HPU Dance Class Transforms Movement Into Experiential Learning
For students in Dance Instructor Cara Hagan’s Dance and Community Concepts class, the spring semester offered them a chance to take the art of movement into the local community.
The class was part of High Point University’s Service Learning Program. The students worked with young children at Chavis Family YMCA, with students in a special needs class at Wheatmore High School, and with adults suffering from mental illnesses at the Mental Health Association of the Triad—transforming the classroom learning component into first-hand experiences that taught the students about how dance can be used in a community setting.
“The goal of community engaged arts is to transform common spaces into spaces for artistic energy and collaboration between members of the community with the view of making a change,” Hagan says. “And that change is up to the scope of the project (whatever it may be). It can be a change within the group itself, or it can be for change in the greater community.”
At Wheatmore and the MHA, Hagan says the students performed a series of movement session based mainly on improvisation. “These participatory performances are meant to provide an often rare space for participants to have their voices heard, validated, and to see their ideas play out on the bodies of their collaborators, as they simultaneously explore aspects of those ideas kinetically for themselves,” Hagan says.
Shannon White with MHA says the impact of the class has been felt firsthand among those who participate.
“This is significant for many of our consumers with both developmental learning delays and mental illness, making it difficult to gain new information. The reports after each class from the consumers have been positive. They report feeling physically better, their moods are lifted, and they often discuss the activities of the class with peers that have not participated,” White says.
Wheatmore High School special education teacher Maryann Vinay echoes White’s remarks, saying that the experience for her students has been remarkable.
“My students were able to gain knowledge on ways to express themselves, socialize, and gain exercise. The lessons were able to incorporate academics (counting, memory, communication, and much more) into every dance session. The students are able to learn and extend skills that help increase their quality of life,” Vinay says.
Hagan says those who attended the sessions weren’t the only ones who benefitted. The students in the class had the opportunity to learn about challenges faced by people with mental illness, both socio-economically and social. “They learned about the challenges faced by people with special needs in our society, namely, accessibility issues. They learned about social stigma attached to each group that we worked with, and had the opportunity to confront their own biases and assumptions concerning each group,” she said.
Hagan sees Service Learning as vital to the development of High Point University students as citizens, giving them the opportunity to learn about the real world and how they might participate in it.