Photo credit: www.koreshdance.org
As part of a new Q&A series, we will be getting to know the Bartol Foundation’s 2018 grantees. Koresh Kids Dance is a community outreach program run by Koresh Dance Company that provides free in-school, year-round dance programs in Philadelphia public schools. They received a $5,000 Bartol grant to support this program.
These questions were answered by Loren Groenendaal, teacher for Koresh Kids Dance.
What revs you up to go to work in the morning?
I am excited to get out of bed in the morning when I think about helping children unleash their creativity through movement and seeing the joy that process brings them.
What about your work keeps you up at night?
Sometimes, I actually do lose sleep thinking about the optimal lesson plan flow. This starts with me feeling excited to go to work the next day and the plan that I made. Then I’m thinking through my plan and I start reconsidering because I always want to be the best that I can be. If I get hung up on something, it is usually rethinking what the best transition will be from one part to another part.
When do you know your work is making a difference?
This question is actually kind of hard. I think my work has more impact than is ever voiced or proven to me, but it’s difficult to prove the impact of creative dance education, especially working with children. Kids often say, “You are the best teacher ever!” And while this superlative is flattering, I don’t know if it’s true. However, I am confident that if they are giving such an extreme compliment, I must be doing most things well and making a great impact on them.
When I see that children are growing and changing from one week to the next, I know my work is having a great impact. One way I can see this is when the children are ready to take on more complexity. It is incredibly satisfying to see students collaborate with partners or in small groups and following my instructions to complete the task, which means they have a deeper understanding of the dance concept, they have the physical skill to complete it, and they are regulating their own interests with their partners, meaning they have negotiated while collaborating. This is aesthetically satisfying, but also it’s wonderful to know that children are building their 21st century skills of collaboration.
Sometimes, I am lucky enough to receive details journal entries and thank-you notes from the children explaining how much fun they had, what a great teacher they think I am, or what they learned.
What is the coolest thing a participant in your program ever said to you?
“That was fun! Can we do that again?” (in class)
“Thank you for letting me dance my way.” (in a journal – not an exact quote but something like that)
What is the most important thing you do to help your teaching artists do their best work?
As a teaching artist and working with my assistants, I think the most important thing that we do is find a balance between teaching technical skills and crafting opportunities for freedom and open exploration. Free play is a really important part of childhood development, but class should not be a complete free-for-all because it could easily become chaotic. As a dance educator, I have a different responsibility – to provide skills and structure in addition to freedom.
What is the best tip you can give to someone doing arts education programs like yours?
Teaching can be lonely. Find a trusted colleague to discuss difficulties and celebrate successes with.
If you could magically change one thing to make your program better, what would it be?
I would multiply myself, and my brilliant colleagues and I would have dance be valued as much as all other school subjects. Dance class would be part of the regular curriculum in all pre-K to 5th grade classrooms and an option for 6th-12th graders in all public schools in the country! These Creative Dance courses would be complete with appropriate facilities, allotted time, fair wages, class sizes, and developmental progression in skills from day to day and year to year. The courses would also have a loose curriculum with a conceptual framework that could be tailored to teachers’ skills, students’ interests, school culture, and more.
What is your favorite fieldtrip? (Real or imagined.)
I love when we take the 3rd through 6th graders in various partner public schools to the Suzanne Roberts Theatre in Center City to see the Koresh Dance Company and Youth Ensemble perform. Just going to this site is an out of the ordinary day for most of these kids. Then they get to see some of the most talented dancers in the city (and maybe even the country) perform in a beautiful auditorium complete with exciting lights and a hefty sound system. The kids find the Youth Ensemble particularly inspiring – to see dancers just a few years older than them dancing so well.
Last year, we added a new tradition: All of the participating students perform a dance from their seats. I think it’s exciting for the kids to say they got to perform at the Suzanne Roberts Theatre with the Koresh Dance Company as their audience.
Share a book you read that changed how you think about your work.
Brain-Compatible Dance Education by Anne Green Gilbert. Her work helps me have a through line in my lesson plan, so that the introduction that day directly serves the creativity to follow, instead of having a generic warm up.
Best. Snack. Ever.
Molasses and almond butter on a banana. Looks gross, but tastes great and gives me what I need to dance hard.