Dancing Through Tuscaloosa

Elementary Dance 2“Teaching is a big part of dance” explains Anna Leigh Sharp. Caroline Spillane chimes in, “because it’s something that we all enjoy doing and something we will all do at some point in our careers”. “This is a really great way to prepare for that and get involved in the community,” Anna Leigh finishes.

The two speak much in the same way that they teach, moving throughout the room as two parts of a whole and finishing each other’s sentences. It is impressive to watch them navigate the room holding the attention of forty second graders.

This year, dance majors Caroline Spillane and Anna Leigh Sharp are working with 2nd graders at Arcadia Elementary through Coach Chris Smelley’s PE class, twice a week for 6 weeks. Alison Shuman teaches a class of her own on Friday afternoons at Arcadia.  Erika Davis and Meredith Haynie are working with a group of 1st and 2nd graders during the UA Partnership classes once a week for 10 weeks at the Tuscaloosa Magnet Elementary.

Dance is usually nonexistent in elementary schools, but the UA Dance program is looking to change that in and around Tuscaloosa. Every spring, dance majors work with local elementary schools to introduce basic dance concepts that help students discover new ways of moving, creating and problem solving. The classes, taught by current dance majors, focus on fundamental elements of movement including shapes, levels, directions, pathways, efforts or dynamics, time, rhythms, body, balance and relationships. The structure of the lessons is rooted in Anne Green Gilbert’s model for “Brain-Compatible Dance Education”, which includes warming up with a “Brain-dance”, exploring a concept, developing skills, creating, and cooling down.Elementary Dance 3

This model allows the students to be introduced to different movement ideas and problems, asking them to create and improvise, work in partnerships or small groups, and explore ideas in their own ways in addition to learning specific skills and sequences taught by the instructor. Allowing students to create their own dances and learn through creation instead of memorization teaches more than just dance techniques. They learn to problem solve, work with others, and cultivate their creative instincts.

“Can you do heavy movements like a dinosaur?” Anna Leigh prompts and the students laugh and stomp in place. The girls wind all of the concepts learned into an energetic dance that the students learn at the end of the class. “Bye Miss Anna Leigh. Bye Miss Caroline” the student’s shout out as they pour into a single file line to march back to their classrooms at the end of P.E. It’s clear that these UA dancers have become an important part of second grade life at Arcadia.

Each week students like Anna Leigh and Caroline break down barriers and make dance accessible to the students at Arcadia Elementary and the Tuscaloosa Magnet Elementary, showing them that there is no prerequisite for loving the arts or participating in dance. As the UA Theatre and Dance Education and Outreach programs continues to grow, our goal is to spread programs like this into other underserved Tuscaloosa schools. To read more about this program and others click here.