Celebrating a Year of Inclusive Dance
by Deborah Karp
Seven classrooms gathered for a dance sharing at our partner school, Grass Valley Elementary, to celebrate the end of the 2017-18 year of dance. The goals of the sharing were to create a community-supported, low pressure environment in which have each class could share what they’d been working on in their weekly dance classes, in a way that was authentic to them and to the learning they had been doing.
119 students gathered together in the cafeteria, sitting on the floor, in the round. We folded cafeteria tables to demarcate the space and make it more of a dance “studio” space. In a way, it was felt a bit like an intimate salon performance. We started off the sharing with Luna teaching artists Heather and Cherie leading all classes and teachers in the Brain Dance™, as a way to calm performance nerves and to celebrate that this is something we all do every week. Teaching artist Deborah briefly went over audience and performance expectations and then we launched in. The class of our long-time Special Education partner teacher, Diana Culmer, went first. The students performed choreography they created based on group forms and time, and their long-term goal of sequence memorization. Small groups came together, dancing toward, away and around each other, interweaving, pausing, gathering and scattering and creating a whole- group canon.
A beautiful moment that I (Deborah) witnessed on this day was the evolution of dancing confidence from a student I’ll call Mario, one of Ms. Culmer’s students. Mario came to Grass Valley in late fall and was very shy in dance class, often standing along the periphery of the class and not dancing. I always invited him to dance but he preferred to observe, telling me he was shy. Over the course of the next few months he began to join in for parts of the dance class but, never the whole class. By the end of the spring he danced through the whole class regularly, stepping out to observe occasionally. At the sharing, the student who was supposed to cue to the cannon was absent. The morning of the sharing, I asked Mario if he would cue it. He agreed and did it confidently, totally on time and without hesitation. What a reward to see that shift!
Sharings from other classes included guided explorations that focused on energy and time modifiers, smooth and sharp lands, 2nd graders sharing their study of using creative dance concepts for cultural dance learning and creation, and 3rd graders showing a country line dance. The sharing ended in all students and teachers being invited up to join in the country line dance en masse.
Upon reflecting about it with the Luna teaching artists, we all agreed that we were very impressed with how supportive the students from all classes were of one another, clapping and cheering each other on. When they watched each other, they were respectful and engaged. This was different behavior than they have displayed in the past for guest performers. Our goal this year at Grass Valley was community-building through dance and the dance sharing truly felt like it achieved that. Although nearly the entire school participated in the Dance Inclusion Classes, in which students with and without disabilities came together with grade level peers to dance, be creative and build empathy, this sharing was only for the model classes who went through the experience of having dance and working on curriculum each week.
Students, dance teaching artists and classroom teachers were smiling throughout. In thinking about what to improve, the topic of performance practice came up, so that in a situation like the dance sharing students would feel comfortable enough to take the same artistic risks performing in front of their school peers that they do in their weekly dance classes. An idea for this for next year is to have each weekly, model class do a dance class sharing for another model class (ie a 1-to-1 in-class sharing) a few times throughout the year, such as fall, winter, spring so that by the time an end-of-year dance sharing happens the students have already had the experience performing dance in front of their peers.
In all, the sharing was a fantastic way to end the dancing school year and to be witness to personal student growth and the growth of a school community.
Although nearly the entire school participated in the Dance Inclusion Classes, in which students with and without disabilities came together with grade level peers to dance, be creative and build empathy, this sharing was only for the model classes who went through the experience of having dance and working on curriculum each week.