Tag: Community Arts

Guide to Dance Education in America

Last week while at the National Dance Education Organization Conference, I realized we attendees were just a sliver of dance education and were not talking about the field and its actual scope. Many tracks were not present. In addition, we never addressed the issue that students cross and combine tracks; I talked to some of the students of the public school programs, and found out that roughly 50% of them were also taking classes at private studios, interested in commercial as well as concert dance, and wanted to choreograph works that expressed their complex identities and experiences.

What I am about to present may seem a dangerous exercise in stereotyping, but the intent is actually the opposite. As generalizing as this may be, I hope to bring an awareness of entry points and barriers in the field, and I encourage you to clarify what you see as the value & weaknesses of all pathways in dance education. I hope my inaccuracies provoke good dialogue.

As dance educators, we will encounter students on all different tracks and curved roads. We cannot and should not dismiss an arm of our sector just because we disagree with it, or don’t understand it. Millions of children in this country are dancing; they and their teachers all have merit.


TRACK ONE: #smalltownbigdreams


Photo by Flickr users, Jim Mullhaupt and Andrew Dallos

Photo by Flickr users, Jim Mullhaupt and Andrew Dallos

Age 3, Miss Molly’s Dance Dynamics once a week for tap and pre-ballet.

Age 6, Miss Molly’s Dance Dynamics twice a week for tap, ballet, jazz, contemporary, tumbling.

Age 7, at Star Systems in the nearest big city, your first competition, you receive Platinum scores and win your category, placing 3rd overall solo for your age bracket. Two weeks later…at Headliners, you are 1st place Overall!!! And the Petite Miss Headliner Regional Title Winner!!!

Age 12, go undefeated in all regional competitions as well as nationals, add on special teachers and physical therapy.

Age 14, while your parents budget for the entry fees, costumes, makeup, shoes, private lessons and travel costs, you learn new styles and combinations on YouTube (SYTYCD, DM).

Age 16, start working on audition skills, headshots, etc.

Age 18, audition and work for cruiselines, music videos, Las Vegas shows, amusement parks, professional sports teams, Rockettes, and more.

Age 22, major in chemistry and donate the trophies and costumes to charity.

Age 26, work locally and, as a secondary job, return to Miss Molly’s Dance Dynamics as a teacher.

Age 29, join Headliners organization as a judge, touring the country.


TRACK TWO: #gottalovethestandards


Photos by Flickr users, alyssa.becker and The Arts at USF

Photos by Flickr users, alyssa.becker and The Arts at USF

Pre-school, dance routine for the school holiday show, where dad says you were the best.

2nd Grade, creative movement in school, exploring non-locomotor/axial movements, locomotor movements and pathways to create a sequence with a beginning, middle, and an end based on weather patterns. View a dance film and relate it to literature.

5th grade, dance integrated into your math class and now, with it in your body, math makes more sense.

Age 13, audition into the public high school dance company, where you dance nearly every school day and learn about use of weight in transitions, dance history, composition, anatomy, world dances, good health habits in dance, constructive criticism, and more. Start classes at a private studio as well.

Age 16, consider a dance career.

Age 17, attend Monroe Community College and transfer to the state university.

Age 20, dance with a local company while pursuing a nursing career and teaching Zumba classes.

Age 24, start to offer dance workshops for seniors and ongoing classes for children.


TRACK THREE A: #respectthebun


Photos by Flickr users, Kymberly Janisch and Kent G Becker

Photos by Flickr users, Kymberly Janisch and Kent G Becker

Age 3, Miss Molly’s Dance Dynamics once a week for tap and pre-ballet.

Age 6, change to the Academy of Ballet in the next town over in order to have more focus on ballet.

Age 14, attend pricey summer intensives for advanced pointe and partnering (on scholarship but still ponying up for related costs), meet Misty Copeland in person.

Age 17, train, train, train, audition for apprenticeships.

Age 20, become ensemble member of a regional ballet company, living out your dream.

Age 28, retire from professional dance and get your degree in engineering.


TRACK THREE B: #respecttheform


Photos by Flickr users, Aesthir and fsiddi

Photos by Flickr users, Aesthir and fsiddi

Age 11, excel in track & field.

Age 13, you have to take a dance class in school and realize you love it, work hard and take classes wherever you can.

