As a loyal supporter of the Ballet, you may already be familiar with our flagship Community Program, CincyDance! For more than 20 years, we have brought dance classes into third grade classrooms and provided opportunities for the most motivated and talented of those students to continue their training, including with lifelong scholarships to the Otto M. Budig Academy.
This year, we were thrilled to launch a brand new phase of the program: Story Choreography Project. Over the course of one week, from May 13 through 17, 250 fifth grade students from 9 different schools filled our studios with energy and laughter as they explored their own creativity, met new friends, and shared both their own stories and the stories of others through dance.
Julie Sunderland, Vice President of Community + Inclusion, has been at the helm of CincyDance! and all of Cincinnati Ballet’s Community Programs for the past 10 years. She had the spark for Story Choreography Project two summers ago at a training with the National Dance Institute. The theme of that experience was that “we are more alike than we are different,” inspired by Maya Angelou’s “Human Family” poem.
Each day of the program’s pilot week, two very different schools were paired together to experience what it can be like to work with someone you consider an “other.” With live drumming and recorded music generously created specifically for the program by Clever Crazes for Kids, the students spent their mornings learning the basics of choreography creation and reflecting on their own stories and answers to prompts ranging from “Change makes me feel…” to “If I had a super power it would be…” The immersive experience continued with lunch provided by Kroger, as the students were guided to sit with new friends and respond to ice breaker question to get to know one another better. After lunch, each student used their own morning writing response to create four to eight counts of choreography to tell their own story, then combined their choreographed “story” with those of three other students. At the end of the day, each small group performed their shared story for the rest of the students, teachers, and volunteers.
By teaching and learning from one another, these students are planting seeds for a future of understanding, empathy, and collaboration. Already we’ve heard from teachers who took part with their students that the kids left the experience excited about all the new friends they’d met, and, of course, eager to keep dancing! One teacher in particular told Julie that she was inspired at seeing a different side of the kids than she’d ever seen before, and another teacher summed it up perfectly when they said, “Students begin the project as uncomfortable strangers and end as partners in a uniquely shared experience. This project demonstrates that whatever our story has been, we are all connected in our vulnerability, our worries, and our dreams.”
We may only be 2 weeks out from this pilot week, but Julie and her team of dance teachers and dedicated volunteers are already looking forward to next year and how we can build and grow this exciting new addition to the CincyDance! program!
Photography: Angie Lipscomb