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 Joy Guarino, SUNY Buffalo State College. 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.
Dance at Buffalo State delivers a liberal arts education and embraces a civic and community engagement philosophy in all aspects of the program. In addition to rigorous studio training that enhances the physical experience of the art form, the diverse curriculum is designed to deepen students’ understanding of the cultural, historical, and aesthetic value of dance, while addressing local and global societal needs through numerous service-learning and outreach projects. Furthermore, dance performance also provides a unique opportunity for engaging an audience with meaningful social commentary. Choreography is a powerful civic tool when the dancers embody critical global issues and move to convey justice. Our civic and community-engaged interdisciplinary program fulfills our dance students’ distinct aspirations while enlightening the public on the important role of dance in our world.
The dance program continues to explore ways to incorporate high impact practices (HIPS) and applied learning pedagogy into course design and teaching practice to strengthen student learning. Contingent on the course, typical assignments include practicals, research papers, oral presentations, choreography, and lesson plan development. Over the past four years, however, we have been intentionally extending the coursework beyond the classroom. Infusing concepts such as inclusion, mastery, and generosity into the teaching and learning process inspires students to want to share their hard work not only with their classmates but also with off-campus groups through community-engagement and service-learning projects. For the Arts and Letters/dance interdisciplinary major, the culmination of a student's learning and vision of future endeavors is reflected in the capstone project; each project is as individual as the student and many include a community-engagement component. Whether it is a research study, resource guidebook, or applied project, students are guided and inspired to produce a high quality thesis that is presented in an open forum. In fall 2019, community-engaged practices were incorporated into all course offerings from lecture to studio classes, and from first year initiatives to senior seminars. Most recently, we have been deliberately connecting assignments to dance advocacy. Research essays are converted to personal letters for the purpose of influencing change. Dance is tied to nationally and internationally recognized days to create social media campaigns to broaden the awareness of the impact of dance on humanity. Through community-engaged experiences students become active citizens who reflect on the connection of dance to activism, education, culture, and aspects of daily life. Through the advocacy lens, there is an opportunity to educate others on the multiple benefits of experiencing dance.
Dance Concert Production
As artistic director, I ensure that our annual spring dance concerts focus on themes that directly connect to the larger community by promoting multiple perspectives, social change, and active citizenship. In addition, students are involved as collaborators in the creative process, deepening their understanding of dance as civic engagement and community building. Faculty, students, alumni, and guest artists have presented a wide range of choreography, providing audiences with engaging and time relevant concepts that spark change. “Circle: dance in the round” (2017) began with the audience participating in circle folk dances on the lawn outside the theater. The works embodied viewpoints on the circle of life, cultural dance, and the virtual global connection of gamers. “Movers and Shakers: dance as activism” (2018) marked the College’s first completely student-choreographed production that was open to the public. Faculty mentors encouraged the student choreographers to convey their perspectives on issues such as gun violence and gender equality & identity. Students reached out to local organizations to provide voter registration and information tables before and after each performance. “Bodies Speak: dance is universal expression” (2019) presented yoga as a path toward harmonious living, American Sign Language as a liberator of deaf people, and community building as a means toward the greater good. “The World Grooves: dance traditions and explorations” (2020) asked our alumni choreographers to embody traditions - their beliefs, ideals, and practices and accordingly invited the audience to examine their values and standards and to explore new ways for engagement and exchange. Prior to each concert, our student run Dance Association offers workshops that introduce participants to aspects of the choreography, which subsequently makes for a richer audience experience.
The COVID-19 Response
In the middle of the spring 2020 semester, we were forced to rethink the delivery of two major projects – program wide service-learning experiences and this year’s annual spring dance concert. COVID-19 may have changed the process but it didn’t stop our students’ passion for advancing dance education and engaging our community.
The students in 5 different dance courses are still collaborating through email and video to create dance activities that meet the program requests of our 6 community partners. The design considers both the population being served, which ranges from refugee children to adults with special needs, and the content and concepts of each course. Traditionally, the activities are conducted on site, bringing specialized dance education to these diverse populations. Given the current situation, it is impossible for the 55 students to present these activities in person so the goal now is to assemble the students' lessons to create guidebooks that introduce some background information on the benefits of dance and offer a series of lessons/activities specific to each community partner’s population. The guidebooks will be distributed to community partners so they can implement them in the future. Students are excited to share their creations.
Although we won't be presenting “The World Grooves”, students are reviewing rehearsal videos and choreographers’ notes to then reflect on performance skills so that we keep these alumni choreographed works alive to be reimagined into next year's mini concerts, “The Out of the Box Series: dance in the real world”. Performed on four internationally recognized days that have a civic engaged focus, they will take place in four selected sites on campus and four in the community. Our alumni continue to give generously, not only by extending the work with current students, but also by instinctively sharing their artistry with all during this pandemic. I couldn’t be prouder!
Joy Guarino is a Professor of dance and Coordinator of the dance program at SUNY Buffalo State, teaching studio technique, choreography, and dance theory courses. Professor Guarino is also the College’s Faculty Coordinator for Service-Learning. Ms. Guarino earned her MFA from Temple University and holds a NYS Teacher’s Certification in Dance. She has combined her passion for dance and community welfare to develop a unique higher education program and conduct her scholarship that focuses on kinesthetic learning, dance/movement integration, service-learning, and community engagement. As a practitioner and consultant in the arts-in-education profession, both personally and as a mentor for her students, she is committed to finding innovative and practical ways of designing and implementing meaningful arts curricula for diverse populations. Her creative work accentuates the use of mixed media and audience participation and she has presented her choreography internationally. She enjoys working collaboratively with professionals, students, and community partners all over the world; achieving extensive knowledge and experience in the field.
Concert and Studio Photos by Bruce Fox.