By Heather Myrick, Events Manager
In addition to our core in-school arts education programs, P.S. ARTS sometimes offers arts education residencies on a short-term project basis. We do this when we feel a residency will benefit the school community in a strategic manner and when P.S. ARTS has the capacity to offer top-quality programming based on the residency’s specifications.
Hermosa View Elementary (HVE) has 6 different kindergarten classroom full of bright, energetic, and fun-loving young students. Recently, due to budget cuts, the physical education program for HVE’s youngest learners were furloughed. The kindergarten teachers, however, wanted to provide a movement outlet for their students and thought dance would be an opportunity to bring not only physical education to their students, but also arts education. So, with funding provided by a grant from Arts for All, the teachers asked P.S. ARTS to provide a 16-week dance education residency for their students.
Before coming to P.S. ARTS as our Events Manager, I worked as a full-time dance educator teaching four different levels of dance to high school students. When there happened to be an opportunity to work with kindergarteners through this residency, I couldn’t pass it up! Even though I very much enjoy my advancement work at P.S. ARTS, I was grateful for an opportunity to spend some time teaching in one of our classrooms, which is the very heart of our arts education programs.
Recently, P.S. ARTS also published a Dance Toolkit written by Dr. Kristen Paglia, P.S. ARTS’ Co-Executive Director of Education and Programs. The Toolkit serves as a resource with curriculum and activity ideas for both classroom teachers looking to infuse the arts into their classroom and for Teaching Artists working on specific arts disciplines. I was excited to use the work presented in the P.S. ARTS Dance Toolkit to teach the kindergarteners the fundamentals of both creative movement and three different genres of dance.
During the residency, fellow Teaching Artist Shaylen Keller and I both taught three kindergarten classes. Shaylen is a working dance artist dancing with both Culture Shock and Word in Motion Dance Companies in addition to teaching throughout the Los Angeles area. We both started with the basics of level, shape, energy, and loco motor movement and then moved to work on ballet, musical theater, and hip hop. We started with creative movement to give students the foundational body moves vocabulary such a “bend,” “twist,” and “stretch” along with foundational energy movement terms such as “heavy vs. light.” In addition, we also worked on general vocabulary terms such as “opposite” and “alternate.”
After the basics, we dove into more genre specific terms such as plié, eleve, battement, soutenu, and pivot. We worked with students on how to be good performer and audience members along with types of costumes dancers wear and how to hear beats and rhythms. Before long, every student not only knew a ballet, musical theater, and hip-hop dance, but they were able to explain all sorts of dance principles and had proper dance etiquette.
Each student excelled in dance class but there are a few students for which dance proved a true avenue of growth. Avery, a young male dancer, was not interested in dance during the first few weeks. He would provoke his friends to goof off with him, and find ways to amuse himself in numerous ways other than with the dance movement we were learning. However, during a lesson on ballet vocabulary, something in Avery changed. He started migrating to the front of the class and intently paying attention to the movement. He began to concentrate on perfecting the ballet steps and showing his most sincere effort. By the time we finished musical theater and hip hop, he was fully engaged in the class and commented how he hoped he would be able to continue dance lessons in the first grade.
Another student, Maggie, was terribly shy to begin with. She hung close to her classroom teacher during our first few classes and was timid to try larger scale movements. She would dance underneath herself and was not interested in being seen by others. During our musical theater lesson, we talked about how students could be a “character” and that they should picture themselves in a costume of their choosing. I told them that their costume could be any color and maybe even include a hairstyle and make-up. Their character could be all their own as long as it matched the style of our musical theater number. Maggie blossomed after this idea was presented. The idea of being a character instilled confidence in her. She was willing to speak in front of the class by telling others what her costume looked like. Her confidence grew further into her standing in one of the front line during class performances.
It was such a pleasure to work with these students and their teachers over the last 16 weeks. I know numerous other students in addition to Avery and Maggie gained new skills and confidences that I hope they will carry with them into first grade and beyond. The Hermosa View Dance Residency brought dance education to over 140 students and hopefully made lifelong dancers out of each one.