NEA Arts Magazine

Expressing Themselves in New Ways

Hubbard Street Dance Chicago's Whole School Dance Program

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A Hubbard Street Dance Chicago teaching artist leads a fourth-grade classroom

A Hubbard Street Dance Chicago teaching artist leads a fourth-grade classroom in a movement activity as part of the MIND (Moving In New Directions) residency program. Photo by Todd Rosenberg.

Since 1997, world-renowned Hubbard Street Dance Chicago (HSDC) has partnered with Chicago K–8 public schools for in-school dance education residencies and professional development workshops. These programs have since evolved into whole school dance programs, which Kathryn Humphreys, HSDC Director of Community and Education Programs, described as "residencies and partnerships that focus not just on the unit of study in the classroom, but on each partner investing in the students' total learning."

HSDC works with an average of 25 schools each year, which are selected through a rigorous application process that includes site visits and a demonstrated commitment to the program by each school's administrators and faculty. Although HSDC has previously hosted master classes and residencies for schools outside of Chicago, this year the company is also piloting a whole school dance initiative with five K–5 schools in Oak Park, a nearby Chicago suburb. Humphreys credited NEA funding as crucial to the expansion. "Both HSDC and Oak Park School District are committed to the project, but it is the NEA's funds that truly allow us to make it such a major project for the district, serving six classrooms at five of the district's eight elementary schools. Without the NEA's support, this would be a smaller pilot project."

Each residency lasts approximately ten weeks and includes in-school dance classes and performances. In opening sessions, students learn the form's basic elements -- body, energy, space, and time -- and become comfortable with movement. While each residency is unique, the program does have an overarching goal. "The common thread is the presence of the choreographic process as a learning tool," Humphreys said. "In a typical class, halfway through the residency, you see students in groups of four or five engaged in problem-solving around a choreographic assignment. Perhaps they had written or read poetry in the previous class, and they are now working on translating images from those poems into movement ideas, which will then be formed into a dance over the course of the next few classes."

Seventh-grade students

Seventh-grade students participate in Hubbard Street Dance Chicago education residency in Chicago public schools. Photo by Todd Rosenberg

HSDC's school program also includes ongoing professional development workshops for classroom teachers, who meet three times during the residency year to learn the vocabulary, concepts, and processes of dance education. These workshops also provide opportunities for teachers to share their experiences with peers at other HSDC schools. Humphreys said that the in-class residencies are also a vital professional development tool. "We're all learning together, and it's really the classroom sessions with their students where the teachers truly see how [dance education] can move learning forward. [In one evaluation, the teacher reported] 'I feel that this workshop taught me a great deal about how to allow my students to become creators and performers. . . . It made me feel creative and energized about teaching again.'"

Despite the program's measurable success, Humphreys is frequently asked to define the purpose of dance education. "For me, it's very simple. Dance education provides a language, one that allows students and teachers to express themselves in new ways, to think through ideas differently. Just as a teacher participating in a residency may suddenly recognize that a difficult student can communicate and lead effectively, so will that student realize that he has something to say and an effective way to communicate his ideas. . . . Perhaps, more importantly for me, his teacher will see something in him that she perhaps would not have otherwise, a capacity for creativity and leadership, for working within a group rather than working to disintegrate it."

Humphreys added that, ultimately, the goals of the dance education program are akin to those of educators in other subject areas. "We see great value in allowing students to experience and understand the creative process, and its parallels with other learning and elements in their own lives so that they can express themselves and become literate and informed adults."