Diavolo Dance Experience
Waukee Middle School (WMS) hosted local dance professional Kathleen Hurley for several afternoons in January to prepare sixth grade students for the Diavolo performance they attended on January 22 at Des Moines Performing Arts (DMPA). Students interacted with Hurley during two of their PE classes, exploring movement, expression, dance and performance, as well as being introduced to dance terminology.
Kathleen Hurley, the artistic director and president of Hurley & Dancers, has been teaching these kinds of classes for more than 20 years. She was brought to WMS after Sarah Schaefer, WMS speech/drama teacher, discussed the opportunity of enhancing the students’ experience with DMPA, who suggested utilizing one of their local guest artists. Her students range from babies to college students. Hurley’s focus at WMS was modern dance and the difference between choreography and improvisation.
“It really is important for these sixth graders to have exposure to this art form because while they have specials- physical education, band, choir, art and computers- dance is not a prevalent part of the curriculum,” Hurley said.
Heidi Morse, one of the three physical education teachers at WMS, says the dance unit is her favorite. “It brings me joy and makes me truly happy to see students really having fun without a phone in their hands. My hope is that the improvements I see in their confidence and peer interaction during our short time together lasts a lifetime,” Morse said.
In the ten years she has been teaching at WMS, Morse has noticed one consistent pattern. Whenever her students hear they are going to dance, they grumble or become nervous. However, once middle schoolers start dancing, they smile, loosen up and enjoy the experience.
In the past at WMS, the “tush-push” line dance unit in seventh grade has produced similar results. This dance has inspired several students to dance outside of gym class, whether it be in the hallways at school, at an assembly or outside of school with friends!
“We live in a time where electronic communication often serves as a hiding place. I believe the more opportunities we give students to experience real human contact, the better equipped they will be to handle life situations, struggles and triumphs,” Morse said.
The education program at Des Moines Performing Arts (DMPA) offers performances each year. They have been working with area schools to make connections with dance performances in the metro area. WMS received a school bus from Iowa Department of Cultural Affairs to help with some of the cost for this event. This opportunity would not be possible without support and collaboration with DMPA, teachers and district leadership.
Hurley’s instruction connects directly to the dance unit that the students experience in PE and work with movement in Speech/Drama.
“Connecting classroom work to the performance offers new experiences to our students and fosters their creativity. We hope that opens some of our students up to new experiences and that it builds on previous experiences that other students have already had,” Schaefer said.
Schaefer has tried to offer as many opportunities as she could to her students to see live performances. This is one of the largest guest artist experiences she has coordinated for her students. “I hope that we can build on this to offer more opportunities in the future. It is not easy, but it sure is valuable,” Schaefer said.