Although I have been a dance teaching artist since 1994 and I have learned a lot from experience, the study entitled the Blueprint for Teaching and Learning in Dance, created by the New York City Department of Education, has given me a theoretical framework and an understanding of the foundational principles behind effective dance education. I have been studying and practicing the principles stated in the Blueprint since 2005; during this time, I have become proficient at implementing suggested strategies and pedagogical tools that have enhanced the depth and breadth of my dance teaching abilities.
I learned the Blueprint for Teaching and Learning in Dance by attending professional development workshops for several years at the New York City Center, where I have been working as a Dance Teaching Artist since 2002. These professional development workshops were led by recognized experts in the field of Dance Education, including Joan Finkelstein, Director of Dance Programs at the Office of the Arts and Special Projects of the New York City Department of Education, and Arlene Jordan, Director of the Education Department at the New York City Center.
My learning spans the theory and practice of teaching dance according to the principles behind what are called “The Five Strands” in the Blueprint, namely: Dance Making, Developing Dance Literacy, Making Connections, Working With Community and Cultural Resources, and Exploring Careers and Lifelong Learning.
I have learned to help students build their technical and expressive skills, develop their artistry, and nurture a unique personal voice in dance. I have also learned to make it easier for them to experience the power of dance as communication by exploring, creating, and appreciating dance. I know how to present dance to them as a universal language and a legacy of expression in every culture; I always relate whichever dance I am teaching to the different cultural backgrounds of the students in the classroom. In teaching Flamenco, this is an easy task, since it is an art form composed of so many influences: Northern European, North-African, Middle-Eastern, Indian and Afro-Caribbean.
I have found, though, that the one style most kids identify with is hip-hop; regardless of their cultural background, whenever I compared Flamenco to hip-hop, they all felt that they could relate to it. Informed by the Blueprint, I have learned to structure my classes in a balanced way, always including segments for development of skills and techniques, improvisation, choreography and performance.
Through the theoretical study of the Blueprint, I have learned to help students to develop a working knowledge of dance language and aesthetics and to apply this knowledge in analyzing, evaluating, documenting, creating and performing dance. Inspired by the Blueprint, I always make it a point to help students to recognize their role as articulate, literate dancers and to recognize, also, how this capacity to feel articulate extends to many other areas of life. I remember that one time, during our discussion segment, I asked my eleventh-grade students how they thought that what they were learning in dance was going to extend to other areas of their lives and how would they communicate the value of dance to their families or communities. One of the boys said that he was intending to become a CEO for a major corporation in the future and that the skills he was learning in my class were very important to him; he would apply them as a public speaker, for instance; a situation in which he would certainly need to be articulate, and coordinated and where he would need to have stage presence. He also said that in being a CEO, you had to be able to “perform.”
As Teaching Artists with City Center, we always begin our sessions by exposing our students to an understanding of the history and the socio-cultural significance of the dance that we are teaching them. We also utilize technology by providing the students with a video or DVD containing a performance of a major artist in that particular style; then, we discuss their impressions and observations. I am a great believer in connecting dance to other disciplines, because, for me, dance teaches lessons that relate to many aspects of life. I always make good use of opportunities to point out to the students how when we are dealing with gravity, that is a practical application of a Natural Science concept; or if we are exploring rhythms, those are, actually, mathematical equations. Sometimes, I make dance’s connection to the visual arts: I have them think of a painting or a sculpture that they love, and I ask them to start moving as though they were the living embodiment of that work of art.
Many of my students sit for long hours at school and then, again, sit at home in front of video games or TV. I am aware that one of the great benefits they are receiving from my classes is that dance promotes flexibility and strength. I always make very good use of the warm-up segment to give them great stretches and conditioning exercises, especially for the hamstrings muscles. I have learned from the Blueprint to have a structure for my classes that is balanced and inclusive of all these different approaches to dance teaching, thus creating an experience that enriches the creative work of my students.
Over the years, as a Teaching Artist with City Center—a major New York City dance and cultural institution—I have helped students broaden their perspectives and personal approaches to dance. Within the Young People Dance Series program we have a format that consists of a pre-performance workshop where we prepare the students for a performance at City Center through dance activities and through discussions of audience behavior. After the students have attended the performance, we come back for a post-performance workshop, during which we continue teaching them the dance form and, also, engage them in post-performance discussions. By studying the Blueprint I have gained a clear understanding of the importance that these active partnerships have in order to support students’ dance learning and creativity.
I have learned from the Blueprint that it is important to make the students aware of careers in and related to dance, as well as the importance of setting and working toward goals and the value dance as a source of enjoyment and lifelong learning. Motivated by the principles stated in the Blueprint, I have learned to help students consider the possibility of dance and dance-related professions as they think about their goals and aspirations. In the case of very talented students, especially, I always make sure to let them know that they were very talented and asked them if they would consider to pursue a career in dance; oftentimes they said yes, feeling that dance was their calling in life. They expressed their appreciation for my noticing them and taking the time to inquire, because that gave them confidence to pursue their dream.
Frequently, I had students so inspired by the dance form that I was teaching them during one of our workshops, that they were the ones coming to me to inquire about studios in the city where they could continue learning the art form. What’s more, I have observed, for many years, how dance classes help students to overcome their self-consciousness and shyness; as a result of their dance studies, they grow in self-confidence and self-esteem. This also helps them to enjoy dancing with friends at school or to dance comfortably at family and social gatherings.
From my own experience, I know that the practice of dance develops skill sets such as, commitment, professionalism, and self-discipline, all of which are necessary to function effectively, not only in dance and dance-related jobs, but also in the world at large. I know I don’t need to say much about this to students, because when they take my dance class, they develop these skills; the dance itself is the teacher. One movement is worth a thousand words.
©2008. Puela Lunaris. All Rights Reserved.