A Q&A with Kate Carr of BalletX’s Dance eXchange
BalletX’s 4th annual Dance eXchange begins this month. What’s new this year?
KC: This year, we are doing things a bit differently! We have incorporated aspects of BalletX’s repertoire into our curricular theme, which is Aviation. This theme was inspired by Matthew Neenan’s Sunset o369 Hours and we have enjoyed creating movement and class plans inspired by the ballet’s rich storytelling, choreography, and music. We also developed a Curriculum Guide, which is a resource for teachers to incorporate our theme into their classes with writing exercises, presentations, and online resources.
What kind of preparation goes into coordinating a program like Dance eXchange?
KC: Lots of emails! In all seriousness, we work very hard to build strong relationships with our school teachers and principals and try to create an environment where our teachers can succeed. When our teachers feel supported, the students can really shine! Our teaching artists workshop curricular themes and prepare their lesson plans a few weeks in advance, and during the semester, we are prepping for upcoming performances. Whether it is the Dance eXchange Field Trip to see the curriculum-wide Ballet, planning The Midway In-school performance, or preparing of the final student performance at the Prince Theater, we always have something brewing at Dance eXchange!
How is Dance eXchange similar to other education programs you’ve been a part of, and how is it unlike anything you’ve ever done before? What has been the most unexpected part of the process?
KC: Dance eXchange is unlike any other educational program I have been a part of because it helps teachers learn how to teach and lead successful classes. Many other educational styles focus on what to teach, and not necessarily how to teach it, or why. NDI’s pedagogy teaches the foundations of dance and motivates students to work their hardest in each class. There is an amazing positive theme that permeates the pedagogy and helps teachers manage their classes with an infectious energy and a playful spirit. With this approach, students light up because they feel the excitement of our teaching artists!
What can you tell us about the National Dance Institute, and how have they helped shape the Dance eXchange program?
KC: All of our teaching artists have completed Teacher Trainings with National Dance Institute and our program is based off their principles. NDI’s pedagogy stresses a joyful approach to learning, always doing your very best, and supporting each other throughout the process. Children, and adults, respond to this atmosphere and it creates an environment where the kids can succeed, in and outside the classroom.
I understand one of the curricular themes this year is BalletX’s Sunset, o639 Hours. Why is this the perfect theme for teaching dance? What kind of challenges does it pose?
KC: Using story to teach movement is incredibly enjoyable because ballet began as an art which told stories through music and dance. We are hoping to tap into the children’s creativity with games and improvisations by asking “ What does it mean to tell a story with movement?” The ballet Sunset o639 Hours is based on the true story of a pilot, Captian Edwin Musick, and we are excited to share his story, as well as other prominent aviators, with the children throughout the semester.
What would you say to a school administrator or parent that questions the place of the fine and performing arts in a student’s education?
KC: Dance and other performing arts promote creativity, self expression, and a much needed break in the school day. Also, I would mention how dance helps build new brain cells and keeps the neurons associated with memory and learning strong and healthy. By adding dance into the school day, students may find they understand math concepts from a different perspective, as well as build strong relationships with each other through teamwork. When we move, it helps keep our bodies and minds sharp. Our dancers often report that they look forward to their Dance eXchange classes and it is their favorite time of the week!
What’s your go-to music selection for getting the attention of dance students or throwing them a curve ball, so to speak?
KC: Our musicians are amazing! They incorporate current and classic pop music, like Stevie Wonder and Katy Perry, as well as their own improvisations into our classes. The students always perk up when they are dancing to a song they know and love! Personally, I love using Stevie Wonder because his music has great rhythm and always brings a smile to my face!
What is the advantage of having live music and musicians in a dance class or educational environment?
KC: Music is an integral part of any dance class and having live music helps the children experience how dance and music can create an elevated experience. The teaching artists work closely with their musicians to create the correct tempo and rhythm for a dance phrase, and through games and improvisations, the dancers work on musicality and tempo. We have a section called “Spotlight on the Musician,” in which the musicians teach the children about various aspects of music theory, genres of instruments, and styles of music. Our dancers love interacting with the musicians and enjoy learning more about their contribution to Dance eXchange.