Age 18, major in dance in college, studying Cunningham, Graham, Horton, somatic practices, dance history, kinesiology, composition, dance teaching, and more. Wonder why there are labels such as traditional, folkloric, and ethnic.

Age 22, build a network of friends in professional modern dance, Butoh, and performance art in the region.

Age 26, become a company member of a midsize dance company, living out your dream but paying back your student loans.

Age 28, start to choreograph and produce your own work questioning what is classic, what is colonial.

Age 30, MFA

Age 33, get hired for a teaching position at Benefits University and start talking about that family you want.

Age 37, get Laban and CMA certified, pursue a tenured position.


TRACK FOUR: #broadwaybaby


Photo by Flickr users, Aundrea Arias and Felippe Paiva

Photo by Flickr users, Aundrea Arias and Felippe Paiva

Age 3, Miss Molly’s Dance Dynamics once a week for tap and pre-ballet.

Age 6, Miss Molly’s Dance Dynamics three times per week for tap, ballet, jazz/musical theatre and tumbling.

Age 10, get serious about acting and voice lessons.

Age 16, star in your high school’s production of 42nd Street.

Age 18, take workshops on auditioning tips, consider getting an agent.

Age 20, star in your university’s production of Brigadoon.

Age 22, circles of showcases, auditions, agents, moving apartments.

Age 26, land a role in Thoroughly Modern Millie on Broadway, join the union.

Age 29, land a role in the touring production of Hedwig and the Angry Inch. but your family is not sure what to make of it.


TRACK FIVE: #borntodance


Photos by Flickr users, T 13 and Contemporary Dance Theater

Photos by Flickr users, T 13 and Contemporary Dance Theater

Age 3, show off your moves at the family picnic and mom puts you on YouTube.

Age 6, start taking classes from Benny at the community center in animation, locking, b-boying, house, and more.

Age 12, your crew competes at VIBE XX.

Age 17, participate in your first real cypher.

Age 20, get a job at a local performance venue, teach on the side, start a family.

Age 25, land a few huge but short gigs around the US including dancing on the Grammies and an Off-Broadway fundraiser.

Age 27, dance with Rennie Harris RHAW and tour the country and 3 countries.

Age 30, take one year to tour judging dance competitions / teaching at conventions as the “hip hop” representative.

Age 31, return to teach at the community center.

Age 36, build your own organization.


TRACK FIVE: #danceislife


Photos by Flickr users, mara and Maurice Pirotte

Photos by Flickr users, mara and Maurice Pirotte

Age 3, Miss Molly’s Dance Dynamics once a week for a year of tap and pre-ballet.

Age 6, undergo a dose of trauma (disease, war, jail, loss of a parent, abuse, disempowerment, poverty, violence, homelessness…)

Age 12, meet a teaching artist who “gets you” as you struggle with your identity as a Latino-Arab person coming of age in contemporary America.

Age 18, consider getting your minor in dance but decide to go for the B.A. program. Create your own pieces for the student choreography concerts.

Age 20, choreograph for local and regional festivals.

Age 28, be selected for individual artist awards, small grants, and residencies.

Age 33, consider filing for 501c3 status and offer workshops for young people in the area.


TRACK SIX: #danceasheritage


Photos by Flickr users, David Yu and Victoria Pickering

Photos by Flickr users, David Yu and Victoria Pickering

Age 6, auntie gets you a spot in the Chinese American Community Center Folk Dance Troupe.

Age 12, want to quit but  friend convinces you to keep going,

Age 19, you win the Miss Chinatown USA Pageant while double majoring in philosophy/economics.

Age 25, tour the world as the member of an “ethnic dance” company.

Age 28, teach at the Chinese American Community Center when you have time in your busy schedule.


There are several other important tracks not explored here, including the domains of recreational and park district programs, dance for athletes, praise and liturgical dancers, ballroom dancers, tappers, pow-wow dancers, steppers, vogue dancers, burlesque and go-go performers, carnival/samba dancers, improvisers, swing dancers, bellydancers, flamenco artists, Mexican folkloric dancers, Bharatanatyam dancers, cloggers, Irish step dancers, non-dance choreographies, and so many more.

