Kate Corby, MFA
In the summer of 2010 I assisted my ‘little sister,’ Aspen (of Big Brothers Big Sisters), with registration at for middle school in Madison. We attempted to sign her up for afterschool sports and were deflated to learn the only options for sixth-grade girls were tennis and wrestling. I became determined to create a space in which Aspen and her friends could be active during middle school, to provide access to dance education to low-income communities in Madison. In 2011, my colleague Mariah LeFeber, a board-certified dance/movement therapist and, at the time, an instructor in our dance department, and I initiated a pilot program at Kennedy Heights Community Center on Madison’s north side. We then secured three years of funding from the UW’s Ira and Ineva Reilly Baldwin Wisconsin Idea Endowment. In our first five years of programming, Performing Ourselves served a total of approximately 500 4 to 14 year-olds from all over Madison, mostly through our afterschool community center classes. 90% of our participants are children of color and 95% are living in poverty. Performing Ourselves is housed within the University of Wisconsin-Madison School of Education, specifically the Office of Outreach and Partnerships. I am a program co-director, though my appointment is as an Associate Professor in the UW-Madison Dance Department.
“Dance has made me not as scared to do things in front of people. I can be myself all the time and I don’t worry about other people in my class making fun of me because I know, I’m just right how I am.”
— 8-year-old Kiara
This year, our 6th year, we have added in school programming through eight-week classroom residencies. The combination of our community center programming and new school programming allowed us to serve an estimated 500 youth this year. Initially a program for girls, we expanded last year to include boys. This past year we hired a part-time Dance/Movement Therapist to deliver programing and supervise our undergraduate teachers. We train and employ undergraduate dance students to teach movement-based curriculum to girls and boys aged 4 to 14 from high-poverty communities in Madison and Fitchburg, WI. Our programming combines dance education, dance/movement therapy principles, and performance to foster embodiment, resiliency, and positive self-concept in youth living in poverty.
Movement is an essential and enriching part of children’s lives. As Carla Hannaford wrote in her book Smart Moves: Why Learning is Not All in Your Head, “movement activates the neural wiring throughout the body, making the whole body the instrument of learning.” Dance improves motor skills, decision-making, creativity, risk taking, cultural understanding, attentiveness, and self-awareness.
“Dance helps me be confident and express myself. I feel important when I’m dancing.”
— 8-year-old Heaven
Sadly, though, according to Any Given Child Madison’s 2014 report, 0% of K-6th graders, 3% of 7th graders and 5% of 8th graders in the Madison Metro School District were enrolled in a dance class taught by a specialist.
Our curriculum uses Pediatrician Kenneth Ginsburg's 7 C's of Resilience as a framework. We connect a movement goal/concept with each C as follows:
Competence: Mastering of the Defense Scale from Laban Movement Analysis
Confidence: Utilizing head-tail connection
Connection: Mirroring exercises
Character: Personal kinesphere awareness
Contribution: Circular dance with shared leadership
Coping: Breath exercises
Control: Master of the eight basic effort actions from Laban Movement Analysis
The Dance/Movement Therapy (DMT) perspectives/staff (Mariah LeFeber and Mary Patterson) have MAs in DMT and are either board-certified or on their way to being board-certified. My arts administration background prepared me somewhat for the organizational and development aspects of the work. My 14 years (to date) of teaching and mentoring undergraduates prepared me to recruit, help train and supervise our teachers.
“I know how to communicate with children, how to care about them and their needs while still teaching curriculum and material, and I know how to help them be healthier and happier individuals. I learned how to be a more culturally aware person, but beyond that, I’ve learned how to be a more emotionally aware individual, and how to care about the needs of my coworkers, students, and peers. Professionally, I learned how to teach. I learned how to lesson plan, I learned how to network, and I learned how to deal with difficult situations, and how to move on and recover from them.”
— Caroline Criste, undergraduate teacher
“Not only has this program encouraged our girls to explore dance, but it has given them the opportunity to build their self-esteem, develop communication skills, and practice team building strategies. Last year we had a young woman in our High School Girls Inc. program who actively participated in the Performing Ourselves program every week. Dancing allowed her to become someone strong and capable of anything. As a result, the confidence that she felt while dancing translated into her everyday life. Through dance, this young woman slowly evolved from a shy girl who was frequently and unfortunately negatively singled out by her peers to a girl with high self-esteem and resilience.”
— Pahoua Vang, Girls Inc. Outreach Manager, Goodman Community Center
We receive amazing, effusive feedback about our work but struggle for financial sustainability. Each year threatens to be our last year of programming. We need educators, administrators, politicians and communities to recognize the potential of dance, dance education and dance/movement therapy.