Magic Moments

Recently I started teaching DwC core program at Sawyer School . I was really excited to see this group again this year and work with those amazing kids who they really surprise me with their energy and talent in their last performance.     
The first thing I saw was an smile in their faces what it really makes me have the best day ever.  They was really excited about the material they  will be learning this year but the most funny some of the kids  ask me:  We will be on TV? We will be famous?

Once I started with Foxtrot I was a little concern about how they will response but  they surprise me  again, once I started  the music and I was watching  those little  Ladies and Gentleman dancing so elegant with their nice frame and going with the Rhythm Slow slow quick quick is one of those moments I will never forget.  

Just Try It

Today we started learning about the Paso Doble.  Once we talked about Spain’s matadors, everyone was excited to play our ice breaker.  The dancers were split into teams of two where one person became the matador and the other the shadow of the matador.  It was amazing to see the dancers challenging each other with movements that tested their body awareness.  One student was partnered with a young lady who did the splits.  At first he balked and said there was no way he could do that, but then he tried and amazed himself at the flexibility of his body.  Giving young people the chance to see their boundaries and push past them is one of the many beautiful aspects of the DWC program.  We often encourage students to not fear being unable to do something before they try it.  Pushing themselves to try new things is a valuable skill they can employ throughout the rest of their lives.

Our Favorite Memories!

It's the end of the year!  I can't believe time has flown by so fast.  As usual, working at DWC and with the many wonderful students in our program has been a roller-coaster ride of hard work, excitement, some frustration, and a great deal of pride and joy.  
In the spirit of an end-of-the-year recap, here are some quotes from my students from Our Lady of Mount Carmel Academy and Catalyst Circle Rock Charter School about their favorite memories of their dance classes:

-I really liked when we learned about the different kinds of dances.
-At first my partner and I didn't work well together, but then we figured out how to compromise and move together and we started really having fun.
-I liked the way we worked together as a team to accomplish something we couldn't do before.
-I couldn't do the turn in salsa at first, but I'm glad that I learned how to do it.
-I liked when we were rotating partners during our first classes because I got to dance with different people.  
-I enjoyed the bus ride back from the competition, even though some people were disappointed [at not winning the biggest trophy] we were still having fun together and enjoying being together.
-I liked being in the room at the competition watching people dance on the screen and giving each other compliments.
-I enjoyed seeing the difference between the beginning and the end - with the first couple of classes nobody really cared about dancing that much, but after a couple of classes we started really liking it and we started being good at dancing.

One of my favorite things about these memories is that so many of them are not only about dancing, but also about the way the students have learned to work together and enjoy interacting with each other. I am so proud of all of my students for the wonderful work they've done this year!  I've seen so many of them really blossom, not just as dancers but as human beings.  It's truly magical and I'm so thankful to be a part of DWC.  

Mindfulness in the Classroom: Reflections and Non-Reaction

The Mirror
We are all reflections of each other.  Although I teach this to kids, this is a challenge for both kids and adults, myself included.  When I am frustrated, my students are more easily frustrated.  When my students are frustrated, I am more easily frustrated.  When we reflect patience, there is more patience.  When we reflect joy, there is more joy. 

Mirroring is a cycle that perpetuates itself, and we can use mirroring as a tool to transform the way in which we are perceived and treated. Often we don’t realize how we are moving, behaving or feeling.   I teach dance to share how we can more easily move through the world.  I am teaching how our attitude and behavior is reflected back to us.  Dance -- especially partner dance -- gives us the opportunity to see ourselves more clearly.  

At a school where I just recently started teaching, the 5th grade class has been struggling to treat each other with respect.  The school chose this 5th grade class so they could work on improving behavior, specifically focused on the relationships between the students.  One of our goals is to improve the self-esteem of individual students and to shift the dynamics within the classroom community.

As the students were asked to dance together, the domino effect of emotional reactions began to explode.  Before the web of emotion spun too far out of control, we had to stop dancing and take a moment to reflect.  I asked the students to sit in a circle facing out with their eyes closed so they could raise their hands without anyone seeing their answers. 

Here are some of the questions I asked them.  I gave the instruction that they would not get in trouble for answering honestly:

 -Have you ever been made fun of, bullied, or teased?
 -Have you ever made fun of, bullied, or teased someone else because they were mean to you?
 -Does it make you feel bad when someone makes fun of, bullies or teases you?

Almost all of the students raised their hands in response to each question.  We then talked about how we are reflections of each other.  If one person is mean to you, then we often mirror this by reacting negatively, which then leads to more hurt feelings.  If you are always angry, people will be mean to you to protect themselves -- this is just a reflection of your anger. 

