by DeeGee Lester, Education Director, The Parthenon
DancEast instructors (Masters, co-owner Lauren Melancon, and Whitley Hill) forgo the dance school tradition of competition and performance based on a recital piece. Instead, they build what one parent describes as a “community of adults and children that love dance, creativity, and learning.” This is not external presentation but internal development and expression.
Masters sees dance as “a life skill—the joy of movement, of being in their own bodies. Girls, especially, lose that as they grow. Dance empowers them, giving them confidence they can carry with them through life.”
Masters points out, “There are different ways we move through space. As we experience joy or sorrow, the body changes. For example, in sorrow your body folds in upon itself. Dance is a great way to experience and express all levels of the emotional palette.”
In 2009, students connected with literature, performing Dancing the Words at the Nashville Public Library, interpreting children’s picture books and other forms of literature, and writing through movement.
At other times, mathematical connections become obvious. Dancers see geometrical relationships or explore variations as instructors teach with drums, altering tempo.
The freedom to explore these many aspects of dance, rather than a focus on the perfection of one or two year-end performance pieces, accounts for much of the success of DancEast. “We dance for ourselves rather than an audience,” Masters says. “Even the youngest are empowered when told ‘this is your class.”
Growing up under the influence of her mother (a lifelong dancer) and of skilled dance teachers such as the late Charles Ryburn, Masters and other DancEast instructors realize the importance of what they do. “The impact of teachers upon the lives of dance students of all ages is powerful,” Masters says, “and similar to the effect a coach has upon an athlete.”
DancEast instructors would like to see more boys in dance classes. The attention given to the dance success of professional athletes such as Emmitt Smith and Donald Driver serve as reminders to boys that dance offers athletes benefits in crucial skill areas such as discipline, balance, coordination, improved footwork, and leaping.
Masters reminds us that dance is an art form and a discipline. It’s how you move in your own body and in that piece of space you possess.
DancEast workshops are open for adults, teens, and children.
Visit http://danceast.org for more information.