With body parts twisted into a triangle or splayed like an ostrich, instructors of a Saturday morning dance class for children have found themselves in some unusual positions. “I’ve been in every contortion imaginable,” said Pankti Dalal ’17. “The kids think it is hilarious.”
Exercises often find limbs in odd placements. “I’ve been on one leg, bent over with my arms out in different positions — like a tall, gangly bird,” said Luca Agunos ’18.
Dalal and Agunos are the lead teachers of the student-run class launched four years ago by dance professors Julie Brodie and Balinda Craig-Quijada. Dalal is in her fourth year with the program; Agunos joined her at the head of the class this year.
“The class has been the highlight of my Saturday,” said Dalal, a math major and dance minor who has performed in nearly every Kenyon dance concert held during her four years on campus. “The kids are so excited to learn, and they allow me to find the kid in myself and move around in funny ways.”
Up to a dozen students, aged 3 to 9 years old, from the community attend the free weekly class. The youngest are barely verbal, but they learn by observing and doing.
Given the age of all the students, the class is more about creative movement than formal dance. “We believe young children should start with creative movement before learning more traditional structured forms,” explained co-founder Brodie.
Agunos is a dance major who spends hours in classes and practices trying to perfect his technique. Not so in his Saturday morning class. “What is so great about working with kids is that when they make a mistake in the class, it is not a mistake to them,” he said. “They bring their imaginations to the process and just transform the movement into something else.”
In one exercise, for example, the teachers simply ask their students to move across the floor at an average, low or high speed and level. “We say low and slow and they make their own way,” Agunos said. “Some are crawling or rolling.”
Out of curiosity, Dalal transposed a lesson plan from the children’s class to her modern dance class. “You could see how the Kenyon students had some kind of discomfort, while the kids were just falling about in free flow,” she said.
Unencumbered by expectations, the children “have not yet been told by society that they can’t do cartwheels down the hallway. Their bodies are open to anything,” Dalal added.
Taking a tumble is part of the process. “This class teaches you how to fall,” she said. “These kids are falling all over the place, but we can fall with them.”
The class structure explores practical applications for its movement tasks. “I use the example of people afraid of pushing past others on a crowded New York City street. When you know body patterns and movements, you can navigate through the crowd without crashing into others,” Dalal said.
Age-appropriate instruction is individualized with exercises shaped into games. The class serves as an introduction to dance, while promoting health and fitness, positive body images and respect for differences.
Kenyon students expressed interest in helping teach the class from the outset, Brodie said. Students from her “Directed Teaching” course volunteered to completely take over the instruction after the first semester. They used the class to fulfill their applied teaching experience requirement.
“It is wonderful to see these students volunteering to share their love of dance with children from the community,” Brodie said. “The population of the class has shifted with time. Initially it consisted largely of faculty children but, as the word spread, children are joining from Wiggin Street Elementary School and beyond.”
Dalal, a native of western Massachusetts, plans to enroll in law school after taking a gap year teaching math or movement. “I definitely want to continue my connection with dance,” she said.
Agunos, of San Diego, eagerly anticipates helping lead the class next year before he pursues a professional career working with children in some capacity. “This is a great opportunity for me,” he said. “I am someone who has always loved kids and stayed in touch with my inner child.”