. My project relates directly to my love of literacy integrated learning, using movement and dance notation to fuel personal growth and meaningful connection to self, others and the world.
Starting this fall, I have one year to develop the work and generate curriculum that I hope will fuel the next decade of my teaching and learning. I don’t know exactly how it will manifest, but as I edit this newsletter and write about the return of the school, I find myself in a brand new position. I am at the edge of the sea ready to dive in and swim through the unknown waters in hope of reaching the other side.
I am learning how taking a sabbatical is a critical practice for self-care. It is an opportunity to blossom forth in a new and unexpected way. No doubt this year will shape me, my thinking and my teaching in ways I can’t imagine.
But, I understand that not every dance position, or rather, that most dance positions do not offer time off for sabbatical projects. And, even if they do, many dance educators can’t afford the loss in income. I feel deeply grateful for what I have been given, but I am saddened that so many dance educators have become accustomed to the endless cycle of planning, teaching, choreographing, costuming, performing, repeat, repeat, repeat. My goal in sharing my story is to give a glimmer of hope that we can always make space for personal growth. It may not be in the form of a traditional sabbatical. But, there is always a way for us to create space in our lives that can offer us a chance to renew and revive.
Sometimes what we need most is the permission to do the work we want to do—to make the dance we want to make, to teach the lesson we want to teach. For instance, one of my goals during this year is to give back to my dance community and to find ways to support the California dance scene as a leader and believer in the power of dance education that is healthy, meaningful and transformative for both students and teachers.
So, how can you find space for renewal and personal growth in your life? I want to encourage all of you to find a way to manifest your own sabbatical of sorts. Maybe it is one day a week that you gift yourself true rest and recuperation. Or, you might make the extra effort to get to your favorite (but long neglected) dance class once a week so you can be the student and feel renewed and reconnected as a mover. We can create space in our lives if we believe that space can be created. We can find time to rest if we believe there can be time for us to rest. But, it takes a reorganization of our thinking, of our values and of our beliefs in what is possible. And, so I invite you to answer the following questions, and take one step toward finding a more enjoyable balance in your life:
- What is it you need most in your life in order to be the best dance educator you can be?
- What would it look like if you gave yourself all the self-care you needed?
- How different would you feel if you fed your spirit in the same way you feed the spirits of your students?
Then share your story to encourage others to do the same!
Turning to Mary Joyce
The Spirit of Serving All Students Including English Language
by Kristin Kusanovich
For years I have had the joy of experiencing an everunfolding journey into, through and around Mary Joyce’s methods of structuring creative dance experiences for children. In my own creative dance school I work young learners by drawing heavily on those methods with proper attribution to the originator of course. I am also working at the university level preparing the next generation of dance educators to apply outstanding curricula like Mary Joyce’s in the many diverse and artful contexts they will gravitate towards. I first experienced her wondrous methods with JoAnn Black of the legendary Willow Glen Dance Center in San Jose, CA, as an eager four year old delighted to be out of my parent’s watchful gaze and just free to build a relationship with all of the elements of dance in a nurturing atmosphere.
Decades later I wanted to reflect on the fact that I have adopted the text First Steps in Teaching Creative Dance to Children by Mary Joyce into my pedagogy classes at Santa Clara University. I believe this curriculum has stood the test of time and is, like modern dance, capable of being both classical and contemporary in the same moment.
Many readers of this newsletter will find nothing surprising in my ode to the Mary Joyce method for creative dance (but if you are not familiar with her work I suggest you put it in the end-of-summer reading pile, closer to the top.) The work is elemental, based on an ordered progression of lessons that tie together philosophically, aesthetically and artistically to create a wonderful everwidening experience of dance for just about any aged learner. Creative movement has been shown to have many functional applications that help it teach ‘beyond its own seeming scope.’ One of the recent facets of the work that I have been intrigued by is how well it dovetails with lessons in language arts that create an amazingly inclusive and trusting environment for native speakers of English and English Language Learners to work together equally.
Dance teachers continually use and imprint language into a learner’s memory, make tangible, felt associations with those words. So dance class is a terrific opportunity for listening, understanding, communicating and producing words too. Dance educators are extremely articulate about the body of course, but also about motion and all action words. We also qualify those action words with adjectives, adverbs and indeed, without prepositions we would really be lost in space. There are vocabularies of emotion, of time and space, of mechanics, of the dynamic language of performance of all kinds. Mary Joyce’s lesson plans are like wellcrafted scripts – they are fun to read but even more enlivened in the enactment of them. She gives a dance educator the cues for repetition of key concepts, the sense of rhythm of speech, the feedback you would wish to share between the tasks or activities; it is all there.
As a critical pedagogist, questioning the intentions and assumptions behind lesson plans, re-examining the relevance of each activity I plan, and working collaboratively to develop culturally responsive teaching methods, I have naturally questioned whether my fondness for some curricular approaches is simply because they worked for me. What excites me, is that my students of all ages, who have lived different lives and who come from backgrounds where English for many of them is indeed their second language are finding something in this material that resonates with them too. And, I am watching that carefully.
In a recent dance class for youth, I began to notice how easy it is to use the Mary Joyce curriculum as a multi-leveled script for differentiated language instruction and vocabulary development. I could simplify the language just a bit for pre-production language learners, read it almost verbatim for the next stages of English language acquisition and also make it a bit more complex for intermediate level English students. The constant visual reinforcement of unique solutions to the movement problems she poses makes it possible to see what the root of any exercise is. And for the learner of a rather complex language like English, having lots of examples around you of what groups of related words mean and “look like” is comforting. Synonyms tend to spiral in complexity. Movement repetition allows a learner to visit several levels of the language spiral as well. To ask a dancer to ‘circle’ then ‘go around’ and then to ‘encircle’ another person for example – just to have the visual reinforcement of creative, moving images divergently enacted so no individual’s movement stands out as an error is a real plus for establishing a leveled and yes, more relaxed, playing field.
I love it when art serves to democratize the classroom and draws on the intelligences of all students equally. I am eager to continue differentiating instruction with various levels of ELL students drawing on Mary Joyce inspired lessons. Another great resource is Teaching the Arts to Engage English Language Learners by Margaret Macintyre Latta and Elaine Chan, from Routledge’s Teaching English Language Learners Across the Curriculum series. This relatively new text lays out the recent research about how swiftly the numbers of ELL students are indeed growing and what all art teachers should know to accommodate every student and help him or her flourish.
With a fairly open space, and just a simple drum, these methods can keep relatively large groups fairly engaged and support new language acquisition through immersive dance experiences for all. When I see how well Mary Joyce’s work is received and embraced by preschool classrooms with as many home languages as pupils, as well as my university students leaning towards careers in arts, or education or both, it is heartening. This positive reception reminds me that the great inventions of the past should be brought forward into our consciousness as artists if they are still speaking eloquently. Why has this curriculum lasted through decades of diverse settings and awakened the artist, the dancer inside so many people? It seems to grow and shift with the times, to be both classical and contemporary, and to serve the notion that modern dance is an expansive and inexhaustible field of movement inquiry and expression available to all to enjoy and learn from, no matter what your home languages may be.