Dance is everywhere. Dancers in some of these tracks swim in a pool of popularity and dollars. Others swim in waters of relevance and reciprocity. Some value competition, others collaboration. At the end of the day, we are dancing circles around one another and have to find a way to move together towards change and progress.


What We Can Do to Help Syria

I was in college during the genocides in Rwanda and Bosnia. As a theatre major/dance minor at a liberal arts school who was admittedly immersed in herself, in Millikin-world,  in a strong education and new ways of thinking, I barely remember the news. Class assignments and rehearsals and flirting and friendships all took priority of my consciousness. The closest I got to thinking deeply about others and about being a global citizen was when I took Ethics with Dr. Money. I loved the class discussions about abortion, corporal punishment and more…  we did not, however, talk about wars and the U.S.’s indirect or direct contributions to  conflicts such as Iraq, nor our responsibility to help. No class or professor or classmate even mentioned Bosnia, Rwanda, Palestine, Northern Ireland, Sudan…; if they did, I wasn’t listening.

I have no defense. Being an artist (or a student, or both) is no excuse for being completely arts-absorbed, deaf to the world.

Decades later when I read “A Problem from Hell”: America and the Age of Genocide by Samantha Power and traveled to Bosnia, and also Occupied Palestinian Territories, and Northern Ireland, I was devasted by how much was happening in the 1990s that I had been unaware of at the time. I didn’t even know when I was party to gentrification or privilege. I didn’t even see what was happening on the other side of the river in Saginaw, MI.

Well, now one big world crises is Syria. And it is serious. It is devasting. And I hope we as artists are listening.



Photo by Mohamed Radwan


According to the UN and Amnesty International

  • More than 50% of Syria’s population is currently displaced.
  • Around 250,000 people have been killed and 13.5 million people are in urgent need of humanitarian assistance inside Syria.
  • One-in-every-two of those crossing the Mediterranean this year – half a million people – were Syrians escaping the conflict in their country.
  • While waiting out the long resettlement application process, more than 4.5 million refugees from Syria are in just five countries: Turkey, Lebanon, Jordan, Iraq and Egypt.
  • Funding shortages mean that the most vulnerable Syrian refugees in Lebanon receive just US$0.70 cent a day for food assistance, well below the UN’s poverty line of US$1.90.
  • The United States has approved only around 2,500 Syrian refugees for resettlement here, mostly women and children whose fathers and older brothers are still in process and living abroad.
  • Shamefully, the high-income countries of Russia, Japan, Singapore, South Korea, Qatar, United Arab Emirates, Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, and Bahrain have offered zero resettlement places.

The U.S. could set a better example by welcoming more refugees and also strongarming the leaders of the high-income countries mentioned to do something.

We, as the artist community, might not be rich and may be (like me) unemployed or underemployed, but we are wealthy in potential contributions of another kind.


Photo by Mohamed Radwan

Photo by Mohamed Radwan


In Chicago, there are 25 refugee families; my friend and I found out during a holiday event for the cause. Their services are managed by Catholic Charities of the Archdiocese of Chicago and the Syrian Community Network (a small, local nonprofit organization run by an amazing woman and her mother). You can read example stories of the families on their website. We asked what they needed: English tutoring, quarters for laundry, gift cards for groceries, and feeling welcome among their new neighbors, new homes.

After some further investigation, I found out the families live within walking distance of the small dance studio where I used to teach for nearly a decade and continue to sub. I love this school. They said yes right away to my proposal of hosting the Syrian refugees in the studio.

I have volunteered to offer a series of English language learning dance workshops (free of charge) in this space (also donated) where the children and their parents will mingle with other dance parents (mostly Jewish and Christian), as well as to collaborate on a community performance opportunity in June.


Photo by Mohamed Radwan

Photo by Mohamed Radwan

We started last week and it was amazing.

One of the students I supported in Egypt is now in Chicago getting his masters as a Fulbrighter; he is volunteering to help with translation and facilitation during the workshops.  Other guest teachers and facilitators have also signed on to volunteer.

We just need a little help.

Photo by Mohamed Radwan

Photo by Mohamed Radwan

One of my intentions is to make the experience as authentic as possible. I want the workshops and performance to be as close to what the paying students get. The Syrian refugees are real dancers and I want to treat them as such, Although we incorporate certain social-emotional skills and language goals for these particular students, we provide them disciplined dance classes in ballet and jazz, fused with the assets of their traditional Syrian dances and culture. Sweaters and jeans won’t do.

