“We begin with the hypothesis that any subject can be taught effectively in some intellectually honest form to any child at any stage of development. It is a bold hypothesis and an essential one in thinking about the nature of curriculum. No evidence exists to contradict it; considerable evidence is being amassed that supports it.” (JS Bruner)

It is important to differentiate instruction in age-appropriate ways to meet the divergent needs of student artists as they make the journey from childhood through adolescence to adulthood. Class offerings at Barefoot Dance Center may be categorized into four phases of development to meet this need: Discovery, Exploration, Developing, and Emerging. As students express interest and readiness, information and tools are offered. As their comprehension increases, they are offered additional layers of knowledge. This is not necessarily a linear experience, but one that unfolds as children grow and mature. As educator and author, JS Bruner states above, children are capable of learning big ideas at any stage as long as the teaching happens at their level of understanding and ability. Below are descriptions of each phase.

Phase One: The Discovery Phase (Ages 3-7 years)

This first phase of development is designed to nurture children’s intuitive ways of being in their bodies. We use Anne Green Gilbert’s BrainDance Developmental Patterns to help students organize their bodies.  The goal is for students to be physically comfortable and confident, follow their curiosities and joyfully explore movement. While becoming accustomed to the dance class structure, children improvise freely and discover new ways of moving. They learn to follow instructions, control their bodies, share space, connect ideas or simple concepts to movement and express themselves. The older children also gain knowledge of basic modern dance skills, such as foot and leg work, isolations, articulation of the spine, skips, and leaps. In this phase, we currently offer two classes, Creative Dance I and II.

Phase Two: The Exploration Phase (Ages 7-9 years)

The second phase continues to instill a sense of discovery while teaching the fundamentals of modern and/or ballet technique. In both Contemporary Modern I and Creative Ballet, dancers increase their vocabulary and awareness of compositional elements of space, time, and force, and are able to use them in many ways. They demonstrate an openness in allowing creativity to emerge in all different forms, and recognize that reflection is a large part of the creative process. They observe keenly and are able to “talk back” what they see.

Students learn to understand the natural aligning of their bodies and thus learn important lessons such as from where the turnout comes, and the importance of keeping knees tracking over feet. They learn to articulate the differences between a curved, arched and neutral spine. Students discover how to find parallel, first and second positions for their unique bodies. They become comfortable moving away from vertical, and changing levels smoothly and safely in multiple ways. They become aware of physical boundaries and gain an understanding of how to share space with other dancing bodies without colliding.

Students in the Exploration Phase increase their ability to work together in groups, both receiving and offering ideas, as well as leading and following one another. This generates a deeper understanding of their own unique learning styles. Students begin to recognize their strengths as students, leaders, dance composers and performers. Classes in this phase include Contemporary Modern I and Creative Ballet.

Phase Three: The Development Phase (10-14 years)

Students in the Development Phase continue to discover and explore with greater acuity. Improvisation demands great focus, as well as awareness of self, other, space and the dance as a whole. Heightened observational skills enable students to discuss in detail what they see, and how their observations impact their feelings and imaginations. They are able to demonstrate dynamic shifts in their dancing, and play with timing. Students at this level think abstractly, connect concepts to movement and collaboratively choreograph relevant works of art.

Dancers learn different somatic approaches by name and exhibit a sense of inner connectivity in their dancing. They learn more complex phrases, and execute them with greater precision. They learn to move simultaneously and successively, demonstrate intention, and clarify from where they are initiating movement. They are able to release quickly and move into deep relaxation with attention to breath and letting go.

By expressing themselves deeply, students make themselves vulnerable in their creative work, and connect their choreography to significant concepts. Conversations about dance and personal lineage leads to crucial discussions regarding appreciation versus appropriation, history, and belonging. Students in the Development Phase work well independently and in groups, and think critically and abstractly. Choreolab students are able to develop personal, unique, and detailed choreography. Classes in this phase include Contemporary Modern II, Ballet I, Dances of the African Diaspora, and Choreolab Performance Workshop.

Phase Four: The Emergent Phase (13 years and up)

Emerging students demonstrate sophisticated layers of understanding and being in their bodies, as well as in the ways that they compose. Dancers deepen their kinesthetic consciousness, which allows them to become more aware of the energy and creative impulses around them. They are able to intuitively access their compositional knowledge in the midst of improvising. They demonstrate a strong physical presence on stage that comes from being fully engaged in the moment. They develop a heightened awareness of and connection to their fellow dancers.

Choreographers learn to compose well-crafted work based on concepts of personal importance to them. With great independence, they proceed through a creative process resulting in original choreography. Due to the need to communicate their desires to their dancers, young choreographers become adept leaders and directors.

Dancers at this level are expected to actively participate in their own learning. For example, they must recognize the importance of and invest in the warm-up sections of class as much as during the phrase work or movement across the floor. Kinetics, anatomy, body mechanics, and their terminology are woven into class material. Students are encouraged to incorporate their own interpretations in expression and timing, while emphasizing specificity in movement and advancing their pick-up skills. Deep reflection through visualization, relaxation, thinking, writing and discussing is essential.

Students are expected to bring their unique selves to every aspect of their work. They honor their own structures and learn to work within them. They think independently, respond honestly, communicate their ideas openly, and express them further through movement and composition. Classes in this phase include: Contemporary Modern III and IV, Teen Modern Dance Lab, Ballet II and III, and Barefoot Dance Company.