Musings of a Dance Teaching Artist
Remember Kim Schomburg? We recently posted this about the awesome spectrum of her dance residencies in Chicago schools, which cover everything from hip hop to ballet. She shared with us her thoughts about those residencies and her thoughts are, well, extremely cool. So here for your reading pleasure is our Q+A with Kim Schomburg. Cheers to dancers and dance education!
UG: Why do you feel it’s important to teach a variety of dance types – from hip hop to classical ballet – in schools?
Kim: I think it’s really important to expose students to several different dance styles. First of all, so they can be educated on all that dance has to offer. There’s so much to learn culturally and historically, depending on what we are studying. For instance, at Caldwell Elementary, we studied the history of classical ballet and students learned about dance in the French courts, the first professional dance company (The Paris Opera Ballet), French vocabulary of ballet terms, and then the influence on ballet in the United States.
Their ideas of dance and ballet were opened up as they saw The Little Mermaid performed by The San Francisco Ballet. Their dialogue and willingness to explore something new provided a chance to break down judgments and stereotypes about ballet and open up new ideas and excitement. At a school where I am teaching Latin dance styles such as cha cha, bachata, merengue, or salsa, it is equally as important to look at the country of origin, the significance of the dance in their culture and ours, and provide students with an accurate dance education.
Another reason it is important to be exposed to different dance styles, as a professional dancer in Chicago, is to broaden your dance performance options. Almost every single professional dancer I know is proficient in at least 3 dance styles, ballet, jazz, modern, contemporary, ballroom, hip hop, tap, broadway, African, Latin. You can increase your chances to be hired as a dancer the more you know and can do. And, the more you can teach, the better.
What do you think the students got from these ballet and hip hop residencies?
The students loved learning ballet and being exposed to a dance style they have not had the chance to before. The discipline and focus they acquired after a short residency shows that they were ready for something new and [challenging]. Ballet tends to only be offered in studios and can be expensive. This limits a greater portion of Chicago youth. Caldwell dancers were able to showcase their ballet moves in ballet shoes and tutus for their parents. They were extremely proud.
For schools that are learning hip hop, most students already have an understanding of hip hop, and can come in and express themselves quickly. It’s a great place for them to feel empowered and own what they are doing in that time and space. Hip hop in Chicago is so much a part of urban culture that providing a safe and healthy place for students to indulge is invaluable.
How does your approach to teaching artistry change based on which type of dance you’re sharing with students?
The dance and teaching environment is vastly different depending on dance style. Ballet is very strict in learning technique and is more self-motivated. Students will line up at the dance barre and work on their own personal dance ability. It’s an intrinsic experience at first. There’s no talking, the ballet teacher is in charge.
There’s more allowance in a hip hop class. We might start in a circle and give each student a chance to pass some moves around. It is definitely more of a team feel and great place for an extrovert. You can feed off of other dancers’ energy and movement. There’s room for play.
In a ballroom or Latin dance class, students will need to partner up and dance with one other boy or girl. This plays a huge part in the social feel of the room. Depending on the age of the group, we might need to spend several weeks building up comfort to dance with a partner. There are social and cultural factors that help or hinder these experiences. All in all, I love teaching different dance styles and interacting with students in different ways. It keeps the experiences fresh for me and exciting.
And on the topic of partner dancing in elementary school: