At the age of three my mother put me in a dance class hoping to cure me of my shyness. It worked. I spent the next 15 years at Miss Louise Dance Academy, not necessarily getting the best training, but certainly establishing my love for dance and teaching.
|In the Beginning....|
I started teaching at the age of 15 and choreographing at 16. I became a jack of all trades: I could do a little tap, jazz, acrobatic, and—very little—ballet. I then became involved in the local community theater where my “jack of all trades” skills were appreciated and musical theater became my passion.
I graduated from SUNY at Brockport with a BS in Dance Education. It was the 1970s; a time when Merce Cunningham, Jose Limon, and John Cage were all the rage. We did a lot of improvisation during my time at Brockport. We would do a loosy-goosy warm-up, then would head into town to improvise on the bridge.
|Did I mention it was the 70s?|
My dream was to teach dance (musical theater) in a college. At the age of 26, I was offered a position as assistant professor of dance at Syracuse University in their Visual and Performing Arts program.
It was 9 years of growth, challenges, and children. Not everyday you get to have a job where everyone “gets” your musical theater references and your co-workers turn every situation into a song from a musical. During this time, I trained with the Lincoln Center Teaching Artist -Arts in Education Program. Being a teaching artist in the 1980s had a very different focus then than it has now. My goal was to bring dance awareness programs into the schools.
Also … during this time, I had three sons in four years!
In 1993, we could not handle another Syracuse winter, so we packed up the kids and headed to Florida.
One Sunday, I was making a joke with my husband that I was going to check the classifieds for a dance job and I couldn’t believe it! It said “looking for a dance teacher, good with children of all ages, choreography skills and computer literate”. I applied for the job and, for the next 5 years, I worked as the outreach coordinator for the Sarasota Ballet.
I wrote educational booklets for teachers and prepared students to see various ballets. It was during this time that I worked with a full time public school dance teacher and I thought “I could do this job!” Which led me to my next dream job!
I became a full time K-12 certified dance educator. It took me three years to complete the certification and a lot of training, classes, and help from fellow teachers to understand and become a part of the public education system. I worked 9 years at an Title 1 elementary school.
After that experience, I could teach anywhere!!
While I was working in the school system I attended a math and movement workshop from a Kennedy Center teaching artist. It was the first time I actually understood the correlation between fractions, decimals and percentages! I just needed to move through the learning experience to “get it”.
I went to every workshop I could find on arts integration. The Sarasota Arts and Cultural Alliance was looking for teaching artists to be a part of a new program called EdExploreSRQ, an online platform that connects teachers to a plethora of local community arts and teaching artists who provide opportunities to enrich their curriculum. This work provided me the opportunity to go part-time in public schools by spending two days a week as an arts integration specialist!
Arts Integration has challenged me to learn basic core curriculum in several core subjects and find ways to help students explore these concepts through movement. It’s very fulfilling to see the light come on when they realize: while we were moving and having fun, we are also learning math, science or Language arts!
It’s even more fun to work with teachers, seeing how excited they became about these approaches to learning. I would have loved to have these learning experiences during my school years instead of sitting at a desk watching the teacher.
I have always worked in the arts. And I’ve learned that if I keep my mind open to new opportunities, step outside my comfort zone, be a team player, do what I love and love what I do (even when it wasn’t what I thought I should be doing), keep learning and listening, and—most importantly—have a sense of humor, my work as an artist will continue to unfold in ways I never could imagine! At 61, I’m still learning and looking forward to seeing what’s next!
To connect with Deb, please visit her website. You can also see her school-related programs on EdExploreSRQ.
This is Week 4 of 52 Artists in 52 Weeks. Thank you for reading and sharing Deb’s story today.