Teaching Dance at Lowell Elementary

My name is Chloe Burnstein and I use the pronouns She/Her. My chosen global theme is social inequality and human rights. For my beyond the classroom experience I had the opportunity to teach a somatic dance therapy focused class as part of Lowell Elementary after school program in. I was specifically interested in combining the practice of emotional regulation with the theory that kinesthetic movement can heal our souls and bodies through my teaching. Lowell is located in East Missoula and is considered the lowest income elementary school in the district. The after school program at Lowell Elementary is the only school in the Missoula County Public School district that offers a free after school program full of intellectual activities and opportunities, provided and funded by Missoulas’ Parks and Recreation department. Most of the children attending Lowell come from low economic households and often do not have the opportunity to attend dance or therapy. No child should have to miss out on activities that provide moments internal discovery due to financial hardship. Therapy should not be considered an “opportunity,” but instead, a health care “right.”

During the hour-long sessions I taught, I encouraged different emotions, feeling, and sensations through a variety of games and challenges, supporting the exploration of emotion, without fear and instead curiosity and empowerment. The goal of these activities were to visualize, regulate, and simply notice the feeling being experienced through movement. It was the hope that these techniques would be something the children could return to and utilize as an outlet. Throughout the last 14 weeks I was guided by both Heidi Eggert Jones and Brooklyn Draper, professors of dance and Tess Sneeringer, the director of the Lowell after school program. In moments of frustration and failure their words of guidance and suggestion, reminded me that dance and talking/feeling your emotions is incredibly vulnerable. I narrowed my focus into just giving my time and energy into allowing the 60 minutes to be a safe place, where every child was seen, acknowledged, and loved. A space where emotions could be felt, and a place where we began to slowly begin to explore what those emotions may look like in the body without judgement. I yearned to share to share the healing and magical benefits that movement can provide. 

This experience was incredibly humbling. I saw just a bit of what these children lives were like. I remember talking to a peer in the program, identifying that many of these kids were experiencing, “adult sadness, not kid sadness.” There were many moments of self reflection, gratitude, joy, and even guilt. I discovered the elation that teachers often speak about. The feeling of connection and community that is developed between both the learner and the leader. I unearthed through my own personal experiences that a teacher is just as much a learner as well. The feeling of providing support, structure, decision making, and a safe space for children whose homes lack those elements is incredibly special. I believe this realization will influence the future actions I take as a leader.

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