"Taking students to the artsA two-year-old group hopes to tie drama, dance to the curriculum."
June 9, 2008 · Updated 3:44 PM
"Fifth and sixth grade students were bused to a performance at the Playhouse last week, capping the second year of a program to integrate drama and dance into Sonoji Sakai Intermediate School.Students attending the performance fell silent as Susan Thompson appeared onstage.Tall and stately, Bainbridge Dance Center director Thompson was a commanding stage presence; the students seemed riveted.We're doing a dance called Flight, Thompson said, but before we do it, I'm going to tell you how the dance got made up.As the curtains open, pretend you're looking into my head. I put one beautiful dancer onstage in my head and I watch what she does. The advanced students' repertory filed quietly onstage, white silky pants and tops rippling in the cool blue light. Thompson proved to the audience that even a single word could become a dance by reciting verbatim dictionary definitions of flight - a flock of things passing through the air, a company of angels, a swift passage of time - explaining her choice of movement for each definition, as the repertory danced to illustrate. Dancers then performed the unannotated version of Flight, viewed by an audience better able to understand the nuts and bolts of creative process.The event was sponsored by the Bainbridge Island Arts Education Community Consortium - an alliance of island arts organizations with a mission to bring dance and drama into the schools and to integrate the arts into the academic curricula. Now in its second year, the consortium is refining and expanding its program.Sakai teachers said they felt the dance performance placed in context dance movements the students had been learning all year in physical education classes - better tying the dance component into the classroom.They were unanimous in preferring this year's Playhouse performance to last year's school venue.First implemented at Sakai in 1999, when arts leaders and Bainbridge Island Arts and Humanities Council executive director Nancy Frey applied for new Washington State Arts Commission funding, the program will expand next year to include K-6 students, according to Mary Louise Ott, coordinator. We've matured since last year, Ott said. We kind of imposed on Sakai what we thought they should have. In response to teacher's feedback, we're moving to a bottom-up model, rather than top-down. The consortium will make training available to K-6 teachers in August, so they will be prepared select from a menu what they bring to the classroom in 2001-2002. The consortium is asking for twice the money it did last year, but Ott believes that the consortium is likely to be funded.Since the outset, grant monies have been matched with community money. The Sakai PTO has been a supporter, along with private donors. After about five years, community funding sources must take over the WSAC role. Ott, who has been with the consortium from the first meeting, contrasts the current drive to integrate arts into the schools to the message she got as a student that the arts were separate and extra.My personal passion is that everyone can draw, dance, make music and art, Ott said, You don't have to be perfect at it to enjoy it. "