Barefoot Dance Center functions on the premise that all children are artists; teachers need only to support their ideas and creative desires, while supplying tools along the way. Primarily a modern and postmodern dance center emphasizing the creative process, ballet is offered as a complement to modern, and recommended to students working toward greater precision as well as those who plan to study in college and beyond. Some children come to Barefoot specifically to take a ballet class without the pressure of being in a traditional ballet studio. To capture and encourage the innate love for movement, comfort in the body and self-expression, Barefoot limits ballet to those seven years old and up. Children younger than seven years are encouraged to take Creative Dance I or II. The goal is for children to move naturally, explore, and create before confining their movements within codified structures.

Teachers at Barefoot trust that within each student is an artist. The main goal is to empower students to become actively engaged in inquiry and their individualized creative processes, both as movers and choreographers. Instructors offer skill-building exercises to encourage technical proficiency and supply tools for exploring and creating. Through the use of games or songs for very young children and improvisational scores for older students, teachers nurture a sense of discovery, thus preparing students to become inventive dance-makers.

Classes are taught within the context of who came before us, where we are now and where the dance field is headed in the future. Teachers draw upon the lineages of Isadora Duncan, José Limon, Lester Horton, Merce Cunningham, Anna Halprin, Bill T. Jones, Tricia Brown, Pina Bausch, and Yvonne Rainer, among others. Somatic insight from Bartenieff Fundamentals, The Alexander Technique, Ideokinesis, Skinner Releasing Technique, and Yoga greatly informs how technique is taught. Experiencing different viewpoints woven seamlessly together, students gain a sense of the interconnectedness of their own body and mind, and to dance history. Teachers and students maintain an ongoing dialogue about important historical dance pioneers and rebels, while cultivating an appreciation for how the field is shifting. Teachers openly discuss lineage by stating from where a specific idea or technique originated. Older students may observe videos of specific choreographers to learn from pioneers and current dance artists in the field. Choreographers of many different styles, cultures, and countries are viewed to expose the students to the wide range of possibilities.

Tools based on Total Body Connectivity Patterns[1], imagery, and attention to breath serve as foundations for teaching and learning. Instructors lead students toward a deeper understanding of their own anatomical structure and how to move efficiently with ease. Imagery and functional anatomy are utilized to help clarify specific sequencing. Articulation regarding the body and its relation to space encourages dancers to clarify their intention and movements, and gives them a lens through which to observe and describe dance. The elements of dance are explored to encourage the development of self-expression and invention.

Barefoot Dance Center has one small mirror, used to attain specific goals, that is covered by a curtain most of the time. Without dependence on mirrors, students are less self-conscious about what they look like and thereby focus more on what they feel like. Removing external influences encourages students to dance from the inside out, inviting genuine somatic experiences. Organic, dynamic phrases with a sense of musicality invite students to dance fully and exquisitely as a reminder of why they are here. Emphasizing ease and efficiency in movement, teachers may pose questions, What can you do less? Where can you release tension? How can breath support the movement? Because new research about the body, brain, and education is published regularly, it is necessary to re-think what and why we do what we do on a regular basis in order to stay relevant.

The intellectual and emotional work of dance-making is a vital activity for even the youngest dancers. Teachers welcome students to use their personal stories and interests as motivation for their work. This makes it possible for students to engage with issues that matter deeply to them. Young students may choose to focus on friendship, seasons or animals, while older dancers may explore gender, sexuality, race, war, life transitions or personal identity. These experiences serve to connect their ideas to the world in a historical context and reveal earnest ways of expressing them. This step may also include reading, reflecting, writing and witnessing.

Observing and giving feedback is crucial for making work and helps build trust within the group. Liz Lerman’s Critical Response Process leads us through this procedure to offer choreographers productive criticism leading to fully formed dance pieces. The process involves witnessing a work-in-progress where the observers tell the choreographer what they saw, noticed or experienced when watching, leaving out judgmental language. The artist then asks specific questions regarding the work, which the audience members answer. Next, the audience poses neutral (non-judgmental) questions to the choreographer. One might ask, for example, if the choreographer intended for the dancers to be executing a specific movement in unison, as opposed to stating that the dancers were out of sync, which is a judgement. Perhaps the choreographer chose to have the dancers move at different times. If however, the artist, however, wanted the dancers to be in sync, this question may be a helpful reminder to clarify that moment in the dance. Lastly, the artist has the option to ask the observers for advice or opinions (Lerman 28-35). When giving peer feedback, students connect with, learn from, challenge and support one another, thus creating a safe environment where they feel free to take risks. These questions innately require choreographers to dig deeper, clarify and articulate their intentions, which leads to more cohesive choreography and greater movement accuracy by the dancers. The process engages both the choreographer and audience to keenly observe choreography and develops appreciation of the arts.

Teaching compassion and empathy is of the utmost importance, and results in an environment where everyone feels valued for who they are. Artists become vulnerable when they show even just a little bit of themselves. Because children are asked to create dances that are personal to them, they must be able to trust their teachers and peers. It is extremely difficult to dance uninhibitedly when feeling judged; it is equally challenging to think creatively if peers are shutting down ideas. In order for Barefoot students to succeed, it is essential to leave judgement out of the studio and support one another. It is the safety of the space we create together that allows artists to thrive. Once dancers feel secure and trust one another, they are better able to take feedback from teachers and their peers because they know these comments will ultimately help them in becoming stronger dancers and dance makers. Striving to create well-rounded, proficient movers, teachers may ask for greater awareness of the relationship between the head and tailbone, more precise timing, or bigger movement. Barefoot teachers desire to challenge their students to become confident, expressive dancers, and innovative choreographers with something to say.

[1] Developmental Movement Patterns were introduced by Irmgard Bartenieff and codified by Peggy Hackney as the Patterns of Total Body Connectivity.