Classes during the day canceled, morning classes offered instead
The ESD dance program will be seeing changes next year as the program, according to Chief Academic Officer Eric Boberg, will no longer be offered as an official class and will instead only be available in the mornings before school for middle and upper schoolers. This marks a shift in the program that found its roots nearly eight years ago with dance teacher Glen Dawson.
The biggest change for students will be the moving of middle school day dance classes to before school. Prior to this change, upper school danced in the morning while middle school danced during the day in separate blocks.
“Upper school [dance] is already before school,” junior dance participant Elisabeth Siegel said. “So I’m confused how we’re going to have class together and if we’re going to have one teacher for both of us at the same time.”
Boberg suggests that scheduling will be up to the teacher as before-school orchestra and band.
“For instance, the teacher could decide to offer middle school dance two days a week and upper school dance three days or divide the days by beginning and advanced levels,” Boberg said.
According to Boberg, the school started reviewing the dance program four years ago and made the decision this fall to make a change, primarily based on the lack of overall enrollment and sustained participation. Dawson encountered engagement issues in the upper school since her start at ESD when she was first building the program in 2013.
“I had built programs before [ESD] so I knew what to expect,” Dawson said. “This one was a little bit more difficult. The upper school girls had to come before school because, of course, in the afternoon there were sports.”
Because of the five upper school girls who preferred to take dance in the mornings, many in the administration felt it was only natural to cancel classes during the day and push the elective to before school.
“At least in the short term, but most likely forever, we are ending classes during the school day,” Eric Boberg said. “But just continuing to watch the trends, we currently have five upper school students [in dance]. I believe all of them do before school dance [as] that has been pretty much the choice of upper school students.”
After watching dance engagement trends over the past eight years, Boberg has found that sustained engagement has remained low.
“There has been an uptick in quarter four fifth grade this year,” Boberg said. “We average five fifth graders and this quarter we have thirteen. We have had similar upticks in the past here and there, but they haven’t translated into sustained involvement. For instance, in 2017-2018, we had thirteen sixth graders in quarter two and 10 fifth graders in quarter two of 2020-2021. Nevertheless, we average just under three seventh graders and two eighth graders in dance. This year we have four seventh graders and no eighth graders in dance .”
The major threat that has been posed to the dance program is how default scheduling works in middle school. Because dance is a performing art that is not for everyone, there is some hesitancy in automatically placing students in the class when they are looking for a new elective to take.
“I mean it’s different from the other arts in the middle school,” Boberg said. “Now we always promote dance, but we don’t feel comfortable saying [that another art is too full], so you have to take dance.”
The reasons for the dance program being changed, however, become more ambiguous to some when examining the amount of engagement the performing art has seen in the middle school this year. Dawson said that middle school engagement has never been higher.
A lot about dance is putting your best effort forward. [Dawson] puts a big emphasis on [it not mattering] if you’re good or bad. No matter what stage you’re [in,] you can always improve.Cren Boyd
“The numbers have really bloomed this year with the middle school,” Dawson said. “The numbers have gone up, and now I even have an honors dance that meets at lunchtime and [it] has 11 girls in it. That’s why this has been a surprise.”
In place of the dance program, a tech theater class will be added to middle school course selections. The administration hopes that this class will have higher engagement among students than dance and help support performing art productions.
“We’ve posted for a middle school technical theater,” Boberg said. “We think that is an area that we can say, OK you’ve asked for a year of choir, for instance, but choir’s full, we’ll give you a semester and we want you to consider another production type [class.] I think that will attract a wider range of students.”
While it has not been said explicitly that Dawson will be leaving, one thing is certain: those who have had the privilege of dancing with Dawson for any period of time recall the time spent in dance with fondness. Senior Mary Grace Altizer was one of the first to dance with Dawson and remembers her time in middle school in which Dawson shaped her as a dancer and as a student.
“It was very fun and exciting being one of the first students in the ESD dance program,” Altizer said. “While being in Mrs. Dawson’s dance class, I was definitely stretched as a dancer. She encouraged me to try new styles of dance, and to step out of my comfort zone. I am really glad that I got to work with her.”
Dawson, if she decides not to return to ESD this next school year, will continue to teach students the art of dance. She is excited to continue her work at community college Collin College in McKinney.
“I’m an associate professor at Collin College right now and [I’ve] been there for 15, 20 years,” Dawson said. “I’m looking at going back and teaching full time college.”
Junior Cren Boyd, who has been dancing with Dawson since sixth grade, had no previous dance experience outside of ESD when she joined the program and still found a way to appreciate the art because of Dawson’s work.
“[Miss Dawson] is one of my favorite teachers,’’ Boyd said. “A lot about dance is about putting your best effort forward. She puts a big emphasis on it [not mattering] if you’re good or bad. No matter what stage you are [in], you can always find a way to improve.”
The ESD dance program has offered many opportunities for students whether they are experienced in the art or not. Wu enjoys the way that ESD dance helps her to branch out of her comfort zone and try new styles of dance.
“ESD dance is different from dancing outside of ESD because you get to dance with your peers, and you walk into class everyday, not knowing what type of class we will have,” Wu said. “For example, I know that from Monday to Wednesday, I have ballet for an hour and a half at my dance studio, whereas at ESD dance I could be doing pilates, ballet or jazz class for an hour.”
Regardless of the changes that will be made to the program for this upcoming year, students of Dawson and those who have been products of the class have taken with them lessons that will follow them for the rest of their lives. These lessons will continue to serve in their importance regardless if the students decide to continue dance.
“[In dance] you can find a way to collaborate with people who have more skills than you,” said Boyd. “And I translate that a lot into my daily life. [I learned] there is always a way to help other people. There is always a way.”