Plus, I cannot fathom the visual of all the other dance students in polished outfits while the “poor refugees” are on stage in t-shirts and socks.

What we need…

  • 10 sets of skirted leotards and tights for the younger girls (in process)
  • 5 sets of long-sleeve leotards, long ballet skirts, and dark tights for the older girls – size adult S, M
  • 15 sets of boys’ white or black t-shirts and black dance pants – child S, M, L
  • Girls’ and boys’ jazz and ballet shoes in a range of sizes
  • Girls’ and boys’ costumes (in matching sets of 3+) or a connection to a costume company who could donate matching costumes for the entire group
  • Monetary donations or gift cards for the volunteers and the families

Donations can be sent to my name at Performing Arts Limited, 2740 W. Touhy Ave., Chicago, IL 60645.

Photo by Mohamed Radwan

Photo by Mohamed Radwan

If you can, I ask you to also look for the refugee communities in your area and see what they need. Welcome them into your dance, music, theatre, and visual arts worlds. Look into the possibility of bringing ourselves as artists to refugee camps. At the very least, continue to open our ears to crises and to be a voice in the face of fear and Trumped policy.

Photo by Mohamed Radwan

Photo by Mohamed Radwan

My 2016 Resources for Social Practice Artists

In the next two weeks, I will be speaking publicly, and I wanted to invite you all to those events, but I also offer you a few of my current resources for this work.

First, you are cordially invited to Hope College and SUNY Purchase. Both events are free and open to the public.

PicMonkey Collage

Hope College 1/14 and SUNY Purchase 1/20


Hope College in Holland, MI

“Art in the Real World” A Conversation with Shawn Renee Lent

Thursday, January 14, 2016 / 3:00pm-4:30pm, Jack Miller Recital Hall

From a childhood cancer hospital to the scene of a shooting, from post-war Bosnia to revolutionary Egypt, hear real stories of the power of the performing arts in our world. Shawn Lent will share her experiences on the ground and bring you inspiration and resources for doing this work. Sponsored by: The Departments of Dance, Art & Art History, Music, Theatre, & the Dean of Arts & Humanities

Slides available here.


State University of New York (SUNY) in Purchase, NY


Wednesday, January 20, 2016  / 2:30 – 6 pm, Dance Theatre Lab, Dance Building

The School of Arts at Purchase College is thrilled to present a one-day collaborative workshop, conversation, and performance program that deals with the intersection of dance, movement, social justice, and psychology. This project, funded by SUNY’s Network of Excellence, introduces work by a variety of artists, practitioners, researchers and theorists across various SUNY campuses and abroad. MOVEMENT/MOVEMENTS will feature examples and inquiries on how engagement in body-based arts can positively impact peace, conflict resolution and prevention, and diplomacy. Throughout the session students from the School of the Arts will provide a real-time visualization of the language and concepts introduced by the speakers.  Featuring: Doug Varone, Shawn Lent, Jonathan Hollander,  Chris Robbins, Roman Baca, Andrew Fitz Gibbon, Rachel Owens, Christina Merilees, and Melanie Gambino.


Now on to the promised resources. I will stick to what is most useful and inspiring to me currently. You will note that I am most interested in social practice and community-engaged dance, with a focus in intercultural, inter-group and international work. This is an acknowledged departure from teaching artistry in both the arts integration and community-based arts worlds. I also do not consider my practice dance therapy and do not offer resources in those areas, but what I do offer will hopefully be helpful to some of you out there. It is not comprehensive but is a follow-up to a previous post. Please feel free to add additional links and resources in the reply section below.  I will offer resources in the following categories:

  • Undergraduate Programs
  • Graduate Degree, Professional and Certificate Programs
  • Fellowships, Jobs/Internships, Volunteer Opportunities and Residencies
  • Groups, Initiatives and Organizations
  • Readings, Webinars and MOOCs

Lastly, if you are interested in joining a Facebook group to share opportunities and resources in social practice dance, let me know.


