As music blasts and students float around the room according to the counts of eight, it’s impossible to ignore the refreshing aspect of being in the dance studio. While most students are traveling from class to class with various textbooks and binders, the dance program at Collegiate gives students a chance to explore education without desks. The program begins in the Lower School, and as the students progress to the Middle School, students eagerly involve themselves more seriously in the dance program.
Dance Program Director Stacy Dudley founded the dance program at Collegiate 16 years ago. There had never been any type of dance program at the school, so the idea was new to the community. The program began with Dudley teaching Middle School students during physical education (P.E.) classes. The other part of the new program was one company for the Upper School. Around her second year at Collegiate, Dudley started clubs where Middle School dancers could further explore dance. At the same time, she formed a Lower School company and saw immense growth in participation. Since the Lower School companies expanded, the robust turnout carried on as students transitioned to the Middle School, and Dudley began breaking the dancers up into various companies. “I think the idea was starting young and then growing it and working its way up.” Dudley summarized the intention of the program for 5th through 8th grade students when she stated, “The mission of the Middle School dance company is to expose younger dancers to contemporary and modern dance and to start working on their craft young, so by the time they get to 8th grade, when you can choose to take dance as an actual course, the students that have been exposed to it in 5th, 6th, and 7th will hopefully know that this is something they’d like to continue with and become a serious student where you dance six out of eight days in the cycle.”
Each Middle School dance class begins with a set warm-up that students learn at the start of the year. The warm-up consists of various ways to strengthen, stretch, and prepare the whole body for the dances to come. Students learn ballet technique in order to have a solid foundation for more abstract and complex movement in combinations or pieces. The main focus of the class is on the dance concert in the spring, but Dudley begins the year by teaching dancers combinations, or short series of movements. She then picks dances for different groups of dancers based on their strengths. She said, “I put together all of these ideas for pieces in the summer and early fall, and once I teach combinations and really see how students move for the first couple of weeks of school, then I decide which dances would show their strengths the most. My 6th grade [dancers are] a technically strong group, and so I’m doing an underwater piece that’s a very flowy and technical piece. I teach them bits and pieces of all of these different ideas I have, and then I assign which group is going to get which piece according to how they moved in those combinations.”
While Dudley appreciates all of her dancers, she finds that the Middle School dancers show exceptional eagerness for the art form. She remarked about the great balance between newness and knowledge within the dancers: “I love that they have some previous experience, but there’s also so much for them to learn, and they are just the most enthusiastic, excited, and willing students. They’re so willing and open to try anything out, and their enthusiasm is top-notch.”
The students clearly love the art form as much as their teacher. The dancers listen and watch attentively to Dudley as she gives suggestions for improvements or demonstrates a movement. While they will socialize in class, the students have tremendous focus once the music begins.
The Middle School dance program at Collegiate is full of fresh minds and eager individuals. Dudley is unquestionably proud of the young dancers and hopes they continue their love of dance throughout their time at Collegiate and beyond. As a dancer at Collegiate, I am confident that my younger classmates will continue the excellence that fills the dance program today.
All photos courtesy of Stacy Dudley.