Arts Ed Now: Lessons in Dance to Help Choreograph Your Future

July 10, 2017

Dance Hernán Piñera CC

As a dance educator and choreographer, my mission is to use the art of dance as a powerful tool that is beyond entertainment — conveying stories and meaningful messages about ourselves and the world around us.

That mission was on full display at the Paramus High School dance department’s Power of The Dance 4- concert, an event filled with a collection of intriguing pieces of choreography, which educated, inspired, and ignited the audience’s imagination. Each piece at the June 1 concert reflected on our history, past, and shared our hopes for our future.

This year dance at Paramus High School was filled with so many exciting and amazing opportunities in dance and for our community. In this post, I’d like to highlight some of these opportunities.

The Paramus Chamber of Commerce Dream Grant Foundation provided us a grant supporting Broadway Meets The Artist Dream, an opportunity for students to experience full-day professional dance experiences in New York. In addition to taking part in Broadway step-by-step workshops for An American In Paris and Hamilton, students also attended An American In Paris and Paramour on Broadway. Dancers met cast members, learned original choreography and participated in Q&A sessions sharing their wisdom from the field.

On the trip, we were also fortunate to have guest artists Laurena Barros, a former Rockette, for a precision kick line workshop and Kid Glyde, of Broadway Dance Center, for a hip hop and breakdancing workshop.

During the holiday season, The Spartanettes began a new tradition — Sharing The Gift Of Dance assembly programs performed at all schools district-wide. This new program gave students an opportunity to perform in addition to the school’s annual holiday concert.

Dancers this year also visited NJPAC twice to see live professional performances of Ballet Hispanico and Alvin Ailey Dance Theater and to participate in professional workshops with Dance New Jersey.

In April, another magical moment was a collaborative performance sharing the stage with the school’s wind ensemble to bring An American In Paris to life on stage for our K-12 Arts Festival.

This year’s Power of Dance concert featured original pieces of choreography created by our dance honors students. Each piece was created to raise awareness about particular social issues our youth face today, part of our dance for democracy and social consciousness unit.

Throughout the evening concert, students shared mission statements as well beautiful dances about 9/11, bullying, body image and adversity. They also performed Identity, a piece inspired by the poem I Am A Jew by Franz Bass, from the book I Never Saw Another Butterfly: Children’s Drawings and Poems from Terezin Concentration Camp, 1942-1944.

We were beyond proud of Emily Pagano, Paramus High School senior and the recipient of the 2017 Governor’s Award in Arts Education for Excellence in Artistry & Leadership in Dance, who performed her solo work to Maya Angelou’s poem “Still I Rise.” In her mission statement she shared:

“Confucius once said, ‘our greatest glory is not in never failing, but rising in every time we fall,’ this couldn’t be any closer to what I focused on when choreographing my piece too ‘Still I Rise.’ I created this piece to let people know it’s okay to fall. We live in a world where people have this preconceived idea that to fall, is to be weak. However, I’m here to let you know that it’s not the struggle that determines your inner strength, it is your willingness to rise from the fall.”

The evening concluded with all dancers performing to an instrumental version of Imagine, utilizing sign language and dance to convey powerful message of unity.

It has been an amazing year for the dance department that has reaffirmed the power of dance as a universal language that all can comprehend.

Thank you to Paramus Board of Education, Dance New Jersey, Dance New Jersey-Dance PLC, Arts Ed Now and all the dancers for your endless hard work , dedication and commitment to the Dance program and Arts Education.

Nietzsche said, “We should consider each day lost in which we have not danced at least once.” For me, every day has been found.

Claudine RanieriClaudine Ranieri is a dance educator at Paramus High School and artistic director of The Spartanettes. This post is part of our Arts Ed Now series presented in partnership with the New Jersey Arts Education Partnership sharing insights and stories on innovative arts education taking place in New Jersey schools.