It's 9 a.m., and two Bennington College students, Sasha
Cuccinciello and Margaret Eisenberg, begin walking across a room,
their arms carving imaginary waves, heads bobbing. Suddenly they
flop to the floor, "swimming" (crawling) on their bellies.
As they go, the two chant: "J'aime les fleurs qui nagent avec les
poissons," or in English: "I like flowers swimming with fish."
If this all sounds a bit unusual, it is.
Even out here on higher education's high frontier, the notion of
simultaneous dance and French instruction for students with
backgrounds is an audacious leap into the blue - one of the most
radical experiments in cross-disciplinary teaching in the United
But its creators also say it represents hope for the millions who
trudge through standard language training struggling to conjugate
memorize verbs - and who, in the end, can barely speak a few
It is also a new frontier for cross-disciplinary instruction in
college, which came into its own in the mid-1980s and exists in some
form at hundreds of schools nationwide. It's not unusual today for a
computer-engineering class, say, to involve professors from both
electrical engineering and computer science.
Yet Bennington is one of only a few colleges with a reputation for
pushing the envelope to blend disciplines. And even here it is
unusual to cross the yawning chasm between the humanities (French)
and the fine arts (dance), as this class seeks to do.
The official course title is: "Moving From Words, Speaking Through
Movements - and Learning French." But the students just call it
"Dancing in French," an elliptical phrase that defies easy
classification as either a dance or a language class.
Both Ms. Cuccinciello and Ms. Eisenberg are theater majors who had
taken dance before, but who knew little French prior to this nothing-
but-French-spoken-here dance class. The class also includes those
who speak French, but have had no dance training.
At their early morning session, teacher Agnes Benoit rallies her
charges. "All right, let's break up into groups and dance the
sentences we've been thinking about," she says in her native French.
Making language fun
The course does not attempt to turn novices into instant masters
of either dance or French. Instead, it's about making learning a
language fun and intellectually appealing to the students, says
Isabelle Kaplan, director of Bennington's Regional Center for
Languages and Cultures and co-developer of the experimental class.
"It's learning through listening, based on the simple way a child
learns through motor activity and making connections," she says.
She would like students to enjoy the class so much that they are
powerfully motivated to "take responsibility" for learning the
language and thereby become more engaged and active in regular
language course work. …