What this project was designed to do was to help the students process their experiences of two different fires in their valley. With such an awesome and tragic occurrence being so close in memory, we chose to utilize this project as a means to heal in addition to an educational experience. Being able to give them a place to think about and express those feelings was an honor.
With the fires and their aftermaths as inspiration, Ormao company members came up with a list of possible foci for choreography. The list was presented to each class for teacher feedback. Choices were then sent back to Ormao dancers for pre-residency prep. For two weeks professional dancers from the Ormao Dance Company worked with every grade level from kindergarten to 8th to produce an original dance.
This being our third year working with Ormao, it was wonderful for students to gain some basic dance technique. Classes began with a set warm up, so by the end of the week they knew it for themselves. This was a new component to the residency, and it was extremely successful.
Strong relationships allow dancers to work fast and build fantastic and relevant dance works. Students build material and phrases based on exercises instructed by the professional dancers who then organize the many parts into a complete dance. This allows students to feel involved in the creative process and helps them take responsibility and claim the dance as their own. Students were consulted for accompaniment and costume choices.
Residency was during state testing. MS was able to work with dancers almost every day of the 8-day residency, whereas ES worked every other day. One challenge was the loss of a company member to personal conflicts. The loss of this dancer meant that the onsite teacher had to take over the dance portion and another teacher had to be located to cover for her. The situation was resolved by the company within 24 hours, and all dancers who came on rotation were equally fabulous.
One student was too shy to dance in the final production but during practices, when there was many fewer people in the room, that same child acted like a star student and began to truly blossom instead of falling back into patterns of shyness that he had become known for. Another challenge was a 7th grader who was being particularly negative—obviously not giving 100% effort, even going so far as to roll his eyes. When called out on his behavior he didn't say another negative thing, and kept moving and dancing when he understood she wasn't going to sit him down as a result of his grumpiness.
At the end of the project, the entire community of Beulah was invited to watch as every grade in the school performed their amazing dances. An invitation was also sent out to the first responders who helped during the fires that affected the community as a way to thank them for all their hard work. In addition to the student works, two company members performed a duet, providing students with an example of professional dance. Many audience members cried. The beauty came as much from the integrity with which students invested themselves in the work as it did with the actual choreography.
Although the circumstances around this project were unique, the project itself can easily be replicated. Science and art are all around us but are too often separated in the education system. Studies have shown that every student has their own learning style, so by allowing students to express scientific concepts through the arts such as dance, students physically and creatively reiterate their understanding of concepts.