Sometimes even saying "dance" in public schools in Vermont pushes kids and adults out of their comfort zones. Although I consider this one of the dreamiest places to live, I didn't make home here because of the roaring social dance scene. It is easy to grow up here without ever having to partner someone in a dance of celebration or friendship, let alone passion or desire. I get a little giddy when I have a chance to teach basic latin dance to children or adults in this area. There are mini-cultural explosions and moments of physical empathy where we as dancers can begin to understand how movement can be used to create feelings of belonging and community.
Recently I did a daylong residency at the Neshobe School, an elementary school in Brandon, VT, where I worked with all the students, giving them a tiny taste of either merengue, salsa, or tango. The residency was arranged by the school's Spanish teacher Julie Bacher, who managed to arrange a schedule that allowed every child exposure to latin dance (and left us breathless by the end of the day). I couldn't help but find myself joyously laughing as the little feet of kindergartners mastered the basic two steps of the merengue, partnering their peers and playing with simple spins. A group of fifth graders pushed themselves to be both physically and mentally open to the demanding basic tango step that required more closeness with their partners than they have probably ever have to negotiate in the rest of their lives. Teachers danced with students. boys with girls, boys together, girls together - we all just danced.
This work does not necessarily come easily to our stiff northern bodies, more culturally used to a lineage of strong-torsoed folk dancing than mobile ribcages and pelvises. I am fortunate to remember growing up with stylistically different forms of movement (my European classical training, thank goodness, will never leave me), however, I consider myself blessed to have spent time on the dance floor, in celebrations, in communities, and in the studio exploring dance forms and cultural experiences with movement so different than my own growing up in rural Vermont. We are blessed to have some latin music and dance come from folks who have grown up in a culture rich with both, but opportunities are limited, and I take the responsibility seriously when I enter a school and offer an introduction of dance to those who might otherwise not have exposure.
It is important that we ask kids not only to learn languages and read about different parts of the world, but that we bring cultural experiences to our kids and hopefully take our kids out to experience life in places other than our own home. I am amazed by the increasing diversity of where I live, but I also realize that place is part of who we are and acknowledging what is unique and special about other places can help us to become more open and accepting citizens of our communities both globally and locally (we dream, right?). It takes effort and demands one to be step outside his or her comfort zone to be 12 and partner a classmate in the tango, but it also encourages empathy and engagement with an experience greater than one's self.
I feel so inspired watching this risk-taking, I can't help but join in on the fun.