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
By Kate Feinberg Robins
Una Transición Suave
Find Your Center transicionó suavemente de clases en nuestra escuela a clases virtuales apenas el Gobernador Inslee anunció las clausuras de las escuelas de Washington el día 13 de marzo. Para lunes 16 ya estábamos enseñando todas nuestras clases en sus horarios programados, conectándonos virtualmente con nuestros estudiantes desde nuestro nuevamente configurado “estudio en casa.” Desde el principio hemos tenido un salón virtual seguro, monitoreado para que no entre nadie que no esté inscrito en la clase. Nunca hemos compartido fotos o videos de casas ajenas y no lo haremos sin permiso explícito.
Durante estas dos semanas, hemos entregado la misma instrucción de alta calidad en grupos pequeños que nuestros estudiantes nos han llegado a esperar, a través de las reuniones en línea. Aunque no podemos ofrecer nuestro estudio espacioso, piso de baile profesional, barras de ballet y bolsa de patadas, hemos aprovechado de la oportunidad de enseñar a nuestros estudiantes cómo practicar en sus propios espacios en sus casas.
Nuestras clases siguen siendo interactivas, respondiendo y adaptándanos a las necesidades de cada estudiante en cada clase. Hemos creado coreografía colaborativa en Ballet para Niños, corregido la técnica de nuestros estudiantes a través de conversaciones en video, compartido letras de canciones en português en nuestra pizarra virtual para Música de Capoeira, y sobre todo disfrutado de bailar, mover, cantar y estar juntos.
Seguimos enseñando el mismo programa de estudios que ofrecimos en nuestro estudio (lo que se puede ver en nuestras descripciones de clases en www.FindYourCenterPasco.com/classes). Seguimos registrando el desarrollo de habilidades de cada estudiante a través del portal estudiantil en línea, preparando las presentaciones estudiantiles para el verano, y personalizando nuestra instrucción para cada estudiante y cada grupo.
Agradecemos a nuestros estudiantes y familias por su colaboración en esta transición. Mantener nuestro horario regular de clases nos ha permitido a nosotros y a nuestros estudiantes a encontrar estabilidad en nuestras vidas cotidianas durante tiempos de mucha inseguridad. Cada día anticipamos la hora en que podemos ver y trabajar con nuestros estudiantes, y esperamos seguir viéndoles por muchos días que vienen.
Bienvenidos a Nuevos Alumnos Cercas y Lejanos
Mientras la circunstancias actuales han necesitado que algunas familias salieran de nuestra escuela hasta poder reunirnos nuevamente cara a cara, también hemos podido dar la bienvenida a nuevos estudiantes en nuestro salón virtual.
Nuestras inscripciones siempre son mes a mes y abiertas durante todo el año. Estudiantes nuevos se pueden juntar en cualquier momento inscribiéndose en el sitio web www.FindYourCenterPasco.com.
Esperamos que esto sea una oportunidad para reconectar con antiguos estudiantes que ya no viven en el área Tri-Cities, con seguidores de Find Your Center que viven lejos, y con cualquiera que no haya podido juntarse a nuestras clases en persona. Una vez que podamos volver a tener las clases regulares en nuestro estudio, nos comunicaremos con los alumnos de distancia para retirarse de las clases, o para seguir enseñándoles a través de secciones en línea.
Nuestras descripciones de clases, horarios y precios se pueden encontrar en www.FindYourCenterPasco.com/classes.
Mirando Hacia Adelante
Tenemos varios talleres y presentaciones programadas para este verano y otoño. Manténte al tanto para las fechas y detalles. Esperamos tener a todos de vuelta en nuestro estudio para la Presentación Estudiantil de Verano en junio. Siempre hemos hecho presentaciones simples, así que mientras podamos juntarnos, ¡el espectáculo seguirá!
Por mientras, necesitamos seguir pagando la renta para poder tener un estudio a donde podremos volver. Hemos estado abiertos por poco más de dos años, y dependemos de los pagos mensuales de los estudiantes para sostener nuestra escuela. Tenemos una próspera comunidad de estudiantes que se han juntado para seguir aprendiendo y entrenando en línea, y esperamos que juntos podremos superar esta situación y regresar a nuestro estudio antes de que pase mucho tiempo.
Sin importar si te juntes o no a las clases de Find Your Center, recomendamos que tomes un poco de tiempo cada día para centrarte entre medio de los cambios diarios y la inseguridad que todos estamos experimentando. Haz ejercicio, medita, crea arte—haz lo que tú necesitas para poder enfocar en tu propio bienestar.
Find Your Center ofrece recursos gratis en línea a través de nuestro canal de YouTube (Find Your Center - Pasco, WA on YouTube), página de Facebook (facebook.com/FindYourCenterPasco) y blog (www.FindYourCenterPasco.com/blog). Puedes utilizar estos recursos para entrenar solo, mirar espectáculos inspiradoras, leer sobre la historia y las teorías de aprendizaje, encontrar recursos recomendados para la meditación, libros empoderadores para niños y más.
También recomendamos que tomes un poco de tiempo sin pantallas y conexiones virtuales para estar presente contigo mismo y con los que viven en tu casa. Para poder estar presente en nuestras comunidades, nuestras naciones y nuestro mundo, es necesario mantenernos centrados y sanos.
Entre medio de las luchas existen grandes oportunidades—de surgir como una sociedad más unida y compasiva; disfrutar de la compañia de las personas con las que vivimos; reconectar con los amigos cercas y lejanos. Hasta las oportunidades más cotidianas—de encontrar maneras de seguir bailando y jugando capoeira en los espacios pequeños de nuestras casas—pueden ser justo lo que necesitamos para poder tomar un descanso, centrarnos y resurgir listos para dirigirnos a los desafíos sin precedente que todos estamos enfrentando juntos en este momento.
