Building Cultures of Dance Southern California

Posted on 01/10/12

Dance in Physical EducationOutcomes & Process:  With support from the Clarence E. Heller Charitable Trust, Luna has been working with former Summer Institute participants to build cultures of dance in Southern California.  The goals of this process were 1) to leverage the relationships forged through Luna’s SIs to create professional learning communities of dance education in Southern California.  This would create a level of autonomy as professionals in that region could support and rely on each other; share resources;  and develop their skills in a more immediate, organic, grass-roots manner. 2) to develop leadership skills among the core cadres.  3) to broaden Luna’s reach to improve teaching practice by holding a Summer Institute in Southern California July 2012 and smaller introductory workshops prior to that time to identify potential participants.  4) to develop SoCal educators to create and implement MPACT-like programs in partnership with social service agencies in the region.

Impact:  To date, all objectives have been met and many exceeded.  All participants have increased their confidence in leadership and instructional methods.  Despite radical budget shifts in public school education, and their ensuing re-classifications out of dance teaching and into general education, these dedicated dance professionals are keeping dance alive in their teaching settings, educating their non-dance peers about the value of dance and keeping their own skills sharp.  Jill Sethi, working at Carlos Santana Academy, has provided professional learning opportunities for her K-5 colleagues, implemented an afterschool action research project that demonstrated improved attendance and test scores for students who receive dance, and is currently exploring the place for family dance within the school community.  Meg Glaser Teran, southern California project coordinator, trained to teach MPACT-like classes, created a program and curriculum and piloted a successful session of classes at the Wooden Floor in Santa Ana.  More than 12 families of 30 individuals participated in the entire 6-weeks.  Parents report that they appreciated the opportunity to carve out time to play and dance with their children, that they learned how to observe them better, and that they began to see the value of improvisation to dance learning, play and life.  Ruth Torres also trained in MPACT and has shared her curriculum widely.  You can read more about Ruth’s class at

Challenges: The primary challenge to creating professional learning communities of dance educators in southern California is the geographic landscape of the region.  Already, LAUSD and itinerant dance educators drive hundreds of miles each week just to do their job.  Their hunger for support and collegiality conflicts with their desperate need to spend time at home.  While all educational professionals have similar dilemma’s, most of us do not have to drive 100 miles to meet with colleagues.  The core cadre is exploring ways to use technology to help, and they are trying to alternate host places to make it possible for more to participate more readily.  Another challenge remains job insecurity for all California educators who are living and working in a time of huge budget cuts and a lack of political and social will to do what is right for our state’s children.

UPDATE 10/18/12:  Learn more of their work as they present at this year’s NDEO conference October 25-27 in Los Angeles.

UPDATE 12/11/13: This project developed into a statewide initiative to create MPACT-like, family dance programs led by participants in the original Building Cultures of Dance project.  The Dizzy Feet Foundation funded the project that included 239 family dance programs taught by 6 dance teaching artists coached and mentored by Luna faculty.  More than 2,221 children and families engaged in relationship-based dance over the past year.  Participants reported the following outcomes: increased connection and bond, seeing each other in new ways, the gift of time to play and move together.  Classes were taught in Spanish and English with classes in Marin City including families speaking 7 different languages.  Teaching artists reported increased confidence in the ability to create curricula, engage parents and problem solve with community partners.

“It is surprising to see a class that has made us feel unique each one of us with our children.  I have had the opportunity to get to know my daughter better and understand what she does in her dance.  It is a beautiful experience because sometimes we don’t know how to identify what our children are expressing to us, verbally or physically.  Because of this [experience], I now know this, it was very useful to me to be able to apply this with my daughter and with my other children.  Thank you.”  -mother of 4

“I learned a little bit about the movement of the body, the importance of contemporary dance.” -mother

“It’s really enjoyable that we can let loose here.” -father