GCSU dance minors, in the dance pedagogy class, are offering free dance lessons twice a week in Baldwin’s primary and middle schools.
Community dance has been a part of the university’s outreach program for at least 20 years. Through this experience, dance minors are able to learn how to work with different ages, to teach and develop lessons that go along with what their students learn in their class.
“The primary goal is to give our students experience teaching in different environments and allowing them to sort of build their skills as teachers and educators specifically in dance,” said Natalie King, dance instructor. “The goal is also to really connect with communities that are beginning to develop dance programs that are looking to provide the movement arts for their students but may not always have the resources to do so.”
The dance pedagogy class teaches college students about the best practices in dance education from working in studios, working in the community and within an academic setting. The students work in teams and develop lesson plans. This helps them locate an area of interest for the actual dance class.
“We really approach in that class, the idea that teaching is an art. So, you're a teaching artist,” said King. “Movement can be a way for their students (the primary and middle schoolers) to learn. So that's what that class is about, developing all the skills that they would need to be a dance educator and the goal is for them to be able to do that process really in any environment.”
The lessons are built to go along with what the students are already learning in their grade and to promote creativity and movement. For example, the kindergartners did a dance lesson where each individual goes through the process of growth as a flower.
“We do a lesson with kindergartners, that is a flower growing concept where kids start as seeds, and then they grow up to be flowers, and then they shrink back down to seeds. They have different cues like rain happening, thunder and then the sun comes out,” said Elizabeth Dunn, dance minor student.
For older students, there is less rigor when it comes to cues and movements. This allows more creative expression and gives the children opportunities to move, and use thought on how to creatively exhibit the shape or scenario that they are being asked to do.
“For the third through fifth graders, I have done the water cycle lesson. We sit on the ground, and we do things like evaporation, condensation and precipitation with our hands. Students will move their bodies and swoop their arms around and then come together and make multiple different clouds that they choose the shape of,” said Dunn.
Dunn expressed that the outreach program has been very beneficial towards retraining her thought process about dance, inspiring her to teach and developing leadership skills.
“Something that I realized throughout my education was how much dance is kind of geared toward your community because dance tuition is expensive. There have been leaps and bounds and strides of making the ballerina, the dancer body not be a white, thin female…which is amazing,” said Dunn. “But in Baldwin County, students are able to know that they can dance and that the ability to dance makes them a dancer. That is something that has been a major impact for me, in my personal life.”
Dunn expressed that growing up she was taught that dance was only for specific bodies and was very marginalized. The creative expression and openness of dance itself wasn’t offered to her as a vision. That is why, as a teacher, Dunn works to ensure that the Baldwin County students can express themselves and know that just dancing at all makes them a dancer.
“Teaching has really healed my relationship with dancing because it's able to redefine the narrative that was taught to me, by some teachers at home. The narrative that dance has a certain type of body and that I wasn't enough,” said Dunn. “Being able to go into schools and teach different narratives to students and saying, “Yes, you are enough, and your body is enough” has impacted me in more ways than one.”
After having these experiences in the outreach program, Dunn has changed her trajectory towards the future and opened her vision to teaching positions. She would prefer to stay in the public schools but also expressed that she would be happy teaching in a studio as well.
Another student, Michala Hill, was also greatly impacted by the experience of the outreach program. Hill began dancing at 8 and she was taught dance as a form of discipline. A discipline that was learned through hard work and dedication.
“As a student, dance taught me to persevere and to believe in myself,” said Hill. “Now that I am transitioning into teaching, I am now giving those lessons to my students.”
Hill has now stepped back from the discipline she was taught and focuses her lessons on creativity and self-expression.
“My perspective of dance has changed with how I have matured and that reflects in my teaching,” said Hill. “I want to nurture their story of dance and their life. Creativity is important to how those stories progress.”
Hill believes that movement is important to learn at such a young age because those children still have the freedom of expression. It gives her students the opportunity to build trust with dancing in a way that is creative and fun.
“I feel that the instructions given at that age can be less about decision making and more about commanding,” said Hill. “That’s why I find it so important to create an environment where they can make their own decisions and those decisions are never simple yes or no’s.”
Hill has been hired as a full-time dance instructor in Baldwin County academies. She will rotate between third grade through fifth grade throughout the week.
“I am proud of all of our (college) students who have been a part of this program and passed the impact dance has had on them to their students,” said King.