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 Kaylee Bosse, Gonzaga State University. 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.
The bus had arrived, buzzing with the energy of over 20 fourth and fifth graders. The first day of ZagDance class had come. The children emerged from the vehicle like ants darting their way to a sandwich dropped on the floor, forming surprisingly orderly lines as they chattered about a wide range of subjects. As the tiny beings approached, I concealed my anxiousness with a Disney princess smile. A laser-like focus on becoming a professional ballet dancer from when I was five years old until I received a hip replacement at age 16 had left me with little dance teaching experience, and even less time to babysit. Being the youngest in my family, my lack of experience with smaller kids caused them to appear intimidating. Like many perfectionist ballet dancers, my younger self did not like to do anything I thought I was not good at, which included teaching dance to younger children. Since coming to Gonzaga, I had matured and began to explore different styles and aspects of dance with greater confidence. Clutching my teaching binder as the kids gathered around me, I hoped that all I had learned in the first few weeks of my Strategies for Dance Instruction class would equip me for what was to come, and that I would grow both as a teacher and individual throughout the year. Within a minute of meeting the children, they were already relaying details such as places they’ve lived and past trips they’ve taken to Disneyland. Their chatter and unexpected approachability instantly put me at ease.Finally, the ZagDance sign was raised and myself, my teaching team, and our group of Garfield Elementary school children began the trek to the Theater and Dance studios at Gonzaga University.
The Dance Program at Gonzaga began with a Dance minor created in 2002 by current Dance Department Director Suzanne Ostersmith, who incorporated Strategies for Dance Instruction as a required course. As of last year, students can now major in Dance with either a Performance or Pedagogy concentration. Strategies for Dance Instruction I is a required course for both tracks, with Dance Pedagogy majors continuing to Strategies for Dance Instruction II. ZagDance is an after school program in which the Gonzaga Dance Program partners with Spokane Schools to provide free dance classes to fourth through sixth graders on free and reduced lunch. Teaching teams of 2-5 Gonzaga students in the Strategies for Dance Instruction class are matched with a local elementary school in the Logan neighborhood, the residential area surrounding Gonzaga University in which many university students and low-income families live. Teaching teams work with the school’s guidance counselor to recruit children on free and reduced lunch that have shown a certain maturity and enthusiasm needed to participate in a ZagDance class. Particular attention is given to those that have demonstrated that they would greatly benefit from arts exposure, including children with disabilities. Each teaching team and corresponding elementary school is assigned a class slot from 3:15-5pm on a particular day of the week. The children are bussed from their school to Gonzaga University, where they are met by their teaching team and walk to the dance studio as a group. After a snack and bathroom break, the kids enter the studio and are taught a different concept, such as Level, Direction, or Speed, each week. The concepts are put together into a simple dance to be performed in an “informance” for parents and guardians at the end of the semester. Some fourth graders enjoy and benefit from the program so much that they choose to continue for a second year in fifth grade, but most complete the program once during their elementary school career. While bringing these children an experience they may not otherwise have, students in the Strategies for Dance Instruction class reap the benefits of field experience. This valuable practice helps develop adaptable, confident, and considerate dance teachers that recognize all their students as people with infinite worth.
After arriving at the studio, the kids scrambled to an attached classroom for snack. One little girl was vision impaired, and warmth spread through my chest as I watched her peers help her find a spot for her shoes and cane. Another little girl, who I learned later had only just befriended her on the bus, approached me matter-of-factly and asked, “Are you going to use the projector? Because if so, my friend is going to need to sit in the front.” As we discussed what the kids thought the rules for Zagdance should be, she raised her hand and said, “Respect differences.” Her peers nodded in agreement. This was quite consistent with the research on the age group we had conducted prior to this first ZagDance class. Psychologist Erik Erickson suggests that 10-12 year old’s’ ability to learn, apply skills, think abstractly, and see larger contexts starts to increase, and their capacity to form moral values concomitantly expands. At this age, there is also an increased ability to interact with peers, so strong and complex friendships and group identities begin to develop.
