When some of the Island’s children return to school next month, they’ll find an additional “R” to the Three R’s – rhythm.
The Yard – Martha’s Vineyard’s premier proponent of dance – is introducing a program, “Making It,” into the curriculum of Island schools. Working with professional dance troupes from off-Island, kids will learn about movement and building choreography. Created by David White, The Yard’s Artistic and Executive Director, patterned after the Kids Make Dance Camp at The Yard, and administered by Jesse Keller (who teaches a similar workshop at the Y), it will be customized to fit the available time and needs of the participating schools.
While some may consider it frivolous to bring a movement workshop into the syllabi, the program is about much more than dance. Keller explains. “While (the students) definitely learn movement skills, this program is not meant to focus on teaching kids steps. It’s more about the kids’ creativity and how they can link movement to their everyday problem solving, life skills, literary skills, and things like that.”
She cites a week-long workshop they held at the high school in April. “We brought in David Parker and The Bang Group (from New York). They’re a tap and rhythm group but they also work a lot with props. We worked with the students on a piece that the (professional) group performed. They were in Velcro suits. Afterwards, we did our warm-up and split all the kids into teams. We gave them five pieces of different types of Velcro — suits that they could put on, Velcro-covered balls, things like that. The task was to, in a group, learn how to connect and disconnect these in three ways and in movement only.”
According to Keller, not only did the kids learn to work together creatively to accomplish the task and see the everyday objects in a different light, but kids who normally would not associate with each other laughed together and had fun. “They were working with kids that they probably wouldn’t be hanging out with at lunchtime,” Keller explains.
David White further elaborates, “We had kids who were on the autistic spectrum who had aides with them. In the case of those kids who were part of this process, the aides uniformly said that they had never seen their kids so immediately productive in that kind of situation – working in groups, socializing.”
“And the real beauty of it,” Keller adds, “was every single kid in the high school participated.”
Also, by bringing in pros like The Bang Group from New York, the Everett Company from Providence, Rhode Island, and H.T. Chen from Chinatown in New York, the programs expose students to artists who are making a living in their field – a boon to kids faced with career decisions.
After the April workshops (held at several Island schools), and the success of the summer camp, it wasn’t difficult to bring Island schools on board. The Yard already has Chilmark, Edgartown, and Oak Bluffs Schools scheduled. “But,” says Keller, “we’re still having conversations with the (other) public schools, and the Charter School, figuring out what would work for them.” Some schools, like Edgartown, see it as fitting into their physical education curriculum, although it can be used to address particular subjects.
David White sees it as fitting into almost any area of the curriculum. He views movement as a potential science lab. “Dance is three things,” he explains, “Take one material thing, the body, take two immaterial things, space and time, and you mash them up. That’s a physics problem.” He also considers it a cultural lesson. “Chilmark School is looking to do an ancient China thing,” he relates, “And we’re bringing in H.T. Chen and his company from Chinatown.”
The program at Edgartown School will work with fifth and either seventh or eighth graders, one day a week, for one period, spread over ten week. Teachers will be consulted on a continuing basis throughout the program. “That’s where we’re gauging our success,” says Keller. “Being in very close contact with the teachers during the entire process.” They’ll be asked how it’s affecting their day, if they’re seeing changes in the students. If they’re seeing more focus. In addition, an in-depth questionnaire will be filled out by the teachers and principals at the end of the program.
During the April workshop, the physical education teacher asked the students to journal throughout the process and that helped shape the current program.
Ultimately, it’s fairly certain that every student will take away something from “Making It.” David White explains, “Movement and dance provides a different kind of creativity, a different kind of firing of neurons in the brain, that can stimulate all sorts of things in the intelligences and aptitudes of these kids in other areas.”
And it builds confidence. “It’s made so that every kid can succeed,” Keller says. “Every kid can do it.”