An Uplifting Lesson in the New Dance Studio

As the early-afternoon light cast shadows on the gleaming floor of the Dance Studio, a group of Class 4 students entered the impressive new space, bursting with excitement. One even executed an exuberant cartwheel.

Shoes placed neatly outside the door, these spirited Middle Schoolers soon settled in for what promised to be an hour of jubilant movement and unlimited imagination.

For the first half of class, June Anderson, Head of Middle School Arts and Integration, taught them a series of fundamental dance techniques, including how to change direction and maintain clear counts. As her barefoot students formed three rows facing her, she turned up the volume on her laptop speaker and took her place at the front of the studio.

With “Doly,” an upbeat song by the Congolese ensemble 4 Étoiles setting the mood, the students began to master the steps to an introductory dance that had them, quite literally, standing on their toes and jumping for joy.

“1, 2, 3, 4. Front row, middle row, back row, clap,” chanted Ms. Anderson. The students did their best to move in sync and stay balanced while clapping and pivoting this way and that. They followed her gentle voice through sequences, raising their arms, tapping their feet, stepping wide, bouncing up and down, and scooching backwards on the floor.

Gradually, the pace increased. Ms. Anderson encouraged her students to sharpen their focus as they navigated more quickly through the moves. When a person spun the wrong way or stepped out of turn, she made it a learning opportunity. “The most important thing to remember is which direction to go,” she said. “Put your arms down if that’s easier.”

The students paused to watch Ms. Anderson demonstrate the precise timing of a particular movement. “Watch my feet,” she instructed. “Notice I get there on the count of one. You need to think where you’re going and be ready to move.”

After adding on more actions – they skipped, kneeled, rolled on their tummies, flipped over, leapt back up, sashayed to one side, then turned the other way – the dancers practiced for a few more minutes, gaining skill, grace, and confidence after each run-through. If their smiles and giggles were any indication, they were also having much fun moving their bodies in thoughtful ways to the cheerful music.

“Excellent,” praised Ms. Anderson. “You’ve learned lots of techniques that will help you with your dancing.”

For the second part of this upbeat class, Ms. Anderson handed out pieces of paper on which lines of colorful images had been drawn. “We left off yesterday with these beautiful patterns you created,” she said.

Each student had been asked to identify and draw at least three symbols or shapes. “Today we’re going to translate your visual patterns into movements,” she explained.

Following a short period of independent work, during which the students experimented with various interpretations of their images, Ms. Anderson asked, “Does anyone have one or two shapes they’d like to share?”

One student volunteered to perform “sun, flower, trees.” A second moved to “rain and lightning.” A third brought “strawberry” to life. After each dance phrase, Ms. Anderson asked clarifying questions and offered suggestions for improvement. “What about making your flower in slow motion?” she asked the first student. “Do that with a little more confidence as if you’re telling me a story,” she said to another.

The vibrant dance lesson certainly enhanced Class 4’s ongoing explorations into this vital art form. “Dancers, we meet again on Monday. Nice work today,” said Ms. Anderson. As she collected the papers, a student cartwheeled again across the floor before this energized class trickled out of the gorgeous Dance Studio, slipping their shoes back on and continuing with their afternoons.