By Kate Feinberg Robins
A Smooth Transition
Find Your Center transitioned smoothly from in-person to online classes as soon as Governor Inslee announced statewide school closures on March 13. By Monday, March 16 we were holding all of our classes at their regularly scheduled times, connecting with students virtually from our newly set-up home studio. From the beginning we've had a secure virtual classroom, monitoring our door so that only enrolled students can enter. We have never shared photos or videos of other people's houses and will not do so without explicit permission.
Over the past two weeks, we have delivered the same high quality, small group instruction through our online meetings that students have come to expect from us. While we can't offer our spacious studio, sprung marley floor, ballet barres and kick bag, we have been taking advantage of the opportunity to teach students how to practice in their own spaces at home.
Our classes continue to be interactive, responding and adapting to the needs of each student in each class. We've created collaborative choreography in Children's Ballet, corrected students' technique through video chat, shared Portuguese lyrics on our virtual white board for Capoeira Music, and overall enjoyed dancing, moving, singing, and being together.
We're continuing to teach the same curricula that we offered in our studio (outlined in our class descriptions at www.FindYourCenterPasco.com/classes). We continue to track students' skill development through our online student portal, to prepare for summer presentations, and to personalize our instruction for each individual student and each group meeting.
We would like to thank our students and families for helping to make this transition smooth. Maintaining our regular class schedule has enabled us and our students to find stability in our daily lives during uncertain times. Each day, we look forward to seeing and working with our students, and we hope to continue for many days to come!
Welcoming New Students Near and Far
While the current circumstances have led some families to withdraw until we are able to meet again in person, we have also been happy to welcome new students into our virtual classroom.
Our enrollment is always month to month and open year-round. New students can join at any time by signing up at www.FindYourCenterPasco.com.
We hope this will be an opportunity to reconnect with past students who no longer live in the Tri-Cities area, with Find Your Center fans who live far away, and with anyone who has been unable to join our classes in person. Once we are able to move regular classes back into our studio, we'll touch base with our distance learners to either unenroll or continue teaching online-only sections of some of our classes.
Class descriptions, schedules, and tuition rates can be found at www.FindYourCenterPasco.com/classes.
We have several workshops and presentations planned for this summer and fall. Stay tuned for dates and details. We hope to have everyone back in the studio for our Summer Student Performance in June. We have always kept our student performances simple, so as long as we are able to get together, the show will go on!
In the meantime, we do need to continue paying rent in order to have a studio to go back to. We have been in business for just over two years now, and we count on monthly tuition payments for our school to be self-supporting. We have a thriving community of students who have come together to continue learning and training online, and we hope that together we'll get through this and return to our studio before too long.
Whether or not you join Find Your Center classes, we urge you to take some time each day to center yourself in the midst of the daily changes and uncertainty that we are all experiencing. Exercise, meditate, create art—do what you need to do to focus on your own wellness.
Find Your Center offers free online resources through our YouTube channel (Find Your Center - Pasco, WA on YouTube), Facebook page (facebook.com/FindYourCenterPasco), and blog (www.FindYourCenterPasco.com/blog). You can use these to train on your own, watch inspirational performances, read about history and learning, find recommended resources for meditation, empowering children's books, and more.
We also encourage you to take time away from screens and virtual connections to be present with yourself and those in your household. In order to be there for our communities, our nation(s), and our world, we need to keep ourselves centered and healthy.
In the midst of struggle there are great opportunities— to emerge as a more unified and compassionate society; to enjoy the company of the people we live with; to reconnect with friends near and far. Even the most mundane opportunities—to find ways to keep dancing and playing capoeira in our own small spaces at home—can be just what we need to be able to take a break, center ourselves, and re-emerge ready to address the unprecedented challenges that we are all facing together.
By Kate Feinberg Robins, Ph.D.
At Find Your Center, our teaching is informed by research on learning and movement, as well as our many years of intensive training in the arts that we teach. For the next several blog posts, I'll put on my cultural anthropologist hat to look at some of the research that helps us understand learning, movement, and the history of capoeira.
This post looks at Greg Downey’s 2008 article “Scaffolding Imitation in Capoeira: Physical Education and Enculturation in an Afro-Brazilian Art,” published in American Anthropologist 110:2, pp. 204-213.
Based on research with Mestre João Grande’s Capoeira academy in New York City, anthropologist Greg Downey identified 3 characteristics that set expert Capoeira teachers apart. João Grande spoke little English and his students spoke little Portuguese, yet his teaching was highly effective. How did he do it?
Downey found that Capoeira, like many other forms of physical education, is learned largely through imitation—and that effective learning through imitation requires not just an attentive student, but also an expert teacher. A good teacher facilitates imitation by:
In learning theory these techniques are called “scaffolding,” because the teacher provides extra support for novice students and gradually takes that support away until students can stand on their own (just like the scaffolds used for building construction).
In these videos from Capoeira Vibe, you can see Mestre Parente demonstrating these teaching techniques with the macacão (big monkey) movement. His use of scaffolding makes the Portuguese video easy to follow even if you don’t understand the language!
The teacher concludes the video by demonstrating the movement in context with a partner. In this final demonstration, the macacão is no longer part of a set sequence, no longer carefully positioned and slowed for the student to observe. At this point, the teacher has removed the scaffolding so that more advanced students can imitate freely and perform the movement in context on their own.
Next time you come to class, notice how your capoeira and ballet teachers at Find Your Center place the movements we're teaching in a sequence. Notice how we position ourselves, our students, and the mirrors so that you can see from various angles. And notice how we break down each movement into its component parts. If you're confused about something, ask us: How would this movement be combined with others? Can I see it from a different angle? Can you slow it down?