Think math and science have nothing to do with dancing? Think again.
Forklift Danceworks’ Leaps and Bounds program has kids doing creative movement in the classroom at several Austin schools. And it turns out that learning how to express oneself through movement isn’t just physically beneficial; it helps kids build group interaction skills, think freely and even find creative ways to conceptualize math and science problems.
Now entering its 12th year, Leaps and Bounds serves about 500 kids in Austin schools, from preschool through elementary. Forklift’s artistic director, Allison Orr, began the program in 2001 at Mainspring School with funding through the City of Austin’s cultural arts program. Mainspring is a preschool that serves mainly low-income residents, and its administration felt the students were unlikely to have access to creative movement classes when it approached Orr.
When the funding for that first year at Mainspring came to a close, Orr looked for more, and in the process expanded the program. Now Leaps and Bounds holds classes for both boys and girls at Mainspring and for girls at Allison Elementary and has recently added classes at Travis Heights Elementary. A pre-kindergarten class is also in the works.
“It’s an incredible model for learning,” Orr said of creative movement. “It’s child-centered and child-directed. They’re not copying a teacher, it’s giving a child problems to solve and they come up with the solutions…it’s the basic concepts of dance, but it… develops creative expression and helps them develop a sense of themselves as creative beings.”
Depending on the school, the program can vary. At Allison Elementary, teachers and school counselors identify girls they think would benefit from the classes. Students there are working on choreography, and groups of older girls in the 4th and 5th grades teach improvisation to younger girls and help them build dances. Some of those girls have the chance to become involved in Forklift’s performances—last April some of the Allison Elementary girls took part in a Fusebox Festival performance at the Long Center.
Some of Leaps and Bounds’ newest classes will merge math and science directly with the movement classes. Concepts like energy, sequencing and patterns, time, rhythm and measurements can all be expressed with physical movement.
“Not everyone learns the same way,” said Elaine Holton, an out Forklift board member. “That’s why I love the idea of bringing this to kids. People learn though movement. We have to be aware and conscious of that, that not everyone fits into the same box.”
Beyond learning classroom skills, dance and movement can also make huge positive impacts for girls who don’t grow up with a lot of resources at their disposal.
“I grew up with dance; it really shaped who I am today,” Holton said. “It’s so important for young girls…it’s teaching them this skill that they may not be able to find anywhere else, because of financial reasons. As women, the older we get, we can become our own worst enemy. We become threatened by other powerful women, instead of inspired. This powerful program, they learn from each other, support each other. It lays a foundation for these girls to build these life skills and social skills, like how they support other young girls…who may be struggling like them.”