The Essential Question that guided our projects’ focus was:
How dance genres is differ? How styles differ within a genre? How meaning is found from the patterns in dance?
The residency of Ballet Victoria, Ballet Rocks, was both entertaining and engaging for students, demonstrating elegant ballet movements set to familiar rock music which spanned a 50-year era of dance styles and showcased numerous lifts emphasizing both the beauty and athleticism of Ballet. An excellent tap solo and choreography having one dancer sing while others performed a pas de deux, introduced new elements of dance.
Our second residency, The Rainbow Dance Theatre, enthralled students by entering on hover-boards. Hip Hop dance moves taught from their seats and an entire routine taught on stage (or on the gym floor) alongside the artists, allowed the students to participate. A demonstration of “The Vogue,” provided one example of African American influence on popular dance/music which can still be seen in the influence of Madonna, Rihanna, and Ariana Grande.
The program continued with explanations of historical African through the progression to modern American Hip-Hop. A hamboning solo demonstration (using the body as a percussion instrument) segued into a polyrhythmic drum concert with student participation. Drumming (communication) and its value in African dance were described as distinctive of tribal culture. In parts of Africa, when you meet someone new, you ask: “What do you dance?” instead of asking, “Where are you from?”
Discover Dance employs hands-on learning of dance technique combined with narratives to increase knowledge and appreciation of how dance reflects culture and changes with time. Students practice rhythm, beat, syncopation, and improvisation. They learned basic techniques and how to create dance. This year’s series was presented on-line.
At the conclusion of the project, students responded to questions related to the identified Standards:
Each residency presented a variation on dance that met core standards and demonstrated different styles within a genre and how meaning is conveyed in dance. The athleticism of Ballet Victoria impressed all students surveyed, most of which remarked about lifts and the dancer’s ability to carry partners. The classic rock-music selections and contemporary style of the ballet were relatable to the students. One educator said, “They enjoyed the music which was recognizable to most. The students were fascinated with the lifts and teamwork involved in the choreography. They enjoyed the variety of dance pieces”—K. Cures, Russell Elementary, grade 3. Another said, “My students loved having the opportunity to view and participate in a live performance. Being able to see the dancers up close gave my students a greater appreciation for the athleticism and cooperation necessary to perform at such a high level.” –M. Sandquist, Troy Elementary, grade 3.
Of Rainbow Dance Theatre, one educator summed it up by stating, “The programming provided students the opportunity to strengthen the body, develop self-confidence, coordination, and creativity, all while learning how diverse dance styles enable expression. Being able to participate with the dancers was great for my students.”—T. McKarcher, Lapwai para-pro. Students were able to draw connections between the value of dance as a communication style relatable to other core classroom content, “The program is so valuable, it even connected to 4th grade Reading/Literacy Units of “How important are traditions?” –Beau Woodford, Lapwai, 4th grade
The opportunity to interact with these diverse, talented, professional artists makes a life-long impression upon these young people growing up in remote locations. For most, this is the only chance they have to view and experience this type of professional artistry. Our goal is to make it personal! Even though we primarily bus students to a large auditorium, they each get the chance to interact with the artists. They are invited on stage, or down to the gym floor to learn dance directly from professionals. This project allowed students to experience a wide and rich diversity of the art of dance, how dance can be understood, and how it relates to culture and values in a way they will never forget.
Our educators love these enriching opportunities which help them meet humanities standards that their schools lack the budget to provide. These are ongoing programs with students from grades 3-6 attending a different, rotating, genre each year, providing great exposure. Over time students gain an understanding of the various genres of dance and how cultural movement practices differ. This season both professional touring companies did a sensational job of presenting the intent behind the art which led to very different patterns of movement. Here is what one educator had to say about the Rainbow Dance project, “The engagement level for students was phenomenal and the presentation was jam-packed full of cultural universals my students have been learning about. Connections were made!” –K. Bonzo, Moscow Charter School.
Though extremely challenging, this was a successful project year, rich in diversity and fresh opportunities which provided students quality access to the arts and contact with artists. Both professional dance companies brought something entirely different to this region, communicating new and exciting messages about dance and culture and molding our perspectives. This quote from a Troy Elementary school teacher expresses the value of these programs, “The main takeaways were learning that dance is a valued means of communication of culture. Students learned acceptance of different cultures and willingness to view and discuss a culture different from their own. “Ana Sullins, Troy, ID., 4th grade.
This sediment gives a glimpse into how our goals of “reaching, teaching and enriching” through the arts widen worldviews and our students’ understanding of various cultures. This in turn helps students to reflect upon their place in this world and their relationships with others.
We work very hard to bring these residencies. Ballet Victoria broke all records for time and energy in making the project happen. But in the end, our audiences were captivated by the beauty of Ballet Victoria. Of our surveyed audiences 99% responded with the highest ranking of “exceptional.”
Due to COVID-19 safety measures, our Discover Dance project moved to a virtual platform. Professional dance instructor Judy Drown created a series of 3 instructional videos sequencing the progression of the modern Hip-hop, pop n’ lock through jazz, and its early roots in African. This material was offered to all 3-6th grade educators in the 14 communities we serve. In addition, the videos were uploaded to our website along with a contest to encourage participation. In hindsight, we would have created a method for evaluation, but at that point, we were simply focused on helping educators keep students engaged.