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photo credit: Jesse Phillips-Fein

Building Reciprocal Relationships through 7th/8th Grade Dance!

by Jesse Phillips-Fein

For 7 years, the BFS 7/8th grade dance classes have collaborated with dance programs at several public schools, including 5th graders P.S. 95 in the Bronx (Nia Love, teacher), with 9-12th graders (and alum) at Science Skills High School’s Joe-Ile-Bailar dance company (Pat Dye, director), and for the past three years with the 9/10th grades classes Brooklyn International High School (Megan Minturn, teacher).  The goal of these partnerships is to explore how dance is a medium to connect across differences of age, race, class, nationality, and language for mutual benefit and growth.  

To prepare for our visits, we begin with discussing the stereotypes that exist about public and private schools students and where these stereotypes arise from.  We also analyze the different resources between public and private schools, and the cause of these inequities.  We prepare an introduction about Brooklyn Friends School, particularly the Quaker aspect of our school, and describe the dance project we are working on.  When we come together, either myself or the partnering teacher leads an ice-breaker and a warm-up.  Each class shares choreography and gives each other feedback.  Then students work in groups to create new choreography combining movements from each of our classes.  This year, Brooklyn International High School (BIHS) visited us in the Fall and performed a dance based on Salsa and Bachata, while the 8th grade fall semester class performed their Dance Concert piece based on the work on Chandrahleka.  Afterwards, throughout the semester we sent videos back and forth of our current projects and gave each other feedback.  In the Spring, we went to BIHS and performed our dance based on Tango, Salsa, Bachata, while they shared a piece of Indian folk dance.  BIHS dancers also attended the BFS Dance Concert, and the following week utilized our stage for their own dance performance as their school building does not have a theater.

BFS students reflected on the collaboration, saying “I was a little nervous the first time, but I was less nervous this time….It was really because I got to interact people from different countries which I hadn’t done before…The BIHS students were really nice, but it was hard to work in my group because we couldn’t rely on English to communicate.  I showed them the moves instead of telling them…It was awkward at first, we had to be friends with people we didn’t know.  But they were nice so that made it easier. …When choreographing, they had good ideas..I felt nervous I was going to intimidate them, but some of them were way better at dancing than I was, and they were nice about lowering the level!”

This was a wonderful example of social justice service learning focused on building community through accountable, reciprocal relationships that are grounded in equity. To see photos of their collaboration, click here!