Stay Out of Jail

FEBRUARY 14, 2016  Warm Greetings from Beckett, Massachusetts where I am wrapping up a two-week dance residency with Jacob’s Pillow Curriculum in Motion®. I, along with fellow artists Elizabeth Johnson and Alivia Schaffer, collaborate with teachers to meet curricular goals using dance. But this is not the dance you might expect. We are not here to teach a particular style of dance. Instead, we dive into improvisation and composition, sharing methods that realize ideas, co-creating the experience with students and teachers every step of the way. Picture biology students dancing cell division; foreign language students making movement to represent sentence structure. Interaction and movement fuels our learning process.

At the beginning of every residency, students often say, “I can do this if I get to work with a friend.” Or a teacher will say, “I need my students to be comfortable and feel safe exploring movement.” My synopsis is:

Fear is the undercurrent. Must get above the courage line. How we learn to be brave, how we learn to unite for a positive action, is essential when making art together.

Many of our students are 9th graders and I can only imagine what it must be like to have dancers – full of energy and expression, modeling motion vs. sitting – suddenly enter their world. Building a safe, explorative environment is an essential part of our teaching approach.

I am convinced that regardless of the topic, the CURRICULAR SUBJECT, there is equally important learning related to EXECUTIVE FUNCTIONING; the stuff that ‘keeps us out of jail’ to borrow a quote from an English teacher last week. This includes setting a goal, making a plan and following through. So while I am fascinated by the vaulting technique that we’re working on in PE or a discussion about 4th Amendment rights in ESL, it’s really how we learn together that’s important.

The ability to work independently and collaborate, listen and focus, copy and invent, lead and follow, move and be still, compete and collaborate, investigate and translate, make and edit, rehearse and rehearse some more, these are the lessons of dance. How we respond to new situations, how we welcome a stranger, how we use our power, we learn that because of this kind of dancing.

These skills enable a struggling 9th grader to tip the balance toward graduation four years from now. And stay out of jail. They are key components of life-long learning, holding a job, forming friendships. Happiness.

At one point in the residency a teacher said her subject was more important than dance because it’s required for graduation. And we can easily quantify value along those lines for sure, but I say, dance should be required for graduation too. Bravo to AK, MS, AZ. Until the dance requirement goes nationwide, I will love the brave students, teachers and administrators that make this work possible.

All best wishes,