Core Ingredients for Developing Young Dancers

Core Ingredients for Training the Whole Dance Artist: Creativity, Somatics, Identity

Learning to dance through the lens of the three core ingredients: creativity, somatics, and identity, leads children to discover themselves as multi-dimensional beings. They gain knowledge and understanding of their inner kinesthesia, as well as grow both as artists and individuals. Dance lessons and units of study touch on all three elements, each one informing the other. Below,  these ingredients are defined, highlighting all that they offer students.

Creativity

“Learning to think creatively in one discipline therefore opens the door to understanding creative thinking in all disciplines. Educating this universal creative imagination is the key to producing lifelong learners capable of shaping the innovations of tomorrow” (Robert and Michele Root-Bernstein).

Deep inner connections lead to genuine and unique forms of outer expressivity. Creativity is valued at Barefoot Dance Center for multiple reasons. It demands problem-solving, and nurtures a sense of curiosity and play while igniting the imagination. It teaches children to be resourceful and how to think both abstractly and critically. With solid training, students develop their own sophisticated artistic voices, leading them to become innovative choreographers and thinkers. Lastly, in order to carry out these choreographies, students need to compromise, collaborate, and direct, giving them lifelong lessons they take with them into every aspect of their lives.

Somatics

“We, as dance educators, have the opportunity to enrich students’ understanding of both their expressive and biological bodies, and we can help students put these two bodies into synergetic dialogue that will increase their understanding of each. We can provide students with creative and somatic tools that will forward their ability to physically experience themselves as complete, expressive, engaged, and able individuals” (Johanna Kirk).

Perceiving the body from within offers human beings opportunities to slow down, observe, notice, reflect, breath, and deepen body-mind connections. Barefoot students learn to appreciate and honor the natural aligning of their bodies, and are encouraged to work within their limitations while accentuating their strengths. The goal is for students to work with their skeletal structure, strengthen deep muscles so that they may release superficial muscles, and move with a sense of breath and ease.

Most people learn very little about the body. The inner workings of muscles, bones and fascia are mysterious for most, even dancers, despite the fact that the body is essential to their art. The word somatic means relating to the body. Many university and college dance programs as well as professional dance studios offer classes in somatic forms. Corporeal awareness serves dancers well as it encourages inner connectivity, the release of tension, greater ease of movement, while reducing the risk of injury. Unfortunately, most K-12 dance studios do not include somatic education in their programs, thus many young dancers need to retrain later in life in order to work more safely with ease and awareness. We incorporate somatics into our program due to its importance, as well as to prepare our dancers planning to study dance in higher education.

Identity

“Dance is a cultural experience. It is a racial experience. It is a gendered experience. It is a kinesthetic body experience. All of this is to say that one’s experience in dance is reflective of his or her demographic and dance environment” (Nyama McCarthy-Brown).

Knowing who you are allows for the creation of  meaningful art. Students are respected as individuals and encouraged to discover their uniqueness rather than conform to any group or societal norm. This basic tenet results in students appreciating difference and treating one another with kindness and respect, generating feelings of empathy and helping to create a sense of belonging and community at the studio. In this way, they become artists whose vision is unique and respected by others.

Our goal is to help students form their own dance practices by knowing their bodies and what they need to warm-up and dance, and in turn, what they need to settle down and re-focus. Listening to their bodies’ natural impulses allows them to build a relationship with their own kinesthesia so that they are better able to control their bodies, direct their movement, and focus their attention.

By emphasizing identity, we encourage children and teenagers to look to themselves for answers and hold them accountable for their own learning. Our wish is to validate their artistic ideas, experiences, feelings, and questions so that they are free to grow into confident artists. The key to inspiring children and teenagers to choreograph innovative and personal dances is to point them toward their own experiences. This leads them to invest in their creations with great care and thought, taking ownership and pride in their work.