Dancing to history’s tune with Taylorsville Dance Company
Nov 07, 2018 04:08PM
● By Jana Klopsch
The piece titled “The Different Sides of War” began with an upbeat 1940s hit and ended with sounds of WWII combat. (Jet Burnham/City Journals)
By Jet Burnham | [email protected]
Taylorsville High School Dance Company members are learning more than dance moves. Through cross-curricular choreography assignments, they explore topics of science, literature and history.
“They learn how to think creatively about a subject they are learning in school and communicate it through movement,” said THS Dance Educator Katherine Call.
For this year’s fall concert, held October 3–4, Call challenged her dance company students to choreograph their pieces with the theme of “Sounds from the Past.”
“I wanted to broaden beyond the idea of just music because there are all sorts of sounds from history—it doesn’t have to be a song,” she said.
Some students created pieces set to music from a specific time period in history but others challenged themselves to work with sounds of famous speeches or even atonal noises.
One group of students choreographed a dance to represent different perspectives of WWII. It began with “Boogie Woogie Bugle Boy,” a popular, upbeat song from the 1940s and then transformed into the sounds of guns and artillery.
Senior Alizah Kennedy performed in a verbal piece, created by guest choreographer Sara Yanney for THS’s competition piece at the Shakespearean Festival. The trio of dancers did not use any music but recited lines from Shakespeare as they danced.
Call said this trend—incorporating speech into contemporary dance pieces—is common in college and professional dance companies.
“You don’t usually see it at the high school level because it does take a certain level of mature artistry,” said Call. “I was really excited those kids took it on and pulled it off because it was a challenge for them.”
Alizah said a lot of practice was required to time the physical moves to the words.
“We didn’t have any set counts, so we had to basically rely on each other,” she said. She also said they had to practice diction, projection and pronunciation of their lines—skills they usually don’t use in dance.
Alizah also performed in a piece titled MLK, set to a recording of Robert Kennedy’s announcement of Martin Luther King’s assassination. She said her group was inspired by the energy of the moving speech.
“We had to really feel each other and feel each other’s energy as we performed it,” she said. One dancer couldn’t hold back tears, as the emotion of the piece overwhelmed her.
Sierra Holt, a sophomore who helped choreograph the MLK piece, said listening to the speech and working to express its message through dance, helped her gain an appreciation of its historical impact.
“Lots of people were affected by Martin Luther King dying,” she said. “I learned that so many more people cared than I actually thought.”
Call regularly assigns dancers to find inspiration for their performance pieces from other school subjects, helping them to develop a deeper understanding of topics through physical expression.
Last year’s spring concert featured science as the theme. It inspired a chemistry student to create a dance about chemical reactions. Each dancer represented a specific atom that, by their movement and interaction, demonstrated their relationships and reactions to one another.
Dancers in a piece about lasers mimicked the beam’s characteristics, only moving in a straight line until they were refracted in another direction.
Call said next year’s spring concert theme will be literature.
She said she might attempt a mathematical theme next, since dance already uses math in rhythm and counting. Other math skills inherent to dance are problem solving and improvisation that dancers use when choreographing or reacting to other dancers and their environment.
Call believes dancers can apply the skills they learn to other aspects of their students’ lives. She helps her students apply these lessons to times in their lives when they have to “wing it” or find a solution to a challenge they are facing.
“Dance gets them thinking creatively and applying kinesthetic learning to creative problem solving,” she said.