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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.


How Can We Honor Student's Creative Voices?

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 contribution by Tamara Irving, an educator in Atlanta Public Schools and consultant with TMI Design & Consulting. 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.

Have you ever reflected on these questions when thinking about your students?

  • Are there many students in my class who actually don’t love to ‘dance’?
  • How many dancers would rather be in the background than the light?
  • How am I adding rigor to my course this school year, while making it applicable to dance?
  • How will I acknowledge what has transpired since I last “saw” them for in-person learning before the start of the pandemic?
  • How will I continue to challenge them AND myself?

So, how do you even begin to manipulate your curriculum to answer these questions?

Last school year, I went into the year not knowing what to expect, but I knew that my students would need dance as their outlet. I have a few ideas that I use each year, including having students create a topic for the concert based on the broader school-year theme I’ve chosen for our dance classes. But I also needed to address certain topics as they would have been elephants in the room, such as the Black Lives Matter movement, losses experienced due to Covid-19, and difficulties faced during virtual learning. I wanted to set the tone first, so that they would be comfortable discussing tough topics, especially since many were current and ongoing and affected some of them more than I could imagine.

Fast forward to our current school year, and I am still addressing the same issues as last year, but now we are back face-to-face. Besides having extra grace and proceeding with caution, I am approaching the school year with three goals in mind: to reflect, model, and create.

Reflect: Develop reflection opportunities that support and encourage conversation

Teachers can do this by reflecting on issues impacting our students and creating exercises to allow them to reflect and unpack issues. One way to get kids to reflect is by being vulnerable. I shared a dance work that I created over the quarantine and how it helped me to deal with anxiety. I also dedicate a few minutes at the beginning of class for either meditation or just chatting with the students. I think I missed that as much as they did. While writing in dance isn’t always one of their favorite class activities, I give an option of writing a reflection or using Flipgrid to reflect. When given the opportunity to talk out loud, students will talk a long time about a topic. I created assignments to promote advocacy, but also allow students to reflect on issues that not only affect dancers, but artists and the issues of the world.

Model: Create a framework that focuses on student input and collaboration

Because my group of dancers’ abilities vary, I have always added explorations of careers in the arts to my classes. This year I dived a bit deeper with this exploration, as my district was collaborating with local and national artists. Through grants and district funding, I was able to bring in about 8 artists this year, 2 from the Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater as well as local artists specializing in: Chinese Dance, Bollywood, Irish Dance, Photography and Filmmaking in Dance. Exposing my students to various careers in the arts may help them to identify their interests and strengths, and allow them to use those gifts in creative capacities in the classroom and beyond. My goal was to guide students to find their creative voice in order to produce a student-led dance production. Last school year students produced 2 virtual dance concerts, and I can’t wait to explore a hybrid dance production model this season. Using a model I created called “The L.E.A.P. Lab” (™) I am teaching skills that develop responsibilities that are transferable to real life careers in any field.

Create: Using your reflection and framework, allow opportunities to use those conversations as stimuli for movement

Teachers can achieve this by developing assignments that allow the kids to compose dances based on a chosen stimulus. We know that we can dance about anything, but if the stimulus or prompts are chosen by the students, their performance may hold more value to them. Students become invested when they are given a voice. I learned quickly that if I didn’t honor the creative voices of my students, no matter if they were dance lovers or not, then my program would be doomed. When they become comfortable expressing their emotions and thoughts in dance, we know we have done our job!

As educators, we put a lot of pressure on ourselves in the classroom to produce great things, but we must remember that we have not had normal school years in 2 years. Breathe and allow your students to breathe. Go back to the drawing board and reflect, model a framework, and allow your students to create. How will you move forward and allow your students to create using their unique skills and gifts?

Irving_Headshot_by_S...Dancing in the halls of her school or even the grocery store aisles is where you may find Tamara Irving. She was in the premiere casts of both the Hamburg Germany Company and the Cheetah US National Tour of Disney’s The Lion King. She has also been a featured dancer with The Atlanta Opera. After graduating from Howard University with a Marketing degree, she was a dancer with the Atlanta Hawks Dance Team. Mrs. Irving currently is the dance director at North Atlanta High School (NAHS) as well as owner of TMI Design & Consulting LLC. Now in her 12th year as a dance educator, she brings a wealth of training, arts curricula design, artistic direction, and utilization of technology in teaching and leadership. Tamara is also a proud wife and mom of 2 beautiful daughters and a son! Mrs. Irving was proud to be North Atlanta High School’s 2014-2015 Teacher of the Year and currently is on the Arts Resource Team for her district. Tamara received her MA in Dance Education from the University of North Carolina at Greensboro in May 2017. Tamara believes that her gift is to inspire others through dance! Follow Tamara at

Headshot by Shoccara Marcus.


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