By Kate Feinberg Robins, PhD
In my recent blog post Addressing Race in Ballet and Capoeira, I discussed Find Your Center’s commitment to bringing race and social justice explicitly into our dance and capoeira classrooms. Here I share my experience doing this with my 2-4 year-old Bilingual Creative Movement class in early June. This is part of an ongoing effort to decolonize our curricula and educate our students in social justice as well as dance and martial arts.
Tips for Addressing Race & Diversity with Young Children
The Lesson Plan
Bilingual Creative Movement is a 30-minute live online class for 2-4 year-olds. I teach the class in Spanish and English and teach pre-ballet and pre-capoeira concepts through creative movement. I've written this lesson plan in English, but my discussion with the children was bilingual. It was centered around the video "Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater" on the channel The Call to Unite.
Note: I skipped the introduction and started this video at 0:59 to make it shorter for my young audience. I could teach a whole different lesson just using the first minute of this video. I would focus on the concept of English and Spanish (which we speak in our class) being different languages, and tell the kids that people speak lots of different languages all over the world. I would ask the children if they recognize any words they hear in the video, and if anyone in the video speaks or looks like anyone they know. I would remind them how we say hello to each other in Spanish and English in our class, and then we would transition into the next part of our class.
Unity and Black Role Models
I like this video for young children because it is joyful while also acknowledging sadness. The "Bosom of Abraham" referred to in the song is a place of comfort. Children don't have to understand the reference or be raised in a Biblical tradition to understand the concepts of sadness and comfort. Families are dealing with the stresses of a pandemic, social unrest, and economic uncertainty. This lesson validates the negative emotions children might be feeling in their households, and helps them deal with those emotions by coming together through dance and music.
The coming together that children see in this video is multiracial. Because we are meeting online from our homes and the dancers in the video are also meeting online from their homes, it feels like they are coming into our classroom. We see dancers who look predominantly Black and mixed, joining a classroom of children who are white, mixed, and Latinx. This normalizes Blackness and normalizes racial diversity.
I also emphasize to my students that the dancers in the video are different from us in one important way. They are professionals. They do what we do, but better. These are the people we should look up to.
By Kate Feinberg Robins, PhD
Racial equity within ballet and capoeira has always been an important part of our mission at Find Your Center. It is implicit in everything we do. The events of the past few weeks have led us to realize that we need to make this work more explicit:
We believe that race and social justice are relevant in all of the work that everyone does every day, not just during moments of crisis. Joining together in protest, advocating for justice, and demanding humane policies are our duties as citizens, in whatever forms these actions take for each of us. Beyond this, our everyday work needs to be guided by respect, compassion, a willingness to see, and a willingness to listen.
We are committed to bringing social justice explicitly into our dance and martial arts curricula from here on out. We want every student at Find Your Center to be able to express, in age-appropriate ways, issues of racial inequity in the arts they are learning. All of our students should be able to appreciate the struggles and contributions of Black dancers and martial artists, as well as other marginalized groups.
Teaching Race in the Dance Classroom
As an anthropologist running a dance school, I recognize that I am possibly in a unique situation. Most dance teachers are not trained to facilitate discussions of race. I believe that needs to change, and I hope that the work we are doing at Find Your Center will help change it.
Predominantly Black dance schools and companies like Dance Theatre of Harlem and Alvin Ailey do not have the luxury of not talking about race. It is a privilege of predominantly white dance schools to be able to remain silent. White dancers cannot continue to put the burden on our students and colleagues of color to educate us about their experiences. We need to make sure that our students see. We need to give our students space to talk respectfully, space to remain silent, and space to express their complex emotions through movement.
We must make mistakes—and correct them—in order to learn. This is true in dance and martial arts, and it is true in discussing race and inequality. We don’t always know what to say. Sometimes we hurt each other without realizing it. Our job as teachers is to make our classrooms supportive spaces where we can call each other out on our mistakes, correct them, and learn.
Using Dance to Teach and Discuss Race
Art is a powerful tool for communicating experiences that we don’t know how to talk about. As an art whose canvas is the body, dance is a particularly powerful tool for conveying the kinds of unspeakable acts that we as a society are grappling with now—brutality, genocide, claiming ownership of other people’s bodies. Dance performances that address these issues can serve as prompts for discussions and reflection on racial injustice in churches, homes, and workplaces, not just dance schools.
Dance is also a powerful tool for communicating emotions and encouraging children to express their emotions in productive ways. Some children are experiencing racial tensions personally and emotionally, while others have little awareness of them. Dance videos can serve as inspiration, permission, and an invitation for children to share emotions they may not understand.
By sharing and valuing the contributions of Black artists in ballet and capoeira, we also teach our children to look up to Black role models. We make race visible. We don’t allow ourselves to look the other way.
Lesson Plans for Teaching Race through Ballet and Capoeira
Click on one of the blog posts below for examples of how to bring race and social justice into your dance and capoeira classrooms in age-appropriate ways:
Teaching Race to Young Children: Unity and Black Role Models