SRU dance majors 'Attack' teaching opportunity
Monica Traggiai, a senior dance and early childhood education major from Sarver, is one of four SRU dance students teaching dance and movement to first and second graders from Pittsburgh Public Schools.
June 29, 2016
SLIPPERY ROCK, Pa. - For most kids, summer camp involves ghost stories around the fire, sleeping in a tent and a healthy does of sunscreen. But for a group of first and second graders from Pittsburgh Public Schools, the art of dance is taking center stage.
Led by a quartet of Slippery Rock University dancers, more than 200 elementary students are taking part in the "Adventures in Movement" program offered by Attack Theatre, a Pittsburgh dance company. Founded in 1994 by Michele de la Reza and Peter Kope, Attack Theatre combines modern dance, original live music, multimedia and interdisciplinary art forms to present work in traditional and non-traditional spaces throughout the U.S. and around the world.
Attack Theatre hired the SRU foursome to showcase dance as a method for teaching movement education, creative problem solving and reinforcing writing concepts. The purpose of the program is to engage the participating children in dance-centered learning, based on the conviction that the arts can motivate a child to excellence inside and outside of the studio.
"Our role is to provide a fun yet educational afternoon activity for the children that keeps them actively engaged and moving," said Monica Traggiai, a senior dance and early childhood education major from Sarver and one of the teacher artists. "We strive to engage the students physically as well as creatively while we explore different forms of movement."
Joining Traggiai are Darrin Mosley, a senior dance major from York; Emily Gardiner, a senior dance major from Bethlehem; and Sonja Gable, a 2014 SRU graduate with a bachelor's degree in dance.
The foursome offers a curriculum that changes daily, teaching 20 hours per week at Carmalt and University Prep elementary schools. Each teaching artist leads two classes per day, with 30 students per class.
Classes begin class with a follow-along activity and then go into a warm-up for lessons on different topics. For example, a recent session focused on shapes, asking pupils to use their creativity to make wide, narrow, tall and small shapes using their bodies, followed by writing and drawing exercises.
"We do movement as a whole, not specific dance skills," Traggiai said. "The goal is to keep them active and engaged. We're engaging they're minds and helping them to think creatively."
The melding of dance and traditional subjects like reading is called integrated art. Instead of teaching dance as a stand-alone subject, the teacher artists use the performing arts to reinforce core competencies in an engaging way.
Traggiai said the program fosters enthusiasm for movement and allows children to battle the "summer slide" of academic loss during the off months from the classroom.
"This program holds a special place in my heart," said Traggiai. "Being not only an aspiring dance professional, but also a soon-to-be certified early childhood educator, the value of this program is outstanding. The fact that I can positively contribute to the growth of students during the summer months through movement activities that keep them actively thinking about their lives, exploring their creativity and expanding their writing skills gives me great joy."
Mosely hopes the children learn more about themselves and the world they inhabit while providing a technology alternative.
"A lot of children are obsessed with phones, videogames and television," Mosley said. "This program gives them time out of the house and away from those screens. It's a chance to meet other children and make new friends while being active and challenged intellectually through movement. All around, it's a great experience for the children and an even more rewarding experience for us."
"Attack Theatre has a beautiful history working with the Slippery Rock University dance program," said de la Reza. "We really value the dance students and faculty and the time they provide to us and the children. We have found the faculty to be very perceptive of what it means to be a dancer today. The department succeeds in helping students in a holistic way."
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