Undergraduate Programs

Performing Arts & Social Justice with a Dance Concentration at University of San Fransisco

Creativity, the Arts, and Social Transformation (CAST) interdisciplinary minor at Brandeis University

Community Arts BFA Major at California College of the Arts

Contextual Practice BFA Major at Carnegie Mellon University


Graduate Degree, Professional and Certificate Programs

Master of Education (M.Ed.) in Community Arts at Lesley University

Master of Arts (M.A.) in Teaching Artistry at Wayne State University (3 years, part-time, low-residency)

Master of Education (M.Ed.) in Arts for Social Change at Simon Fraser University (Canada)

Master of Arts (M.A.) in Art, Education, and Community Practice at NYU Steinhart

Master of Fine Arts (M.F.A.) at University of Maryland cultivating teaching artists.

M.A., M.F.A., and Ph.D. in Performance as Public Practice at The University of Texas at Austin

Master of Arts (M.A.) in Social Practice and Public Forms at California College of the Arts

Master of Arts Management (M.A.M.) in Community Arts Management at University of Oregon

Master of Arts (M.A.) in Socially Engaged Art at NCAD in Dublin, Ireland

Socially Engaged Practice Certificate at Arizona State University

Social Emotional Arts (SEA) Certificate at UCLA

Dancing to Connect Institute (June 15-26 in NYC)

Luna Dance Summer Institute (July 22-29 in Oakland, CA)

Look out for programs at Arizona State University with Liz Lerman now there looking at the arts and the environment, arts and equity.


Fellowships, Jobs/Internships, Volunteer Opportunities and Residencies

Next Level, Seeking Hip-Hop Artist-Educators to participate in an international exchange program.

Daniels Spectrum Artist-inResidency for community-engaged professional artists.

A Blade of Grass Fellowship for Socially Engaged Art

Imagining America Page Fellowship for graduate students

Artists Striving to End Poverty (ASTEP) volunteer opportunities

On-the-Move cultural mobility network’s list of residencies.

International Peace & Collaborative Development Network forum listings of jobs, conferences, grants and more.

Idealist volunteer opportunities and job postings.

Design-Your-Own Volunteer Opportunities at your local children’s hospital, veterans’ affairs group, refugee center, homeless shelter, juvenile detention facility, or public or private religious school (insular or divided communities).

Creative Time jobs, internships, fellowships, and volunteer opportunities.

Artslink international grants and fellowships.

Move This World position as a U.S. Trainer

Mladi Info with lists of scholarships, fellowships, conferences etc. mostly in Europe.

Alliance of Artists Communities case study residencies in social practice.

Surdna Foundation grants for artists engaging in social change (not currently open).

U.S. Fulbright Scholar Program (for artists, faculty, researchers or staff) DUE August 3 – This is the program I did. Let me know if you have questions or want my help reviewing your application!

U.S. Fulbright Student Program (for current masters and PhD students, recent grads, and young professionals in the arts and other fields) DUE Mid-October

U.S. State Department Exchange Opportunities

U.S. State Department Exchange Opportunities


Groups, Initiatives and Organizations

MindLeaps dance – vocational training – youth advancement programming in Rwanda, Guinea, and Bosnia-Herzegovina

(SPAN) Social Practice Artist Network

The International Centre of Art for Social Change

ASC! (Art for Social Change) 

DanceMotion USA

Dancing on the Edge


Readings, Webinars and MOOCs

1/20 Social Justice Funders webinar by Americans for the Arts

Bibliography listings and Glossary for the 2015 Duke MOOC on Public Art

Americans for the Arts’ On-Demand Webinars including Arts Deployed and Current Trends in Public Art & Social Practice

1/18 Creative Capital: Values-Based Goal Setting

4 Questions for Artists Working in Social Justice

On Social Practice and Performance by Andy Horwitz.

Who Gets to Perform? The Ethics and Aesthetics of Social Practice by Simon Dove

Arts-based Conflict Resolution, an interview with Michelle le Baron.

Acting Together documentary and toolkit (peacebuilding and theatre)

Dancing to Connect’s Cultural Diplomacy Toolkit

Imagining America publications, case studies, research, blog and Public journal

Dancer Citizen online scholarly journal.

ASC! (Art for Social Change) resource articles and publications.

50 Titles, 50 Perspectives: A Reader’s Guide to Art + Social Practice by Broken City Lab.

Dance, Human Rights, and Social Justice: Dignity in Motion by Naomi Jackson.