Before starting the teaching assignment, we were asked to complete research on the students themselves and community surrounding our assigned elementary school. I continue to be grateful for this research, as I found that reading material on child development, physically visiting the school, speaking to the counselor about social justice issues faced by their students, and examining the available resources in the neighborhood (or lack thereof) helped me understand and appreciate the class’s behavior. As a sensitive person, I tend to take it personally when a child acts out. However, the context provided by my research helped me understand that a belligerent child is not “bad”, rather, a variety of factors are contributing to their behavior.
After an enthusiastically received snack, we asked the children some pointed questions about their emotions going into dance class. Most said they were excited yet nervous, due to unfamiliarity with dance classes and studios. This group was willing to talk about their emotions and ways that they manifest in their bodies, like shaking and sweaty palms. The conversation was extremely helpful in discerning how we could best support our students and strengthened our bond.
After a warm-up, a lesson on Place and Level ensued. Swallowing hard, I blanked for a short moment before turning toward the class. Taking a deep breath and gathering my thoughts, I faced the class with a grin, explained the difference between self and general space, then led a related exercise. Erickson’s observation that 10-year olds are more focused on being responsible, doing things right, and earning recognition rang true here. Giggles escaped as they followed my instructions to twist in self space and gallop in general space, to float in self space and flick in general space, and so on. They expertly followed my advancement of the exercise by instructing them to gallop in general space at a low level, or to shake in self space at a high level. Extremely creative interpretations ensued, with one student even twisting their tongue. I stopped focusing on my delivery for a split second to just take in the scene and appreciate the power of concept-based learning. I shuddered at the memory of my feet being torqued into first position at five years old for plies in a baby ballet class. Later in my dance career, I remember being paralyzed by indecision and lack of ideas when a song was turned on and we were told to just “improv.” Being allowed to explore concepts on my own accord as opposed to being taught steps right away would have aided deeper learning and memory, as well as more confidence in my improvisation skills. I sighed contentedly as I saw these abilities begin to develop in the children while they tested their balance and coordination.
As students began to filter back into the classroom after a brief bathroom break, one dancer approached me and shyly remarked that he was afraid of the mirror. As someone who had grown up in a studio with mirrors, this was a shocking revelation. I realized that these some of kids are likely going through puberty and swelled with pride at their attempts to be vulnerable despite the body insecurity that develops during this time. Perhaps this explained why another child, who was a bit bigger than the others, would often sit off to the side as activities were explained and would only engage after he had watched for a while. It was not surprising that he replied that he preferred self-space when asked whether he liked self or general space better during our cool down.
Waving to the kids as they boarded the bus shouting their goodbyes, a sense of contented satisfaction zinged through my limbs. In a matter of an hour and forty-five minutes, my lifelong sense of inferiority surrounding my ability to interact with and teach younger people was broken down. I could not believe I had convinced myself my teaching skills were inadequate for so many years. Young children weren’t scary after all. In fact, they are cute, intelligent, friendly, and accommodating, and one will never run out of things to talk about with them.
Kaylee Bosse is a senior Dance Pedagogy and English Writing Concentration double major at Gonzaga University. Her personal blog, "Big World, Tiny Dancer," has been featured on the Paul Taylor American Modern Dance Company's social media accounts. Kaylee's work can also be seen in the Woldson Collection, a museum exhibit in Gonzaga's new Myrtle Woldson Performing Arts Center. In addition to her love for writing, Kaylee is passionate about bringing dance to all. She does this as President of Gonzaga University's Boundless Dance Club, a group that provides free, weekly dance classes to students, faculty, and community members. An extremely active member of the Gonzaga Dance Program, Kaylee serves on the department's Executive Board that is bringing the American Collegiate Dance Association Northwest Conference 2020 to Gonzaga this Spring. She also teaches a weekly ZagDance class for elementary school children provided by Spokane Schools and the Gonzaga Dance Program. She has performed in Gonzaga's Spring Dance Concert each year and her choreography has been featured in the university's Student Choreography Concert 2018. Kaylee is excited to graduate with NDEO Honors this May and is grateful for all the amazing professional experience Gonzaga has provided her.
Ms. Bosse's headshot by Megan O'Herron. All other photos by Gavin Doremus, courtesy of Gonzaga University.