I am very blessed to have the opportunity to intern this semester with the National Dance Education Organization, based in Silver Spring, MD. NDEO does amazing work advocating for dance eduction and creating a national support support system for dance educators in K-12 and early childhood education, higher education, and the private sector.  I am learning so much from the talented and dedicated women who run the organization!

As an intern, I am working on a research project, for which I have been reading a number of articles, reports, and dissertations relating to the benefits of dance education in the K-12 classroom. One of these readings was a project by  Emily Caruso Parnell of UNC Greensboro.  The piece, titled The Permission of Time: Changing Practice by Putting the Arts First in Early Learning and Primary Classrooms talked about Parnell’s work as a dance educator in Ontario’s new Kindergarten program, which is based in part on the educational philosophy of Loris Malaguzzi and Reggio Emilia.  Parnell included this beautiful poem by Malaguzzi, which captures this philosophy:

The Hundred Languages of Children

By Loris Malaguzzi

Translated by Lella Gandini

No way.

The hundred is there.

The child is made of one hundred. The child has a hundred languages

a hundred hands

a hundred thoughts

a hundred ways of thinking

of playing, of speaking.

a hundred, always a hundred

ways of listening

of marveling, of loving

a hundred joys

for singing and understanding

a hundred worlds to discover

a hundred worlds to invent

a hundred worlds to dream.

The child has a hundred languages (and a hundred hundred hundred more)

but they steal ninety-nine.

The school and the culture separate the head from the body. They tell the

child to think without hands to do without head

to listen and not to speak

to understand without joy

to love and to marvel

only at Easter and Christmas.

They tell the child

to discover the world already there and of the hundred

they steal ninety-nine.

They tell the child

that work and play

reality and fantasy

science and imagination

sky and earth

reason and dream

are things

that do not belong together.

And thus they tell the child

that the hundred is not there.

The child says

“No way – The hundred is there.”

How amazing would our educational system be if we acknowledged the hundred (and hundred and hundred more) ways that children do, learn, and experience the world?  How many more children would be considered “successful” if we recognized their learning not just in reading and writing and numbers, but in movement and pictures and music? Similarly, how much more inclusive and exciting would the dance world be if we acknowledged the hundred (and hundred and hundred more) ways that children dance? How many more dancers and dancer enthusiasts would there be if recognized that movement can bring joy to all people, not just those with good turnout, flexible hamstrings, and tiny waistlines?

I’ve been thinking about this in my planning and approach to teaching ballet to children in the private sector. In October, I wrote a post about a new approach to ballet education that I was in the early stages of developping.  This approach uses play as a pathway to critical thinking skills, creativity, and good technique in the ballet studio.  I am still working with the group of students who served as the primary “guinea pigs” for the approach.  While they seem to still enjoy the class and are showing strong thinking skills and improving technique, they are also getting the age where technical achievement takes more time and effort to attain, and other dance styles (like jazz) and non-dance activities are becoming more appealing.  It is tempting for me to focus on those dancers in the class who have “it” – who can naturally speak that language of ballet.  It’s easy to assume that they, with their natural facility, abilities, and discipline, are the ones who will benefit most from my specialized knowledge of ballet pedagogy.  However, reading  Malaguzzi’s poem reminded me that even in highly specialized situations, such as the ballet studio, there are ways to acknowledge the hundred other gifts the students bring into the studio with them, and help them to further develop those special talents through the medium of ballet.  I was not the most turned-out, flexible, or thinnest of students, but my teachers saw my natural drive, knack for performing, willingness to help others learn, and early seeds of choreographic ability … and they didn’t give up on me. No, I’m not a professional ballet dancer and that may disapoint some of my old instructors who poured their time and effort into helping reach that specific goal. However, by giving me outlets to work on those other “languages” (choreography, teaching, performing)  that came more easily, while at the same time pushing me to get better and better at the ones (ballet and pointe technique) which I struggled, my teachers set me up for the fullfilling career I enjoy today.

For that, I am so very grateful. I hope to be the same sort of facillitator for my students, and I encourage all my dance teacher friends to be the same.  Dance is a great gift, and one we must give generously, to all.