Sunday, October 24, 2010

"Making it Big" with Dance

With a recent art project and an even more recent dance component, Project Coach has been diversifying their activities and goals this year. After receiving an inquiry from Smith senior Phoebe Mayor about dance programming for inner-city kids, Sam Intrator and Andy Wood welcomed the idea, and invited Mayor as well as Suzy Rodriguez, to join Project Coach this fall.

Rodriguez, who is currently taking Professor Intrator's course on urban education, has always wanted to work with kids, and brings with her a love for hip hop dance. This past summer, she worked with an organization that provides dance therapy for kids with autism. Mayor, who focuses on modern dance, has long wanted to work with inner-city kids, and has a mentor from high school who has encouraged this goal.

According to Andy Wood, part of the motivation behind the new dance component was to reach out to kids who have not yet become passionate about soccer, especially the girls. Surprisingly, however, it was the boys who were most enthusiastic on the first day of dance with Project Coach. Rodriguez and Mayor were actually concerned that the boys would not want to dance, but when they started the first lesson by asking for names of famous dancers, the names the kids provided were mostly male. Perhaps because of these popular role models, the boys felt more than comfortable dancing, while the girls seemed shy at first. Mayor recalled that one girl who refused to participate was hiding the fact that she knew how to break-dance. When Mayor began speaking to the her, the girl was eager to teach a few moves to her dance teacher.

Just who will take the most interest in the dance sessions remains an open question, as there have only been two such sessions to date. However, Rodriguez and Mayor are confident that dance will provide a number of benefits for Project Coach participants, complementing soccer and basketball. This past Friday, two groups of kids fought against a cold and windy day to learn a few moves. The two who were hesitant to contribute served as judges in mini dance competitions at the end of each lesson.

One such benefit, according to Mayor and Rodriguez, is the ability to channel energy through dance. A term they plan to use with the kids is "Make it big," meaning to put all of one's energy into a single move. This ability to channel one's energy into a positive activity is indeed central to the aims of Project Coach. Through this project, Mayor hopes to connect her work in social justice leadership with teenagers. This may start with the implicit aim of dealing with emotions in constructive ways through sports and dance alike.

While Mayor and Rodriguez would like to make connections between soccer and dance (through work on coordination, footwork, etc.), they also hope to instill in the participants an appreciation for dance specifically. By providing the dance sessions each Friday, Project Coach is introducing the idea that one can play soccer, and be a dancer, too. Rodriguez and Mayor believe that dance is a crucial outlet, similar to sports, but unique at the same time.

As Rodriguez said, "For me, dancing is a way of completely disconnecting, especially when I'm in a surrounding where everybody else is dancing -- it's just that encouragement and that constant energy flowing around the room. It's a way for me to get away from everything else. I just hope that whatever it is we're doing gets them, at least while they're there, to think about what they're doing. They're learning to coordinate parts of their bodies, and they're enhancing other parts of the brain that can also be helpful and that aren't necessarily being trained. I just hope they get the most out of that."

Mayor (on left in photo) can already see a few kids expressing a genuine interest in dance for dance's sake, as one boy shared with her that he was trying to learn a complicated dance that his brother knows well.

Mayor and Rodriguez are not alone in their work, as two PC coaches are working with them. They email the coaches in advance of each week's session so that Jon and Barbara are aware of the plan. They also meet with the coaches during set-up time to practice the dance they will teach that day. Mayor and Rodriguez note that Jon and Barbara play an integral part as role models and encouragers of the elementary-aged participants. Because Jon has a background in salsa dance, he will likely end up teaching a few lessons of his own later in the season.

It is precisely this encouragement that the dance teachers seek to bring to the kids: "I think there are actually a lot of kids who have talent, but maybe it's not encouraged. A lot of them really can dance," says Rodriguez.

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