"It turns out that girls don't have cooties," was the profound revelation of a middle school boy in response to a SPARK! social dance residency.
Heather Adams, dancer and founder of the Downtown Dance Collective, has been teaching social dance classes through SPARK! at C.S. Porter at all three grade levels, and she will begin a residency with 7th grade students at Washington Middle School this semester. Adams, who began her training in ballet, jazz, baton, and tap at the age of five, swayed into social dance in the last decade. "Social dance," she explains, " is about connection with other people and developing a relationship through the medium of dance."
In working with adults who are resistant to dance, Adams often hears a specific story, "I tried to dance with someone in middle school, and it was horrible!" This experience is far too common, and Adams is providing a positive dance experience to students during that delicate timeframe when so much of a person's self-identity and social connections are being developed. In five weeks of dance instruction, the students are able to develop a new level of confidence and they grow in understanding of themselves.
Swing dancing is not an easy sell for all of the students from the outset. Some kids come in with a "too cool" attitude (though they've informed us that our terminology for that attitude is outdated), and some old belief systems must be challenged at the outset. "Just because you hold hands doesn't mean you're getting married," Adams tells the students. "Dance is a dialogue, and you can have a conversation with anyone." The dance always begins with a respectful, social process of making eye contact, shaking hands, introducing oneself, and asking permission to dance. Along with the physical skills students are learning in connection with P.E. curriculum, they are developing important social and interpersonal skills. Through the process of social dance, students practice communication, develop empathy, show respect, and learn about appropriate touch
and consent. Social dance provides a safe training ground for negotiating many of the life skills that they are in the process of negotiating every day.
As the residency progresses, student hesitancy transforms into fun and excitement. Teachers reported to Adams that attendance was better on dance days because students don't want to miss the class. Kids who acted grumpy about learning dance were later found dancing with friends in the hallways. Students have returned to class with reports about dance lessons that they are leading with family members at home.
Some of the kids who normally struggle in PE classes have found their niche
with social dance. They are getting exercise in cooperative way. "Dance is a softer approach to Physical Education," says Adams, "they all dance with everyone, and no one gets out."
It is wonderful to see the students pushing past their insecurities to take positive risks, being kind and encouraging to their peers, and busting out some very impressive dance moves!