ODC Dance

Creative Movement class may look as if our prekindergarten, kindergarten, and first graders are just bouncing around as young children normally do. But important learning is happening with every leap. Students are developing physically, learning about their bodies in motion, and how to use movement as a form of creative expression. While they look like they are just having fun in this “learn by doing” experience, their work in dance class encourages important mental, social, and creative growth.

Brain Development through Dance Is Central to Learning

Nueva teachers want children to encounter as many avenues of thinking, learning, and self-expression as possible. For Carolee Fucigna, Nueva’s prekindergarten teacher, kinesthetic knowledge is an essential element. Inspired by the “Hundred Languages” of the Reggio EMILIA teaching philosophy, Carolee believes movement is another language that children acquire, and through dance, they experience another medium for self-expression, just as they do with writing, drawing, painting, and building. Carolee described, “From infancy, children construct knowledge about their world through sensory experiences. For some children, gesture and movement is equally as important as written and spoken language, because they use movement to enhance the meanings they are creating. Very often when they are explaining something to you, they will add gestures or act it out to clarify and embellish their meanings.”

Dance is another way to develop and build pathways in students’ brains. Through progression from simple movements where they move one hand, foot, or eye into the space of the other hand, foot, or eye, to more complex footwork such as the popular “grapevine” steps, they are developing both motor and cognitive abilities. This cross-bilateral movement, initially difficult for the youngest students, is believed to help build neural pathways connecting the two sides of children’s brains, strengthening the corpus callosum, essential to brain development.

Other exercises help students develop conceptual understanding of the world around them. Working with opposite concepts such as high/low and heavy/light creates opportunities for students to access an understanding of these physical states through their motion, thought, and imagination. “Dance class elevates their movements on the playground to the next level by bringing into their consciousness concepts such as directionality, e.g., straight, smooth, jagged, etc., and it trains their brains to connect multiple learning experiences,” said Carolee.

Creative Movement Class with ODC/Dance

Nueva has always been committed to the arts as an important element of student learning. ODC/Dance, formerly Oberlin Dance Company, has been teaching dance at Nueva since 2003, when Kimi Okada, ODC/Dance School Director and Associate Choreographer and then Nueva parent, suggested it to Nueva’s Executive Director, Diane Rosenberg.

Students in prekindergarten through first grade learn through dance each week in Creative Movement Class, part of ODC’s school outreach program called Making Moves. Prekindergarten participates for 1 session a week, while kindergarten and first grade have two sessions each.

Founded in 1971, ODC is a contemporary, thriving performance organization with a full calendar of events, from spoken word to ballet, and a school of performing arts with an extensive list of courses for all ages. Their program for youth has been in operation since 1996.

This year our students are taught by ODC’s Helen Wicks, an experienced dance teacher from ODC’s Young Creative Program. Dancing professionally for four years, Helen has extensive training in gymnastics, ballet, modern, and aerial dance techniques.

Students’ time with Helen is structured, with activities designed to develop basic body mechanics, gross motor skills, and an understanding of the language of dance. They move along a learning trajectory, beginning with simple exercises, e.g., hopping, jumping, and effectively transitioning between the two, or making a line or a curve with their bodies. Through practice, they build the strength and coordination that leads to more challenging footwork such as skipping and leaping, ultimately combining these moves into dances. They express low, medium, and high levels of space, and become comfortable with expressing themselves physically in the ballroom in a safe manner. First graders will create and produce a show by the end of the year.

Class starts with stretching, then individual/pair activities, and progresses to ensemble exercises, with students crossing the ballroom using increasingly complex motions that are the foundation of dance. Music is always present as a backdrop, helping to develop their sense of rhythm. During free dance, children are encouraged to creatively utilize the concepts they have already learned. 

If you pass through the ballroom during class, you may witness the “Name Dance,” the “Spy Dance,” or the “Jungle Dance,” to name just a few. Imagine this: in the Name Dance, the students create a physical expression for each letter of the alphabet. After dancing their moves from A-Z a few times, they use the letter motions to spell their name.

