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  • Ashley Brown

This Place is Magical!

In my first session of teaching in the outreach program, in Richmond, one of my students said this while laying on his side "walking" in a circle around his shoulder (You know kind of like what Macaulay Culkin did in Getting Even With Dad), "I don't want to leave, this place is magical!" In that moment my heart melted, but my brain went straight to having no idea how to support this child's need to always be moving while keeping his focus on the task at hand. This was from my first class over a year ago in the after-school program I teach for East Bay Center of the Performing Arts. I wasn't used to teaching in an after-school program. I was used to teaching to dancers working on a technique (ballet) that is disciplined and could be considered too stiff for some other students.

I wasn't used to teaching in an after-school program. I was used to teaching to dancers working on a technique (ballet that is disciplined..."

This particular student showed me that teaching dance is a gift, to kids like him, and even the kids who rather sit in the corner and not be on stage in front of people. It helps them to find focus, sharpen their creativity, and allow themselves to come out of their shells. The need for art and expression is just as important as learning how to read and write. I feel, maybe now more than ever, we need MORE art, expression, and social emotional learning skills to invest this wealth of health into our youth. After teaching for almost two years in the Richmond schools I have learned a lot of different skills of how to manage myself in the classroom and also how to manage the classroom. He also taught me I am still learning and refining my skills and there are somethings you have to learn from experience.

The longer I teach the more I understand that I and these kids need time to be creative and time to move the body in a healthy and fun way. When I have students say how much they love to dance and that the stage they are on is magical, that gives me hope. Hope that their innocent light will find the innocent light inside all of us to fight harder for the future generations. This also gives me a reason and purpose to keep on teaching what I have spent the first half of my life refining and studying, my first language, my first love. Dance.

"When I have students say how much they love to dance and that the stage is magical, that gives me hope."

Most recently I had another student, very similar to the first one mentioned, who was captivated by an aria from Mozart's the Magic Flute. He wanted to know what Papageno was singing about and I had to quickly give him two sentences that encompassed his character and what he was singing for. This is Papageno's first Aria about being a bird catcher/trainer and longs for a love of his own bird lady. I was amazed of the interest and curiosity maybe due to my own bias that these students may not even like classical music. This student's interest then magnified and the whole class wanted to hear the story of the aria. When students open up to new experiences and then actually enjoy it that gives me motivation to find the balance and play with our teaching and learning opportunities with our youth. This also keeps me trying to share not just dance history through dance steps and explanations, but also exploring history with music.

I am in awe at the end of each session with my dancers of how much we have been able to explore with our bodies, emotions, and playing with who really is the teacher. I am, but when they teach me something I let them know! Teaching is not easy (as I once naively thought) and I am grateful and humbled by the time I do get to teach and share my gifts. I look forward to another year with all my dancers in Richmond and beyond!

"Dance is the hidden language of the soul of the body" ~Martha Graham

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