Mills Quarterly, Fall 2017

Page 14

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


of dance in a number of different settings.

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