Movement as Cultural Diplomacy at Battery Dance

Arts in the Public Interest Archives.

Outside the Citadel, Social Practice Art Is Intended to Nurture (New York Times) by Randy Kennedy.

How the Art of Social Practice is Changing the World, One Row House at a Time by Carolina A. Miranda.

Alliance of Artists Communities resource list.

Free PDF Books on Race, Gender, Sexuality, Class and Culture

Education is Performance Art

Am I a Dancer Who Gave Up? by Shawn Lent (Huffington Post).

Open Windows to Social Practice Arts (33 links). Enjoy!

Social practice is making it big. Ever since I posted Am I a Dancer Who Gave Up? and the follow-up post, I have not been able to keep up with the response. This sector is not new. But we seem to be just now becoming aware of each other, across arts disciplines, definitions, contexts of working, nationalities…


Dancing patients from 57357 Children’s Cancer Hospital Egypt

You can read about Social Practice Art as defined on Wikipedia, how social practice arts are changing the world, how social practice art is intended to nurture, how social practice art is gentrifying community arts, how social practice art is something else, and how social practice arts need to be looked at critically. Not nearly enough of this dialogue I’ve found involves dance, cultural diplomacy, cross-cultural or multi-religious work in an international context, work in hospitals, areas of conflict, etc. The definition is often visual arts in an urban American context. One of the best articles I’ve read on the subject is by Andy Horwitz, so I will not attempt to recreate what he eloquently details.

Opportunities are listed nearly daily on SPAN a social practice arts network. On-the-Move, Mladi, and Peace & Collaborative Development Network also list potential programs.

But I started to create a list of opportunities in order to organize my own life. And I thought, it might be great to share this.



Dancing patients at 57357 Children’s Cancer Hospital Egypt

Robert Rauschenberg Foundation: Artist as Activist letters of interest due October 13

FIELD, a new on-line, peer-reviewed journal devoted to socially engaged art practice: call for papers critical essays for its inaugural issue, deadline October 15

Americans for the Arts: 2015 Conference proposals due October 20

Surdna Foundation: Artists Engaging in Social Change request for proposals due November 12

Open Engagement: an international conference and platform to support socially engaged art, 2015 conference submissions due November 17

A Blade of Grass: Fellowship for Socially Engaged Art applications due November 24

Ariane de Rothschild (ADR) Fellowship: Social Entrepreneurship & Cross-Cultural Network applications should be due in February

Kala Art Institute: fellowship including social practice applications should be due in April

Caroline Plummer Fellowship in Community Dance (NZ) applications due June 1

Asian Arts Initiative: Philadelphia social practice lab applications should be due in January


But that’s not all…


My students at Easy Talent Academy in Cairo, Egypt


My students at Easy Talent Academy in Cairo, Egypt

Several educational opportunities in dance are opening-up in community dance, dance education, and teaching artistry.

University of Maryland: MFA for Dance Teaching Artists opportunities

University of Roehampton: post-graduate program in Community Dance opportunities

University of Bedfordshire: MA in Community Dance Leadership opportunities

The Foundation for Community Dance in UK opportunities includes educational resources.

Dance and Social Justice at the University of San Francisco opportunities

Many, many more…


Dance as Diplomacy inside the U.S. Embassy Cairo

The educational opportunities in social practice are mostly fine arts based. We could bust these bubbles just by entering them, and thus create a more vibrant web of possibilities.

California College of the Arts: graduate fine arts concentration in social practices and visiting faculty for their Social Practice Arts Workshop opportunities

University of California – Santa Cruz: Social Practice Arts Research Center opportunities

Portland State University: MFA program in Arts and Social Practice opportunities

New York University: Masters program in Art, Education, and Community Practice opportunities

Arizona State University: Herberger Institute Socially Engaged Practice Certificate program opportunities

Carnegie Mellon University: MFA Contextual Practice opportunities


This is in no way a comprehensive or well-representative list. But if it helps someone out there, it was worth it.


Foyer of the Academy of the Arts’ High Institute of Ballet in Cairo, Egypt

In the Dean’s office at the High Institute of Ballet today. I am there to get acquainted with this academy where I have been placed to lecture. My proposal, which won me this Fulbright, was for a project I titled “Artist as Catalyst.” But I soon realize no one is familiar with my proposal or my CV. They think I teach at Columbia University.

