Learning to dance, By Abigail Keyes, MA ’16 Photos by Katie Rummel
As a young choreographer, Patricia
Reedy ’80, MA ’00,
dance to improve the well-being and creative lives of chil-
instructed her siblings to move in coordinated patterns across
dren, particularly those in underserved communities. Indeed,
the multicolored checkerboard tiles in the basement of her child-
a growing body of evidence suggests that teaching creative
hood home. She was destined for a life in dance but, growing up
movement and dance not only improves children’s physical
in a family that emphasized progressive values, she also under-
development, but bolsters their social competence and aca-
stood the importance of community, service, and compassion.
demic achievement as well.
Nancy Ng, MFA ’92, believes that movement is one of human-
So, in 1992, after changing her degree focus from dance
kind’s oldest forms of communication, and that dance can be a
to early childhood education, Reedy asked Ng to join her in
powerful way to connect with the world around us, with each
launching Luna Kids, a nonprofit organization to offer teacher
other, and with ourselves.
training in dance and to create a dance curriculum that
Both women found their way to the dance program at Mills,
aligns with how children’s bodies and brains move and learn.
where they met in 1990. Ng, who had studied ballet as a child and
Together, they base their teaching on a foundation of chil-
performed with her high school drill team, arrived after a stint
dren’s social-emotional, cognitive, and physical development,
teaching kindergarten — a vocation that she says “wasn’t really
as well as attachment theory and other educational research.
feeding my soul.” Reedy had become increasingly frustrated with
In the 25 years since then, Luna Kids has evolved into Luna
how dance was taught in public schools and sought to integrate
Dance Institute and moved into a 4,000-square-foot commu-
concepts of child development into dance instruction.
nity-based dance center in West Berkeley, while Reedy and Ng
As Reedy and Ng chatted between classes and rehearsals in
continue to champion the cause of bringing dance to all.
the basement of Haas Pavilion, they soon realized that their
Rather than dwelling on particular dance steps, their
mutual interests included more than just dance. With shared
approach emphasizes learning to move and improvise. Class
backgrounds in childhood education and choreography — and
leaders supply prompts that allow dancers to experiment with
a dedication to advancing social justice — both wanted to use
space, movement, and emotion, and then choreograph their movements into a sequenced dance of their own design. “Dance is about creation and the freedom that can bring to anyone willing to try it,” says Ng, who was co-director of San Francisco’s Asian American Dance Performances before joining Luna. “Creative thinking, problem solving, personal expression, and student-directed learning are at the heart of every one of our classes.” The pair also explicitly question the underlying privilege and bias within the dance world, noting that low-income communities are least likely to have access to dance opportunities. Partnerships with classroom teachers, social workers, and arts leaders allow them to reach many children who are most in need, including students in lowperforming schools and those with disabilities. Reedy and Ng have worked with the Oakland Unified School District to develop a full K–12 course of study and pioneered dance-inclusion programs for elementary and middle school kids with special needs. In order to create sustainable, ongoing programs, they provide training for social service providers and public school staff in effective use
Nancy Ng, in green, laughs with a Luna Dance student. 12
M I L L S Q U A R T E R LY
of dance in a number of different settings.
Mills College alumnae magazine