Surprise – you’re performing in front of your entire school!

Four weeks ago, I started a 12 week program at an elementary school working with 6th, 7th, and 8th graders.  They are taking time out of their Social Studies class to learn 2 dances – one with a partner, and one non-partner.  The teacher coach is beyond wonderful – he’s excited, invested, and so supportive.  That’s a gift in itself.

The students came into the first week of dance class very hesitant.  There are more boys in almost all 6 classrooms, which tends to be more difficult since girls are more likely to embrace dance class than boys at that age.  I was lucky enough to be able to hear him introduce me and the program – most of the time the students are prepped before I get there, so I have no idea what they’re told.  He said very honestly that this was a new experience, one that he has been dreaming about for years but couldn’t put into reality himself, and that I was there to teach them to dance.  The kids were skeptical, but they didn’t write me off just yet.  Then he said something I have to remember for the future in new schools.  He told them he understood they were nervous.  And that their bad behavior (laughing, making faces, negative comments) were just a result of being nervous.  He said that if they just gave me a chance, they would be as convinced as he is that they will be successful.  I wanted to hug him.  That was the perfect thing to say to get the students on board.  His stamp of approval was enough for them to come to me with an open mind.  My job just got a little easier.

We only have 45 minutes together each week, and most of the first 2 classes was spent getting them to stop pulling their sleeves over their hands in connection.   However, there were some students who were hooked right away.  They embraced the dance and the character.  I could tell they were along for the ride.   I’m still working to convince some of the students that this isn’t painful and they won’t have to marry their partner.  But the majority of students were hooked by week 2.

Then, last week I told them I wanted their help in making the dance their own.  They were to help me choreograph parts of each dance for the performance in May.  Some of the kids shut down entirely saying they were not going to dance on stage.  Some were nervous I would make them dance by themselves but calmed down when I told them it was a group performance.  Some really looked excited to be a part of it.

It’s still early on in the program, so I’m optimistic I can change the minds of the hesitant students.  A few students are choosing not to dance with a partner, and I’m not forcing them.  My hope is that they will change their minds, but if they won’t dance holding another student, I can’t have them be a part of the partner dance.  It’s a tricky balance to try and find out the true reason a student won’t hold another student’s hand, and in only 45 minutes a week with 35 dancers on a tiny stage, I’m afraid I might never be able to delve deep into it.  So unfortunately, they have to sit down and join in when they feel they can handle it.  Some come back, and a few don’t.

I try to not get into “go mode” and just focus on what we must do that week.  I try not to freak out if we get behind my schedule.  I try to approach each class with a goal in mind, explain to the students my goal, and then hope to achieve it together.  But sometimes I wish I had more time to interact with the students to see if they’ll open up to me about their fears and insecurities.  Why they won’t hold Suzie’s hand.  Why it’s so scary to have Johnny’s hand on their back.  Maybe that would take the fear away.  And maybe not.

— Contributed by Stephanie Schoenherr

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