I know pretty much nothing of this academy. The website has been under construction all year and I have received little to no response from my e-mail communication. I don’t speak enough Arabic, and the Dean is uncomfortable with English. Turns out he is gracious, productive and joyous.

The office, which had been abuzz with activity of both female and male faculty rushing around negotiating student files, now becomes unusually still and quiet as the Director of Cairo Opera Ballet enters. He is a bit of an aloof and cultured character. I cannot figure him out just yet but am impressed just by the aura. He wears a brown vest and light wash jeans, is gallant yet slim, and when introduced to me, says nothing, kisses the back of my hand, slowly and certainly.

Prestigious. A long tradition of it.

Both the Opera Director and Institute Dean are men in their late 50s. But I’m bad at guessing ages.

I feel awkward and nod my thanks to the hand kiss, whispering some mumbled combination of Assalaam, marhaba, and So happy to meet you meet you. But no one notices my blunder because I have somehow managed to pull it off with a little luck and Chicago charm. Then this man leaves the office with many of the faculty following him.

The Dean and I are now alone in his office and he asks me to sit. He is more relaxed and asks for his colleague, who speaks English, to join us. He asks that someone bring me tea. And when we move from one office to another, someone is asked to carry my tea for me.


One of the many dance studios inside the Institute. A sense of pride and no acknowledgment of the need for repairs. Rumor is a whole new building will be erected in the future.


I learn that the students here at the High Institute of Ballet (in the Cairo suburb of Giza) must pass a difficult exam in order to enroll. The faculty audition 7-year-old children from around the city and country, looking for technical capacity, body shape, and musicality. Students all pay a reasonable tuition; no scholarships or work-study programs exist. Males and females equally eager to enroll.

All students must take 9 years of intense study of classical ballet (Russian method), modern dance (mix of methods), ballet partnering/lifting, music theory, piano, folkloric and historical dances, and dance appreciation, focusing on story ballets. These students are in the dance studio 3 hours a day and then take their academic classes in another part of the building. During my meeting, there was a reference to boys and girls being in separate classes, but I don’t know if I heard wrong.


High Institute of Ballet

At age 15-16, after 9 years of training, some students continue on to undergraduate level (either the choreography track or the more conservative, pure-lecture track in teaching). A select few dancers become graduate students with research and choreographic projects, and perform with the Cairo Opera Ballet or major dance companies across the world.

The students, parents and faculty here are some of the most liberal-dressing and socially open Egyptians I’ve run into so far. There is laughter. The genders mingle in equality and everyone seems to have a bounce in their step.

Except the custodial/janitorial staff. They don’t have the same bounce.

Hallways inside the High Institute of Ballet

When I asked about students cleaning their own studios, the response was pretty much a spit-take. My assumption is that the students think it is someone else’s job and they are used to just waiting for renovation, maybe it’s a class/privilege thing, about liabilities, or maybe there is too much red tape in such a traditional, large, and selective institution.

I got the same sort of spit-take when I asked about bringing non-students from the community here for classes or a community-dance project. Looked to the custodians right away, thinking they should be honored and dancing. But I had the feeling my idea was not ready to be introduced.

I asked about outreach projects and was told their idea of outreach is putting audition notices in the newspaper.

At the end of the day, it sounds like I will be teaching modern for the teens. Then starting in October, offering workshops about whatever community arts theories I want. But those workshops can be no longer than 2 hours. I said I might invite some undergraduate students to volunteer with me in the children’s cancer hospital and alternative venues in the city. That was promising and exciting.

As a community-dance practitioner, I have to find a way not to be intimidated in an environment like this. Not to shrink from their technical prowess and knowledge. Remember that I am a good teacher and have merits. I have to find a fine balance between learning the Egyptian way and challenging their thinking.

Dance can revolutionize public education, youth development, community development, healthcare, cross-cultural and inter-religious understanding, conflict prevention and resolution…

Teaching dance in a Northwest Bosnian village in 2011

Dance can revolutionize. That’s what I know.

Semester starts September 22nd.



***The views and information presented in my blog are my own and do not represent the U.S. Department of State or the Fulbright Scholar Program.

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