Dance Educators Descend on Alabama

By Patricia Reedy

September 1, 2007, PUBLISHED BY IN DANCE

Shortly after Hurricane Katrina hit the Gulf Coast in 2005, the National Dance Education Organization (NDEO) planners decided to hold their 2007 conference there, to invigorate the economy of an area recovering from disaster. Although New Orleans wasn’t quite ready for us, Mobile, Alabama, was—and hosted us with true Southern hospitality that brought to life the conference theme, “Focus on Dance Education: Community Building.”

Each year NDEO selects a different host state, and from Albuquerque to Providence to Mobile, each has featured both familiar conference elements and distinctive regional dance offerings. This year Candy Christakos, director of Alabama Contemporary Dance, was instrumental in capturing the involvement of the Alabama State Council on the Arts, the Mobile Arts Council, the Alabama Dance Council, and the entire city of Mobile. She produced a series of performances for the historic Saenger Theatre, the symphony hall, the government plaza, the Mobile Art museum, and the IMAX Theater, with performances ranging from Bill Evans to Lindy Hop legend Frankie Manning to the New Orleans Ballet Theater. This community effort was so powerful that the distraction of George W. Bush’s sniper team running through our hotel on the day of his Republican fundraising event seemed but a minor annoyance.

NDEO strives for inclusion in its membership and its conference proceedings. Thanks to their special efforts to include early childhood educators this year, age diversity stood out as a major theme. I attended workshops in teaching dance to the preschooler, dance in early childhood education, job search strategies for recent college graduates, several research workshops, dance (both teaching and performing) for the fifty-plus crowd, and a shim sham class taught by 94-year old dance veteran Manning.

It’s an exhilarating challenge to “do everything” at an NDEO conference. Each hour presents four program choices, from a movement workshop to a paper presentation to a panel to an open forum. Poster displays, book and merchandise sellers, and training in the NDEO Research Database attract attendees all day long. And you can spend quality time with those dance people you get a chance to meet only at these gatherings. I met my dance education idol, the brilliant Sue Stinson, over breakfast during my first conference in 2001. This year I got to share thoughts on research with her and enjoyed her witty paper presentation on the challenges and possibilities in early childhood dance education research. Listening to Sue can inspire you to take your dance education career in a whole new direction!

Just sitting in the bar and talking with Karen Kohn Bradley, one of my favorite researchers, was educational. I use her study on creativity at Microsoft in all of my professional development. Karen discovered that the top creative minds at Microsoft credit their on-the-job skills to their early arts education—and of the eight she interviewed, seven had studied dance!

Another NDEO celebrity, Anne Green Gilbert, gives generously of her time, sharing ideas about creative dance and the brain. Anne is the only NDEO member who teaches four workshops each year, all pro bono. These usually have the highest attendance—though this year she had stiff competition from Frankie Manning’s swing, Lindy Hop, and shim sham sessions.

Reviewing the conference proceedings, I see so much I missed: Folklorico Dance in Panama; Extending the Community through the Virtual School; Friendship Dances: Building Community through Dance Clubs and Collaboration with Upper Elementary Students; Honors Math for Dancers; Building Bodies, Brains and Bonds: Dancing with Baby—there’s always much more than one person can possibly experience.

The next NDEO conference is June 2008 in Baltimore, Maryland, and I would love to see a strong contingency from the Bay Area dance community there. It is so powerful to feel part of a national group of bright, committed dance educators. We Bay Areans have much to contribute in the areas of innovation, risk-taking, and inclusion. And we can learn from our national dance education peers how to move together to bring dance, as an art form, to children everywhere in the arena meant to be the great democratic equalizer—education.

This article appeared in the September 2007 issue of In Dance.

Patricia Reedy is the Executive Director of Creativity & Pedagogy at Luna Dance Institute. A lifelong learner, she enjoys sharing her inquiry process with others.