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 Becca Santone, Teacher at Little Red School House. 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’s my first week alone with a group of first graders at a school I’ve been working at for two weeks. Some of the kids have come up to me to tell me they take dance lessons outside of school, and some of the kids have questioned why on earth they have to take a dance class right now. We’re in a classroom with desks and very little space to move around. I’ve come with about 10 different ideas of what we might do and a Kidz Bop playlist ready to go.
There is so much energy in the room as their headteacher leaves. They’re asking if they should move their desks, if they can take off their shoes.
There are also tears. Some of them don’t want to make their own dances. Some of them don’t want to learn a dance and just want to freestyle. One of them wants to continue making paper airplanes.
As we settle in and start making dance class agreements- things we’ll do to keep ourselves safe over the next two weeks- one child’s fears really stuck with me.
A first-grade boy was adamant that he did not want to dance. He’d taken dance outside of school, had a bad experience, and was clearly terrified to be in the class.
I left the class happy that we got through it without any injuries, a small win on a stressful day. The consensus was that we were going to learn a dance and film it to make a music video. I went home tasked with the challenge- what song should we perform to? What moves could every student master? What’s going to be relevant to this group of kids, and how do I get them all to participate?
As a longtime fan of his, I thought about Harry Styles.
Harry is a British pop star that first rose to fame as a member of the band One Direction. Just a few weeks prior, he released a music video for his song, “Treat People With Kindness”. In the video, Styles dances alongside actress Phoebe Waller-Bridge and performs a 50s style soft-shoe duet.
I remember showing the class this video. I couldn’t get our classroom projector to connect to my laptop, so the kids did their best to crowd around my computer (still six feet apart, of course), so they could see. As I crouched down holding my device up as best as I could for their little eyes to view, I noticed how engrossed that first-grade boy was.
He couldn’t take his eyes off the screen. His reading teacher actually came in during this time (she was supposed to pull him out of specials to work with him one-on-one), but later she expressed to me she didn’t take him right away because she saw how invested in the video he was. The kids begged to watch the video again, and were stunned when I told them that Harry Styles had absolutely no dancing training before this music video. They couldn’t believe that someone that “didn’t dance” went ahead and made that.
And that was when I knew I was onto something.
You see, exposing our students to legendary dancers, such as ballet star Mikhail Baryshnikov, is important. It’s crucial we show all kids, but especially boys, that it’s possible to get to that level regardless of their gender identity. But it’s also critical that we show them that you don’t have to be advanced, be “good” at dance to perform and enjoy it. You don’t have to be great to participate, you just have to try- like Harry did!
Harry Styles defies gender roles in his fashion, his music, and his attitude. He learned complex choreography for a music video without any training. He became the mascot of our class. With his painted nails and iconic Vogue cover where he wears a dress, he showed my kids that you can be who you are and do whatever you want. If you want to dance, you can!
From then on, that little boy worked hard in my class. He practiced our routine and asked me lots of questions about Harry Styles. By the end of our time together, we’d made a music video featuring both learned choreography and improvisation.
Sometimes my teacher friends laugh when they hear the kids asking me what Harry’s been up to today, but I sleep better knowing I gave them a positive role model to look up to. Plus, our song is all about being nice and accepting one another. “Treat people with kindness” is the cardinal rule in every class I teach, and my kids know this is my expectation. I hear them quoting it on the playground, and they’re forever asking me to play “our song” every time I see them.
Becca Santone is a dance educator from Massachusetts. She holds a Master of Arts in dance education from New York University and a Bachelor of Arts in dance from Bridgewater State University. She is currently teaching at the Little Red School House (LREI) in Manhattan. She frequently writes on her blog, Wildflower Way (thewildflowerway.org).