Twenty kindergartners imitate starfish, on the blue-and-white tiled floor of Mount Vernon’s Columbia Elementary cafeteria. Lunch tables have been folded up to make room for kids who are zealously channeling sea creatures with their arms and legs outstretched. A moment later, they stand back up, beginning another sequence. Leading them in this exercise are Severine Kaufman ’18 and Maya Luckett ’18. In a separate classroom down the hall, two more Kenyon students instruct a similarly sized group, guiding them through an identical warm-up.
It is the third dance class of the year, and the kindergarteners greet Professor of Dance Julie Brodie and student teachers as “Kenyon friends.” The program is a component of Brodie’s Directed Teaching course, which explores various pedagogical approaches to dance with an emphasis on how to best teach across different ages, skill levels and degrees of motivation. Organized through the Office for Community Partnerships, these classes at Columbia Elementary enable those enrolled in the Kenyon course to implement theories learned in the classroom by engaging with the local community.
“It’s a win-win situation,” Brodie said. “The [Kenyon] students are getting the opportunity to practice their teaching skills, and we’re bringing dance into a school that wanted to have a dance program. We’re establishing relationships with the children, the teachers and hopefully the parents.”
Kaufman, one of the student teachers, sees these classes as a safe, creative environment where the kids can begin to form an awareness of their bodies and their peers. Luckett emphasized the importance of being comfortable with oneself and the role that dance can play in forming identity. These sentiments were evident in the first minutes of the class when Kaufman, Luckett and the kindergarteners began to sing: “This is your space, your space, not mine!”
Reminders about maintaining personal space only needed to be issued a handful of times over the course of the activity. The kids listened attentively and eagerly to the directions from their Kenyon friends. But dance has the potential to do more than just aid the students in comprehending and respecting physical spaces. “Certain movement patterns can help students learn how to track, which can help them with their reading,” Kaufman explained.
Yet by far the most immediate success of these dance classes is the fun the elementary school students have while in them. “The kids love it. This just gives them another avenue to have positive role models in their lives,” said Melissa Gregory, a kindergarten teacher at Columbia.
“Having older people investing in the lives of our kids here at Columbia is so important.”
For those students who want to further explore styles of dance beyond what is covered in classes, an after-school dance club is also offered and taught by some of the same Kenyon students.