The middle school years can be tough. Emotions can be sweeping and relationships can be tentative. It’s a time when students are feeling more grown up, but also are still firmly in childhood. Finding a place of refuge can be difficult. At Rowland Hall, many students are finding that island of confidence in the dance program.
“Middle schoolers are looking for a way to express themselves and to learn more about their own identities,” said Middle School Social-Emotional Counselor Leslie Czerwinski. “Dance is a space where you can show up, be yourself, and process thoughts through movement.”
Students are not only learning how to move, but how to find their voice through movement.
Dance is the largest Arts & Ensembles class in the Middle School. Some students take more than one section of dance each semester because the program is unique and the community is so important to them. While most dance programs start with a foundation in ballet and other Eurocentric traditions, students coming into the Rowland Hall dance program begin with break dancing. Instead of focusing on a straight spine or the proper turnout, students learn how to use gravity and shift their weight. They are not only learning how to move, but how to find their voice through movement. And once students find their voice, explained Co-Director of Dance Sofia Gorder, training becomes fun.
“They are using rhythm and music. It’s a language they understand,” said Sofia. “Then, later, they can go on and learn ballet and other techniques so that they have their voice but also the training to support that voice.”
Students take part in every aspect of creating dance pieces: they help in picking the music and costumes, they choreograph the movements, and they work together to compose the message and mood they want to convey. “Sofia gives us a lot of freedom with choreography,” said dance student Gabrielle H. “For Platform [the 2022 dance concert] we did an ocean dance as a group and we all got to contribute in some way.”
Collaboration helps build a strong interpersonal community among the dancers. The studio becomes a place where they can express themselves without fear of judgment and know their ideas will be taken seriously.That collaboration helps build a strong interpersonal community among the dancers. The studio becomes a place where they can express themselves without fear of judgment and know their ideas will be taken seriously. “It’s a time to not really worry about things and just do what I love,” said dancer Meg H. “I like how everyone has their own style and has different movements that they like to do depending on their personalities.”
Discovering these differences and how to make them work together is another important aspect of the program. Sofia explained that part of the process is discovering how the same movement looks different when done by different people, and that can change the meaning. “Dance is just the platform we use to do the important work of understanding ourselves and the people around us,” she said.
While the artistic and personal discoveries are essential, some students enjoy the dance program simply for its physicality—and because it’s fun. It’s a time to move and share energy with others in a welcoming environment. “It’s a strong physical space to express yourself,” said dancer Jack G. “You feel amazing when you finally master something and when you finish a show you feel relief.”
No matter what they are seeking, Middle School students appear to be finding it in dance. “Regardless of one’s background, everyone can find joy in moving to music,” said Middle School Principal Pam Smith. “Our program can help students find joy, build their self-confidence, and connect with other members of our community.”