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Behind the Curtain Blog

NDEO's "Behind the Curtain" Blog features articles written by NDEO members about dance and dance education topics as well as periodic updates on NDEO programs and services. This is a FREE resource available to ALL.


Introducing My HS Dance Class to Jazz During Covid-19

NDEO’s Guest Blog Series features posts written by our members about their experiences in the fields of dance and dance education. We continue this series with a post by Amy Compton, BFA, MEd, Director of the Santa Fe High School Dance Program. Guest posts reflect the experiences, opinions, and viewpoints of the author and are printed here with their permission. NDEO does not endorse any business, product, or service mentioned in guest blog posts. If you are interested in learning more about the guest blogger program or submitting an article for consideration, please click here.

It was mid-March 2020 and my Dance I students were just completing their 3rd quarter Ballet unit by showing their original dances based on a fairy tale someone else in the room had written. Besides studying ballet technique, we’d also studied ballet mime and how to turn words into gesture and movement. Students saw their stories coming to life as their peers danced their interpretations. As a class, we used Liz Lerman’s Critical Response Process to observe and ask questions about the dances. Then I caught a student looking at her phone. I asked her to put it away, but she said, “Ms. Compton, the coronavirus is here. It’s just been confirmed. We have one case in New Mexico.”

Everything after that runs together. Schools shifted online. I trained for a week on my school’s chosen online education platform Open Access trying to figure out how to give my dance students class through a computer. I was told students should only be expected to give 3 hours a day to online school. I was used to 1hr 30min classes, and so I knew I’d have to get really organized, streamline my content, and figure out the heart of what I wanted my students to have during this time. Quarter 4 was scheduled to focus on Jazz. So, I started by researching the work of Melanie George and Jazz Is... Dance Project.  

I considered that Jazz dance is:

  • Vernacular – a language shared by residents of a particular region or community
  • Improvisatory- created and performed spontaneously
  • Egalitarian- all people are equal and deserve equal rights and opportunities

I decided to build an online curriculum that not only presented a history of Jazz dance, but also opened up a path to experiential exploration, agency, creative expression, and even social connection during a time of “social distancing.” I wanted to continue the critical thinking work we had established earlier in the year. I considered the social currency of learning social/vernacular dances that might motivate my students. I also knew that continuing to dance could help their mental, physical, and emotional health during the pandemic, so I purposely tried to curate dance tutorials that I thought might speak to them and coax them off the couch or out of bed. I knew our class would need to be asynchronous due to limitations in access to WiFi and other issues that come up during a pandemic. I was able to send hard copies of our curriculum to students who told me they could access video tutorials via their cell phones.

Before I share more about our online Jazz dance curriculum, here are 5 reflections from my students written after their experiences in their own words:

Descubri que yo puedo hacer cosas que nunca me imagine, no es nada facil pero es un buen reto de demostrarme que puedo, me gusta bailar pero siento que no soy buena en ello, pero con disciplina y otras cosas podre lograrlo.

Dancing this year has helped me gain more confidence in myself, both in my body and my creativity. I did not expect to find so much freedom in dance as I did, but because I took this class I feel more sure of my creativity and my creative choices. Dance has helped me recognize when something can be better or when I should cut something out. Through the freedom I had in the class, I felt in control in what I was doing while being guided. Overall, through learning different genres of dance, I was able to recognize different parts of myself.

Dance has helped me discover multiple ways to express my creativity and ideas by learning the diverse dances around the world and their origins. They are like the fundamentals and the rest is up to my imagination. 

Even though I wasn’t here all year, dance (especially at home) has really helped me with anxiety, and helped guide me to find my artistic side. I’ve really enjoyed dancing at home.elp me gain confidence and maybe facilitate dancing at a party or school dance. 

Dancing really helped me a lot this year. It really helped me show what I can actually do. I discovered so many stuff that I didn’t discover before. I realized that I can actually do something. It felt like I found the real me. Dance was indeed an amazing class. It always made my day better especially when I see everyone’s bright smiles. I really enjoyed dance, and I would also like to thank you Ms. Compton for teaching us so many stuff and giving us an experience on what dance is actually is. 

Here is an example lesson from our online jazz dance unit. To see the full curriculum for this unit, please visit my blog.

Lesson 3 – April 20-24

This week we will watch, read, quiz, dance, and respond while studying Jazz dance as a communal practice.

