It is now my third year with Flamingo Park, teaching dance to the children through Arts For Learning’s after-school residency program. I’ve grown quite attached to the staff, facility, and especially the children that take my classes. No matter the day I have had by the time I arrive for my sessions at Flamingo Park, I leave smiling and feeling like I “really did something”.
This year, we have begun studying for our performance coming in several weeks. I say studying because everything we do has a learning process and integration period. There is no such thing as “just learn the steps” when it comes to Arts For Learning programs. Everything has to connect to the larger picture of education and understanding of the environment. That is what makes my job so fulfilling! So, the children in Kindergarten and first grade have begun to learn that the environment surrounding us is unique and rich with a diversity of plants and animals. They interpret these diverse species and the way they interact through creative movement and given choreography. Meanwhile, the older group (2nd and 3rd grade) have memorized Native American myths and learned some basic Seminole vocabulary words, which becomes a performance through dance-theater and narration.
I love those moments where you know you are doing something right; those times when my class is so engaging that even the coaches have to join. Recently my class was ending, when the other children at Flamingo Park entered the room to begin the next activity of the day. We were finishing up a movement exercise so the others sat off to the side to watch television. They ended up becoming so riveted with the class that they forget to watch the television program that was turned on for them. Afterwards they all began to play the movement game as the T.V. went on un-noticed. The staff was really impressed and made me feel extra proud that day!
But by far, the best days are when the students become the teachers. My girls never stop amazing me with their brightness and innovation. I feel more like a facilitator than an instructor sometimes. For example, two weeks ago one of my students in the older class, Amira, wanted to tell us how to count from 1-10 in Arabic- which she did. We all really wanted to remember so we played a game of adding on movement sequentially to make a phrase. Each person was assigned one number and told to come up with a movement that simulated the sound of the word (the way to say 4 sounded like “beard” in Spanish, so she created a gesture of stroking her goatee) which we then strung together to make a choreographic phrase. I left proud of my students and realizing that they taught me something that day. This process worked so well that the girls counted from one to ten in Arabic for me in my last class.
I feel very privileged to be a stable presence for my girls at Flamingo Park. I have gotten to know them so well and have been able to witness their growth and maturity through out the process of my class year after year. There are some girls that were completely unresponsive when they began which are now leaders in the class. Alexandra, who was written off by the other coaches as being “special” and therefore ignored most of the time, used to not participate in the classes or performances. This year she is one of my leaders, participates in every class from beginning to end and is excited to perform in the upcoming showcase. She is so dear to me. I have had to give her extreme attention and nurturing, coupled with stern ultimatums and incentives to secure her co-operation. Her interest has gone from zero, to only being by my side, to having friends in the class, to explaining and leading class exercises to the kindergarteners. Don’t get me wrong, everyday is not perfect and she still requires more attention than others, but knowing that I don’t have to hear her cry because she can’t bring herself to dance with us anymore is the greatest joys of my residency.
I’m greatly looking forward to the upcoming performance. We have a lot more work to do and I enter every class with an open mind. I know my girls are just as important in forming the show as myself. I am pleased to learn and teach adaptability and creativity with them. How many people get to say that they can’t wait to go to work on Monday?
Originally from Upstate New York, Allisen Learnard moved to South Florida 11 yrs ago and received her BA in Dance with a focus in Psychology from FIU in the Spring of 2006. A professional performer of an eclectic range that mirrors Miami’s rich tapestry of culture, Allisen has been a principle dancer and/or featured performer in many companies, including The Binti Drum and Dance Ensemble, Rhythmic Rapture, Ballet E’Toile, Animate Objects Physical Theater and Momentum Dance Company. She’s especially inspired by the folk origins of tap dance, a medium where her creative voice finds unique expression, having soaked in this American-based culture from the age of five. Allisen’s proud to have danced along side such prominent hoofers as Jane Goldberg, Bill Evans and Miami’s own Katherine Kramer. She has been a teaching artist with A4L/Miami since 2008.