Standard Practice

By Traiger, Lisa | Dance Teacher, May 2014 | Go to article overview

Standard Practice


Traiger, Lisa, Dance Teacher


AFTER A CAREER SPENT HONING HER OWN TEACHING METHODS, RIMA FABER LEADS THE CHARGE FOR NATIONAL STANDARDS.

Spend a Saturday morning with Rima Faber and her 2-, 3- and 4-year-old dancers at Joy of Motion Dance Center in Washington, DC, and it's easy to see why her teaching is lauded. Minutes before class, as she organizes her bag of tricks-scarves, books, palmsized stuffed animals and assorted other teaching tools-she says, "Everything I do has a purpose in learning dance and in learning learning and in learning to be creative."

Faber is an evangelist when it comes to teaching dance to children. She founded the Washington, DC-based youth studio and company The Primary Movers in 1979, which for 21 years served as a laboratory for implementing her methods and theories of how to impart big ideas about movement, creativity, imagination and mindbody connections to little people. In 1998 she was instrumental in founding the National Dance Education Organization, the largest nonprofit group for dance teachers spanning pre-K to higher education. Most recently she has been chair of the dance task force for the National Coalition for Core Arts Standards, which this month has released new national standards for teaching dance.

"Rima is a master teacher," says Karen Bradley, an associate professor at University of Maryland and a member of the dance standards team. "She's engaging, she's aware of every single thing that's going on in the room, she responds in the moment to what they're doing-if they wander off, she knows how to pull them back in-she's funny, they're amused by her, as well, and she knows how to talk to little kids."

Like a mother hen with a coif of cropped red hair; she firmly leads her flock of wiggly youngsters, never missing a beat reining in the misdirected or distracted, coddling the hesitant ones and complimenting everyone, individually and as a group. "Three-year-olds are just grasping that they have a body, just grasping language and just beginning to understand protocols," she says, noting that to start the class, she asks all the students to enter together; so they will feel integrated into the group from the outset-and so they won't run wildly around the studio before everyone arrives. From there she introduces a song with movements that allow her charges to fly away like pigeons, but return to her at the nest. A brief segment on stretching teaches functional anatomy and body hemispheres: "What can we stretch?" she asks. "Our arms," a pink-clad 3-year-old offers. "Can we stretch our arms front and back, up and down?" Some in the class suggest other parts: elbows, knees, hips. But in a few brief minutes, Faber changes pace and activity, before anyone can get bored or distracted.

There's a method and plenty of science behind all these seemingly simple exercises. And Faber wants to see teaching of dance, from the youngest preschoolers to those in higher education, evolve. She was invited to helm a committee of artists and educators formed in 2011 to articulate the national core standards for dance. The group she calls her "dream team" met over a period of three years and came to a consensus on what students at every stage should understand about the art of dance. The national voluntary arts education standards-which in addition to dance include media arts, music, theater, visual arts-describe what students should know at each grade level and specifies what makes them ready for college and career.

While physical mastery plays a part in the standards, Faber says the goal is to understand dance and dancemaking. In doing this, students enhance cognitive learning, develop critical thinking and understand approaches to making art. "Just as we want to teach students not just to memorize a book but to understand the meaning of what they're reading, and to write their own book, why should we be teaching dance that is only specific steps? We want to teach our students to read and speak dance, to create dance. …

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