We then talked about how we can, as individuals, become empowered to change this within ourselves by acting with wisdom.  This is a lesson about how we can improve our lives just by being kinder to ourselves and others.  In class we put mirroring into practice each day by asking with positive body language, “May I have this dance?” and responding, “Yes you may.”  This skill is much more challenging than what it seems to be on the surface.  It takes courage, self-confidence, empathy, and compassion.

Intentional Action versus Reaction

One of the challenges we have in life is to act with the wisdom we carry within.  To act with thought and intention, rather than to react with emotion.  Today a student and I were demonstrating a new dance move next to a girl in class who doesn’t have an arm from the elbow down.  The girl I was demonstrating with said to me in a loud whisper, “She can’t do it because she doesn’t have part of her right arm.”

The girl she was talking about heard this, took a moment, gathered her emotions and with a strong sense of self-confidence stepped forward and asked if she could demonstrate with me.  With grace, style, pride and elegance she showed the whole class how the move is done.  Intentional action can shape what is reflected back to us. 

Until this point, many of her dance partners seemed quietly nervous and uncomfortable, unsure how to dance with her.  Many of the students are too shy to just ask her directly how she wants to dance and be held.  This is a challenge not just for children, but adults as well, so it is no surprise that 5th graders are struggling with this. 

In our culture, we are not given good tools to communicate about different bodies or abilities in a safe way.  This girl’s choice to respond in a self-empowered way gave all of us a lesson in how to treat her and how to dance with her.  There can be fear and discomfort when someone is different.  Sometimes we don’t know how to interact in unique situations.  This dancer showed us exactly how to treat her by shining in the spotlight.  She chose to take control of a situation with intentional action versus emotionally impulsive reaction, in turn creating a safer space for everyone.  

Today I am grateful for the lessons all of my students share.  They demonstrate what it means to be honest and fearlessly true to themselves.  I am moved by the deep wisdom  students have at a young age to navigate challenging interactions with maturity and at the same time not hurting others.  It truly amazes me what can unfold in a one hour dance class.   

The Best Thank You Notes Ever

The month long residency program with South Elementary is over, and I couldn't be more proud of the entire school.  Every grade performed their special dance in two assemblies, and those kids were amazing.  It was incredible to see the focus and determination on their faces as they danced and the smiles when they were done.  I received a thank you note from the older students in 3rd, 4th, and 5th grade and wanted to share a few of their comments - they definitely brightened up my day.

  • "I'll never forget this day for the rest of my life"
  • "At the beginning of this unit I was thinking I wouldn't like it but then I was dancing my butt off.  I've never been happier in my life and I want to thank you for that."
  • "I wish you could stay six more weeks, or even more.  Ten, twenty, thirty, now I'm going too high."
  • "I loved dancing with you.  Swing was like riding a 65 mph rollercoaster.  Merengue was like eating a triple decker ice cream with chocolate topping.  I wish we could dance the rest of the year."
  • "Thank you for teaching me reggaeton.  I loved dancing with you even though some of the steps were hard."
  • "p.s. the isolations were awesome!"
  • "Thank you for being my teacher and helping me every time I screwed up."
  • "Before I didn't know how to dance but now I do.  And I love it."
  • "Dance rules!"
  • "I was practicing every day before the concert."
  • "The dance was awesome and cool.  I listen to reggaeton in my room on 712."
  • "You worked so hard and we will work hard for you at the concert."
  • "I loved the time you were dancing with Mr. Chris at the assembly.  I liked Mr. Chris. Mrs. Margot was really nice, too."
  • "I am going to be pretty upset when you leave.  I had fun.  I was hiding the fun, I do not know why, but I still had fun."
  • "In the future I want to learn more dances like tango.  I will never stop dancing.  Never."
  • "Thank you for teaching me two awesome dances.  They were swing and merengue.  At first I said I don't want to do this but then I said this is awesome."
  • "The swing dance was awesomer than going to Six Flags.  The merengue was awesomer than eating candy for the whole week!  Even though I don't think my mom will let me do that."
  • "My favorite dance was tango because it is so dramatic.  Thank you for teaching us how to dance different dances from different types of countries."
  • "It was really fun learning tango and merengue.  It was also fun where it came from and the story you told."
  • "Before I hated dancing now I love it."
  • "Life is good...but dance is serious!  Keep calm and love dancing."
  • "Thank you for playing so many games with us.  I loved the May I Have This Dance Game and Popcorn was fun, too."
  • "Thank you for teaching us merengue and tango.  It was so much fun, my eyes almost fell out."
  • "You helped me go out of my comfort zone.  I was scared of dancing and scared of dancing in front of people and you helped me be ready."

There are so much more, but these were definitely my favorites.  I wish I could share the drawings - some of them blew me away.  The self portraits were outstanding - they drew them so I would know who they were.  Such an incredible experience.  I really hope I get to do this again next year.

Thank you, South Elementary!  Teaching you was like riding the biggest rollercoaster, eating tons of cotton candy, and the best time of my life, too!