Working in pairs, students take turns spelling their name for their partner, and they verbally exchange observations with their partner and with the whole class. This incorporates important elements in the program: the experience of dancing collectively, developing the skills of close observation, and the language as a supportive partner. Expressing themselves aloud develops clarity of observation, and gives them dance vocabulary to use as they progress to more sophisticated exercises in Creative Movements class from year to year.

Nueva and ODC Are Philosophically Aligned

Very much in sync with Nueva’s culture, an over-arching goal of Helen’s is to create a supportive and creative environment where the students can express themselves freely. She wants them to feel safe performing for each other in a community of kindness and respect. One example of how she does this echoes Nueva’s SEL curriculum by keeping value judgments out of classroom language. “We often take turns being performers and audience, and we talk about what we saw or noticed in each other's dances. Rather than using quantitative language, ‘it was good,’ we talk about the quality of movement, ‘fast, jiggly, sharp’ or where in space the movement was happening, i.e., ‘low, medium, or high’," Helen said. 

According to Kimi, ODC teachers love teaching at Nueva. This comes from the harmony in teaching philosophies and the underlying values of both organizations, especially, in “learning by doing.” ODC places a high importance on individual expression, creative ways of learning, connection of ideas using different approaches, and participation with classmates collaboratively. “We use a problem solving approach where students take an idea, make connections, and use their knowledge and experience to come up with ways to move their bodies. We send teachers to Nueva who love of inspiring young students to move, and these teachers, like Helen, value the ownership, excited contribution of ideas, and real engagement that Nueva students, even the littlest ones, bring to everything they do.”

In addition, at Nueva, the arts and performance are valued, and the support from Nueva teachers, teaching assistants, and the students themselves shines through the relationship with ODC. Kimi said, “We feel valued for what we do at Nueva. We appreciate that dance is a part of Nueva’s core program for these young students, and there’s a genuine openness and acceptance by Nueva of the way our ODC teachers teach. It’s been a natural fit.”

Nueva & ODC: A Long History Collaborating on Integrated Curriculum

Integrated learning is a cornerstone of a Nueva education, and ODC teachers have embraced these opportunities, helping classroom teachers extend learning kinesthetically. According to Carolee Fucigna, Nueva prekindergarten teacher, “Children don’t create knowledge by segregating subjects; they're learning is much more cross-domain than that. Teachers want the learner to do the learning, and we know that learning naturally takes place when utilizing cross-domain experiences. Creative Movement class enhances Nueva’s pedagogy, and truly takes advantage of what our young students already joyfully do in the world.”

These examples of past work that ODC has done with Nueva students over the years illustrate the tight collaboration:

  • ODC paired with math teachers, creating a dance based upon mathematical operations and equations. It was a physical way to teach conceptual thinking of math, with little bodies popping up and down for addition and subtraction, and adding other motions to represent multiplication and division.

  • When studying bread from around the world, first graders worked with ODC to embody sifting, rising, kneading, etc., expressing the verbs in the recipes they collected.

  • African dances were often a part of third grade study of West African culture. With access to nearly 120 dancers, ODC has brought experts with world dance experience.

  • As part of a past study of homes, ODC worked with students to make a site-specific performance piece. The actions of gathering sticks and constructing a nest were incorporated into the dance, with the nest ultimately becoming the final set.

  • ODC partnered with Nueva’s Music Department, creating dances based upon musical notation, e.g., staff and time signatures, notes, etc. They assigned movement and duration to the individual dance steps, and students made elaborate charts to express and illustrate the language of their dance.

In addition to these curriculum specific assignments, ODC dance troupes from both their adult and teen programs have performed at Nueva’s Friday afternoon assemblies.

Kimi Okada, ODC/Dance School Director and Associate Choreographer, expressed her love of dance and the ways in which it enriches our lives. “With continued connection of our lives to electronic devices, dance helps us use our senses. At ODC we value our relationship with Nueva. We believe dance is a truly wonderful form of expression, and believe that you can make a dance out of anything,” said Kimi. “The whole world is full of possibilities and inspiration for movement.”


 January 20, 2017



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