Students Teaching Students

Article excerpt

At Indiana University, some dance majors get real-world teaching experience.

Indiana University senior Laura Hunter first became interested in teaching dance when she was in middle school. Today, Hunter is fulfilling that goal as a paid student instructor for the Indiana University (IU) Pre-College Contemporary Dance Program. "I learn so much from my students that carries over into my life as a dancer," she says, "because when you teach someone something, you have to know how to do it yourself."

Elizabeth L. Shea, IU's contemporary dance program director, launched the pre-college program in 2003 with the goal of sharing "all of the knowledge and art-making that goes on in a university setting with the children in our community." Each semester, five to seven IU dance majors teach community children ages 3-18 ballet, tap, jazz, creative dance, hip hop, modern and musical theater/jazz. For the IU students, the pre-college program is invaluable: Though many of them hope to perform professionally, they may find themselves teaching to supplement their incomes. "It's a really wonderful way to get some hands-on learning," Shea says. "The dance majors learn how to relate to children and parents, and, of course, it's wonderful for a resumé."

The Program

The pre-college curriculum focuses on the students' physical, emotional and cognitive abilities. Classes are exploratory and play-based until age 5; as children grow, the classes turn more toward motor learning, body and spatial awareness and basic coordination. "We look at what they are and are not able to digest at certain ages," Shea says.

As the students get older, they also decide whether they want to work or play at their art. Either choice is welcomed. "Not everyone is going to be a college dance major or professional dancer," Shea says, "but we hope that they love dance and share that with everyone around them."

The program started with about 30 community students and now has about 80, who take classes in the campus dance studio and a mirrored gymnasium. The classes are affordable: 30-minute classes are $145 per semester, 45-minute classes are $175 per semester and 60-minute classes are $215 per semester. The pre-college program holds informal studio showings in December, an onstage production in the spring and two two-week-long summer camps.

The program is fully self-supporting. Funds generated cover wages-the student teachers are paid but do not receive college credit-and marketing and advertising costs. The program receives no grants or outside support.

The Model

In 2008, Susannah "Windell, an IU alum and current adjunct faculty who has been teaching for over 20 years, was hired as the pre-college program coordinator. During her years in the field, Windell had noticed that many dancers often start teaching without formal training. "They have not learned how to work with young children, write lesson plans or think in terms of a semester," she says. …