Deirdre Moore | January 2015

Engagement: Creating Access to the Arts

Engagement – that’s a huge buzz word these days in so many industries.  Businesses, organizations and television want engagement you through social media.  In education we continuously look for new ways of students engagement in rich learning experiences. That is one of the benefits of using Arts Integration – it so naturally engaging for so many of our students.  However, there are people who feel disengaged from the arts.  They look at a painting, listen to jazz or classical music, see a modern dance or read a poem and think, “I don’t get it.”  They get turned off by the experience and feel alienated or just feel a little bewildered.  I know of one dance company here in San Diego that is trying to change that.

Malashock Dance, under the direction of choreographer John Malashock, has created a series of performances whose aim is to help audiences access modern dance and become more engaged in the process of art making and art appreciation.  The series is aptly named “The Engagement Ring” and I was lucky enough to attend a performance recently that inspired me as a lover of dance and an educator.  When I first arrived I assumed I was attending a performance where I would sit and watch some beautiful dancing.  Little did I know what a treat I was about to experience.

For this performance, two local dancers/choreographers brought some dancers together to explore the concept of time through modern dance.  The attendees of this event were separated into several different groups and each group was given a guide. We were given a program and some sticky notes in case we wanted to jot down some thoughts.  At this point I knew this was no ordinary performance! My group was led to several different performance spaces.  At each space the group learned about the choreographic process and had a demonstration of some of the steps in that process.  Our guide facilitated the conversation and the audience was able to ask questions about the piece speaking directly to the dancers.  After visiting each set of dancers my group was given an opportunity to talk with the choreographers themselves.

Finally, we audience members settled into our seats and watched the final performance.    Do you know that feeling of going to a party where you don’t think you know anyone and then you run into someone you know or going to a concert where you are not familiar with any of the music and suddenly they play a song you know?  That’s how I felt watching this dance performance.  I was watching the dance unfold and suddenly a series of movements began that was familiar to me.  It was at the same time comforting and exciting.  I felt like a kindergartener who wanted to shout out, “I know that dance!”  It was familiar enough to be accessible and yet there was so much I had not yet seen.  I now got to witness how the choreographers brought it all together into one seamless piece.

At the conclusion of the evening, the audience members sat in a circular fashion around the choreographers to ask the questions from the sticky notes.  Although only a few notes were shared they spurred discussion about the dance piece, the process and experiencing dance in this way.  The sense I got from the attendees is that they really enjoyed the experience.  They felt much more connected to the dance and had a greater understanding of what they were watching.  The dancers also appreciated being able to interact with the audience.  Some of them expressed that because they had already met us, danced for us, and worked out some of the nerves they were more relaxed for the actual performance and enjoyed it more themselves.

After attending this incredible event, I reflected on what I could take from this as an educator.  I certainly got ideas about how to facilitate the choreographic process with my students but also loved the format as a way for students to share their own artwork with one another or with parents and community members.  Although you may not have had the chance to experience this yourselves, I hope my description of the event might inspire some engagement of your own!

About the Author

Deirdre is a teaching artist and AI coach in the San Diego public schools dedicated to helping classroom teachers make arts an integral part of their teaching. Deirdre has an MEd in Arts Integration and over twenty years of classroom and performing arts teaching experience. Email Deirdre.