"What I Learned"

I've had a wonderful experience working with Peirce, where we recently finished learning our final dance routine. With the auditions coming up and the final teams about to be selected for the competition at the end of the month, I wanted to take time to reflect on what all of the dancers have learned and will take with them, even those that won't go to the dance-off in a few weeks.

I asked each class to share something they have learned through our dance lessons. Here is some of what they had to say:

  • "I learned that dances come from different cultures and traditions around the world."
  • "I learned that you don't have to speak the same language to be able to dance together, like in Hispaniola where there are two countries that share a dance."
  • "Some of the dances I thought would be really hard and only for adults, like waltz, were actually not too hard. We can dance them, too"
  • "I learned about different rhythms and how it's important to stay slow if the step is slow."
  • "I learned that some of today's music comes from long ago (like rock and roll starting as swing music)."

I am so proud of ALL of my students and wish I had a spot for all them on our team. But I know no one can take away the dances they've learned and the fun they've had over the past several weeks.

Blown Away!

As a new addition to the DWC faculty, I recently had my first experience of teaching the core program to third and fourth graders for the ten week curriculum which culminates in the Dance-Off event that was held at the Chicago Cultural Center. I must admit, during the first few weeks of my teaching assignment, I was not feeling very confident that I would even be able to pick students to perform at this event. Many of the students refused to dance with partners, unable to bear the hand connection needed in ballroom dance between a young man and young lady, let alone learn the five different routines and styles that are taught. 

The overall behavior in class at first was challenging, but I was able to see little sparks of interest in many of the student’s eyes that kept me motivated. To my delight and surprise, around week five, a shift occurred in the students. They were engaged, excited about dance, and somewhat comfortable connecting to their partner in “closed dance position.”  Many of the boys who refused to dance at first, were completely on board and expressed interest in competing in the Dance-Off. 

I selected my group, we prepared for the event, and I crossed my fingers! When the student’s arrived at the Cultural Center, their excitement was noticeable and each of them were groomed and dressed to the nines. They wanted to review their dances immediately, and make sure they were ready. Then it began. Lights, camera, action! They had a blast! I, and the students, were blown away by this event! 

The students from all schools were on best behavior, showing respect to one another and other schools, and above all- felt proud to be there. This feeling of confidence, self-respect, and excitement permeated the ballroom. I was in awe of the power of dance and its ability to bring together so many diverse communities in Chicago in celebration of the accomplishments of the students in this core program! I was elated and moved by my first experience of this program, as were many of my students and their parents, and look forward to the next Dance-Off!

A Long Story...But One That Has To Be Told!

Thanks to a very generous grant, I have been lucky enough to work with a new elementary school for a month long residency program.  I'm teaching each classroom in the school, 12 total, a cultural dance.  The younger students are dancing to non-partner dances from around the world and the 4th and 5th graders are all learning merengue, swing, and tango.  The staff has been beyond accommodating and helpful to the extent that they volunteered to do a performance themselves at the end of the month long program!  It's a dream job that I was very nervous about at first but that has now turned into excitement as I finished my first week and a half.

The Saturday before I began, I received an e-mail from the Behavioral and Emotional Support Team Teacher telling me a little about some students that might need extra support.  She asked if DWC had any ideas for students who didn't want to participate in the partner dancing.  Between Margot and I we talked to her and decided to see how the students reacted but to have a Plan B in case partnering wasn't going to work. We thought maybe having them be the class DJ or have the teacher or teacher aide be their only partner would be a good solution.  The teacher specifically mentioned a 4th grader who was, in her words, terrified to dance in class.  We chatted about his specific fears, and she said he was faced with generalized anxiety disorder/extreme panic attacks and that he has displayed severe behaviors with dance in the past and had already displayed avoidance behaviors upon the mention of the upcoming dance unit.  With this in mind, I went to the first day of dance on Monday hoping I could help this student overcome his fears.

He didn't show up to school.  We weren't even going to meet for a dance class that day - I was there to perform in an assembly to prepare the students, and he was so scared, he stayed home.  I was supposed to have him on Tuesday,  no show.  Wednesday, absent.  After the 3rd day, I began to feel horrible that he was missing school to avoid dance class.  Then on Thursday, the third day his class met with me, I got introduced to him.  The teachers brought him in the hallway early so we chatted about sports, bike riding, the Blackhawks - anything I could think of to keep him from being scared about the upcoming half hour.

When all of the students arrived, I asked them to form "escort" position where the gentlemen escorts the lady into the "ballroom" hand to elbow.   He had a "ghost partner" since we had a couple extra gentlemen in the class.  So far so good.

Before I met this student, my plan was to start the class off by jumping into the merengue routine they already knew, but I knew now that would be disastrous.  The past two classes were spent getting the students over their fear of "cooties" and holding hands to dance as teammates.  This student didn't have that acclimation.  So I decided to backtrack and have them dance on their own in a huge circle.

