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 Emily Meisner, Director, NDI Collaborative for Teaching and Learning (2019 National Conference Sponsor). 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.
“Curriculum doesn’t teach people. People teach people.” -Daniel Ulbricht, Principal Dancer, New York City Ballet
The Journey Begins
I was twenty-three when I had my first job teaching dance to children in a New York City school. I naively figured that given my rigorous dance training and time in a professional company I was equipped to lead engaging classes for children. I spent many hours at night focused on the ‘what’ of teaching - What steps would I teach? What music would I use? What choreography would we create? I felt prepared once I had a very solid curriculum written in my notebook. That all changed, however, once I was in front of a group of dynamic and excited children. I quickly realized that the ‘what’ of my lesson plan was actually less important than the ‘how.’ How was I going to capture the attention of this delightful and challenging group of eight-year olds? Once I got their attention, how would I keep this engagement throughout an entire lesson and a series of lessons? How could I effectively acknowledge their individual contributions while keeping the flow of the entire class?
As Daniel Ulbricht brilliantly said in a recent conversation, no matter how thorough and comprehensive the curriculum looks on paper, it is the person in front of the room that actually does the teaching. I realized that I while I had spent years training intensively in dance and had worked meticulously on my lessons the key was in developing my voice and strategies as a teacher. My first year in a school taught me that teaching is a craft as rigorous and vast as my dance training.
NDI Collaborative for Teaching and Learning Informational Video
Professional Development as my Lifeline
These questions led me to seek out professional development with a clarity of purpose and an urgent and immediate need. How could I become the most effective teacher and share my love of dance with children in a way that they would respond to? I had heard about a unique professional development program at National Dance Institute (NDI) and the artistic brilliance of Founder Jacques d’Amboise and Artistic Director Ellen Weinstein. I was able to get into a training intensive at NDI that dramatically transformed my teaching and truly altered the course of my professional life.
My first NDI training was entirely focused on the why and how of teaching. Learning the NDI Method gave me concrete teaching strategies for engagement and a greater understanding of why each strategy worked in a given situation. It was empowering to experience teaching tools that captivated the attention of even the most rowdy group of children. This teacher training course led to employment as a Teaching Artist at NDI where I taught over 500 children a week in public schools all throughout New York City.
The larger my toolkit of teaching strategies using the NDI Method, the more I was able to be myself in the classroom as a person and as an artist. I started training other teachers at NDI - meticulously breaking down each teaching strategy and coaching teachers through their actual lessons. The teachers under my supervision became more effective and confident, and I experienced first-hand how the NDI Method is as transformative for teachers as it is for children.
Launch of the NDI Collaborative for Teaching & Learning
Fast forward to NDEO 2019… National Dance Institute has achieved another milestone in professional development with the launch of the NDI Collaborative for Teaching & Learning. I am excited to direct this new initiative (NDI Collaborative) which was the topic of many conversations at this year’s NDEO National Conference in Miami. The NDI Collaborative is the culmination of years of experience teaching and training teaching artists and dance educators in the NDI Method. It is based on the teaching techniques developed at National Dance Institute that were so transformative in my journey as a teacher.
The goal of NDI Collaborative trainings is to equip dance teachers with highly effective teaching strategies so that they can engage a diverse range of students and bring out the very best in them. NDI Collaborative trainings are experiential and include joyful dance classes, mentored teaching opportunities, stimulating group discussions and live music. The NDI Collaborative is unique in that teaching artists learn and train with children to create an authentic live experience and live music (piano and percussion) accompanies every workshop, class and performance. NDI also designs customized trainings to meet the specific needs of arts organizations, dance companies and schools throughout the country and around the world.
It was thrilling to share the news about the NDI Collaborative at the 2019 NDEO Conference and deeply enriching to learn from and connect with extraordinary colleagues from all over the country. Through attending fascinating workshops and engaging in conversation with other dance colleagues, I experienced the breadth and depth of the dance education field. It reminded me again that professional development is at the heart of growth as a teacher. I am honored to be directing this new initiative of National Dance Institute and to continue to collaborate with colleagues to enhance teaching in our field.
If you didn't have the opportunity to attend the NDEO National Conference this year, you can learn more about the NDI Collaborative by emailing me at firstname.lastname@example.org or visiting our website at www.ndicollaborative.org.
Emily Meisner began teaching and choreographing for National Dance Institute (NDI)in 2003 and was named the Director of the NDI Collaborative for Teaching & Learning in 2019. As Director of the Collaborative, Emily oversees NDI’s teacher training initiatives; she also personally leads intensive trainings and professional development workshops. She serves as a consultant to organizations around the country seeking to learn from the NDI Method. As a Teaching Artist, Emily has taught in diverse school communities throughout New York City, instructing more than 500 children each week in dance education. In 2004, Emily worked alongside NDI’s founder, Jacques d’Amboise, to create the early-childhood music and dance program Arts Encounter, which was instrumental to the development of NDI’s unique early childhood curriculum. In 2016, Emily directed NDI’s Event of the Year, Words with Wings: The Power of Poetry. Prior to joining NDI, Emily trained intensively and danced professionally with the Boston Ballet. She received her undergraduate degree in English Literature from Columbia University and went on to receive her Master’s in Education from Bank Street College. Emily is the proud mother of two young children who continually provide inspiration for her work with youth.
Ms. Meisner's headshot by Carlos Chiossone. All photos courtesy of National Dance Institute.