Assignment: Watch the following three videos in order to complete a Thinking Routine.

  1. The history of African-American social dance - Camille A. Brown   
  3. Granny Dances "The Slop" | Flex and Shanice | Oprah Winfrey Network

I thought we were studying Jazz dance!  Why are we so focused on social dances? Well, as we are learning, Jazz dance and social dance used to be one and the same.  Jazz dance roots are:

  • Vernacular – a language shared by residents of a particular region or community
  • Improvisatory- created and performed spontaneously
  • Egalitarian- all people are equal and deserve equal rights and opportunities

It is also true that the Jazz dance family tree has grown so large, it now encompasses theatrical styles like Broadway; commercial styles like music videos; and even forms that have traveled around the world and back again (Bollywood Hip Hop and KPop anyone?).

Jazz dance forms develop because Jazz makes room for agency and improvisation.  The dancers might have a shared common vocabulary, or collection of dance steps they all know in a particular social environment. Imagine a school dance where friends break into popular Fortnite or TikTok dances and then begin improvising variations or personal nuanced ways of doing those popular dances.  There is room for individual expression in the communal experience. There is freedom to negotiate the known structure with your body, and be the way you want to be in community with others.

So in this lesson we are not just learning technical steps, but learning how steps are related to communities.  We’ll try to notice the relationship of the movement to the people making the movement.  Keeping in mind, if you have better social context about the origin of a movement, then you’ll probably be better at dancing the movement as well as gain membership into a new community.

Also there is worth and dignity, stemming from creative processes for any dancer personalizing a dance.  The dancer’s role is elevated to active citizenship within community.  They are no longer a performer being told what to do, but a composer/creator deciding what they will do.  This perspective moves away from a “right and wrong” way of physical expression to instead asking, “what if” and “why not”.  This is Jazz dance.

Please complete the following short quiz about this material…

  1. What does vernacular mean?
  2. Name a dance you recognized or maybe liked the best (if none of them were familiar) from the Camille Brown TedEd or Rennie Harris Social Dances in Hip Hop presentation.
  3. Which dance was James Brown doing according to Grandma in the Flex and Shanice video?

Assignment: Below are several examples of movements that are social/vernacular dances.  Please try 3- 5 of them and then complete one of the following choices:

Here are the tutorials you can choose from.  Please choose what interests you.

Now choose one of the following:

1) Send a video of yourself dancing 16-32 counts (10-30 seconds) of any of these movements or variations you come up with based on these movements, captured with your phone or other device. Use any music you like. You can text, email, or upload your video to our Google Classroom.


2) Write a full page double spaced, 12 point font essay about your experience including the following information: Which 3-5 tutorials did you try? Describe your experiences during each tutorial. What did you see, think, and wonder about each tutorial? What was meaningful, evocative, interesting, exciting, and/or striking in each tutorial? What didn’t go very well? What did you not know before…what do you know now…and what will you know in the future after trying these tutorials? (Please be as descriptive as possible and fill the page for full credit. If you don’t have enough experiences to fill a page, you should try another tutorial.)

See how Ms. Compton puts together a movement sequence after studying shuffle, whacking, lite feet, and old school party dances:

Amy is a white woman with gray/black hair, smiling for the camera in a black tank top

Amy Compton, BFA, MEd: I'm inspired by transformational learning; making art for positive social change; and investigating personal and collective stories to create strong connections to people and the world around me. I want to empower my students, my collaborators, my audiences, and myself through work that comes from deep exploration, embodied imagination, and diligent process. I hold a BFA in Dance Performance and Modern Foreign Languages as well as a Masters Degree in Education. I’m also a licensed public school teacher in the state of New Mexico creating curriculum, choreographing, and teaching dance technique and community outreach classes for ArtWorks, Santa Fe High School, The National Dance Institute of New Mexico, and MoveWest. I’ve taught and created with inner city youth and intergenerational populations, Jewish senior citizens, NCAA dance teams, children of Mexican migrant workers, survivors of domestic violence and sexual assault, Parkinson’s patients, rock bands, film and opera productions, churches, dance and theater companies, as well as my own students at Cleveland State University, Lake Erie College, Lakeland Community College, Santa Fe High School, and thousands of other public school children preK-12 throughout the U.S.

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