I watched this student closely, seeing how he was feeling picking up the movement.  I made everything into a game and kept complimenting him specifically saying how quickly he learned on his first day.  I got a smile.

Encouraged by that, I asked the gentlemen to form their smaller circle and assigned them their teammates.  We rotate like crazy, but my new student didn't know that yet, so I had him dance with his teacher at first, and I stood next to her.  So his first two rotations would not be with a classmate.  I spent a lot of time reviewing so he could get used to the hand to hand contact with both of us adults.  Then, I couldn't hold off any longer.  I had to have him rotate to a female classmate.  I casually had them rotate and watched his reaction.  I heard him clearly ask, "May I have this dance?"  And she answered, "Absolutely."  They gave each other a "low ten", held on, and I turned on the music.  He rotated the entire rest of the class with all of the ladies.  And he smiled.  I was ecstatic.

Afterward, he got into escort position with his teammate and walked her out of the ballroom.  The teachers couldn't have been happier.  I was bursting with pride for this very brave student.  He overcame a huge hurdle that afternoon.  I only hoped he would keep it up the following week.

Fast forward to today.  The fourth class of merengue.  The moment when the students were to get into "ballroom" position.  That meant the gentlemen's hands had to go on the lady's back.  Always a big moment.  I was nervous.

When the students walked in, I looked around heartbroken because I didn't see him.  The gentlemen with ghost partners all filed past me, and my heart sank.  Then I saw him.  He had a female teammate on his arm in escort position, and he led her to the dance circle.  We started reviewing the dance, and he had no problem rotating yet again.  The moment of truth - ballroom position.  Not a problem.  My new hero held his teammate in his arms without any problems.

I've never been happier to be a teacher.  And I know I'll never forget this moment.  My only hope is, he will one day realize how brave he was and be proud of the progress he made that afternoon.

Posture Too Perfect?

To say that some of my classes are challenging, is an understatement.  But I can't blame them.  I see the way they are expected to walk down the halls in straight, silent lines.  I see the kids at the back of the line who choose to dance and wiggle their way through the hall and then get reprimanded for it.  I hear the screams of many frustrated teachers trying to control their classrooms. By the time the kids get to me, in a class where freedom of expression is not only allowed but encouraged, they can't help but act out.

I will admit that as much as I want them to have a space where they don't have to be perfect and they can express themselves, it can be frustrating at times.  I want them to be able to let loose and have fun but I also want them to take away the many life lessons that this program has to offer. Lessons about respect, manners, and discipline as well as the ability to ask for what you want in life.

After last week with them, I kept thinking about a particularly lively group that I have.  None of my methods, or their teacher's methods, were working to get them to focus at the task at hand.  What's more frustrating is that occasionally throughout the class we could get them to settle down and run the dance, and what I would see was amazing! They looked like little ladies and gentleman executing the steps just as I taught them.  How could I get them to focus like that for more than two times in a class? At the end of class, I turned it back on the students.  I told them that this was a great opportunity and that they can either let some trouble makers in the class take that opportunity away, or they can decide to take it for themselves.

What I saw this week was incredible.  I had more students actively participating than in the three classes prior.  I had a few students who decided to take the opportunity for themselves by helping to get their classmates into a circle and partner off.  I could tell that one of my students was frustrated by constantly have to stop the class to regain focus. This week he was able to ask for what he wanted from his classmates by respectfully asking them to pay attention.

We still have a lot of work to do but I was so impressed to see progress that quickly. From one week barely getting through half of the waltz routine and the next week finishing the whole swing routine was astonishing to me. I can see them starting to use teamwork along with their personal work while still having fun in the process.

Amazed By My Student

I was visiting a school after the big Dance Off and the students were still so excited by the experience. Amidst the pizza, games, and line dancing, I had a chance to chat with Alexis. 

Alexis was one of the most committed people on the team.  We as educators always come across students that challenge us to be even better instructors.  In one rehearsal, Alexis finished and came to me saying, “Miss D., I can do this, it isn’t too hard for me. I might just need more time.”  She worked extra hard and competed beautifully in the competition.

Alexis & Fernando dancing
 I forgot to mention that Alexis uses a wheelchair.  She is neither confined or defined by it’s use but sails beyond it. I wasn’t surprised when she came up to me during the pizza party, but what she said floored me. 

“Before this program, most people thought I only went home and watched TV, that I couldn’t do anything. But this [program] has really opened me up as a person. They can see how much more I can do.”

Dancing with Class is a program designed to increase self confidence but in this group of students, they truly rallied together as a team. To see how joyous they were in supporting each other at the event and the camaraderie even a week later was amazing.  It's amazing to see students astound themselves. Sometimes it just takes time and a little dancing.