Four years ago (that same year that I wrote about back in August, in All Arms Open…) I was to present a workshop at the conference on my Dance Production class' choreography projects. By happy circumstance, that was the the year that schools in California received a pretty substantial block grant for arts and PE, so I ended up with a windfall of funds for equipment or professional development… After the work that class had done, creating art out of the most difficult circumstances of their lives, I jumped at the chance to take a few students along to help with my workshop and to experience the conference. I asked three students, true class leaders, to make the trip to Maryland. One was disallowed by the district at the last minute (a long story), so two made it — one junior and one senior.
We spent most of the conference taking workshops and technique classes. The first day, both kids were kind of shy and kept fading to the back in the technique classes, worried about missing steps — I had to keep reminding them that they were taking class next to a bunch of dance teachers and they were definitely the youngest folks there! But confidence came a long way in three days — by the last day, A_____ jumped right out into the front line in the West African class.
The last day, the kids helped with my presentation, and made a huge hit with the teachers who came to our session. We told some stories about life in East Oakland, the choreography finals on history, and the Dance IS piece on youth killings in Oakland. T_____ taught a little of her own choreography final (on prisoners), they both taught some of the movement from the Dance IS piece, and we showed video clips of both dances. We left time for a Q&A, and all of the questions were for the students. The best part of the conference for me was the validation the kids received, especially T_____ — I had asked her to teach a part of her own choreography final for our workshop, and she worried to me that "I don't know how to teach"… then she got to see all the teachers learning her movement from her and loving it (some of them were pulling out some of her "moves" at the post-banquet dance party!)
The next year, A_____ had applied for NDEO's national student award (the Artistic Merit, Leadership, and Academic Achievement Award), and been awarded an honorable mention; so we fundraised for her to be able to attend the conference again. I think it was more difficult for her this time, as she was the only teenager there among so many adults — less camaraderie, more weird grown-up food… But she was able to experience New York, the dance capital of the US; and she was able to participate in Bill Evans' "Passing on the Legacy" site-specific choreography for high school and college students (or, herself and about twenty college students), performed beautifully in the lobby of LaGuardia Arts High School on the last day of the conference.
So, this week I will be at the conference on my own for the first time in years… I guess I will have a little more freedom to run around to all of the workshops without the responsibility of looking after a teenager or two — but also without the richness of being able to share the experience with budding young dance artists. Attending a dance teachers' conference has always been a rejuvenating experience... but sharing it with students was truly unforgettable.