Sarah Morrison, Artistic Director, MorrisonDance
As a lifelong student of dance, I have had remarkable luck working with some exceptional mentors. My mentors shaped different paths for me and then stepped back to let me discover where I could find myself. This is the very method I use as an educator. I am a guide leading students to their own discoveries. I call upon my experience as a student and as a professional to share morsels of knowledge, and then I lead students to discover their own connections. By providing a framework of strong technique, I ensure that my students begin to understand the “why” and “how” of dancing in every moment – not just the “what”.
To me, successful teaching comes through creating an environment where the student can discover what is being taught – for it is through discovery that learning truly occurs. This environment is created through knowledge, experience, support, and a willingness to translate to the individual student. Some students learn through watching, others through verbal explanation, others through hands-on experiences, and some need all three! My experience in dance and in psychology has allowed me to become sensitive to these different “languages.” So when introducing new technical and spatial concepts to students, I use the language of imagery, the language of demonstration, and the language of reflection and feedback.
I taught my first dance class when I was sixteen, and immediately discovered the joy of witnessing students as their bodies tackled new technical concepts. Witnessing the “two steps forward, one step back”, continually until the body said “A-HA!” and the mind noticed: “Click”! My first class was made up of eight year olds, but since that time, I have seen this transformation at every age and at every level of experience. I view even the smallest successes as transformations – such as understanding the subtleties of how the weight is distributed on each foot, or how to keep breathing while executing a new phrase.
As a teacher of dance history and appreciation, there is nothing I enjoy more than to help dance and non-dance students find a way to understand their personal connection to dance. Through learning the history of dance, viewing dance, writing about dance, and talking about dance students learn the value that dance plays in their personal or cultural life even beyond the proscenium stage. Students from all walks of life often find a personal connection, whether they plan to be teachers (dance and cognitive functioning), physical trainers (dance a muscular development), trial lawyers (public performance), or even pilots (the Lindy-hop)!
Finally, through K-12 curriculum integration, I enjoy teaching other disciplines using the art of dance. By using dance games to teach scientific and mathematic concepts, I am able to help students embody new knowledge in an active manner. A young child once said to me, “It’s not fair that you get to move all day long, and I have to sit still at school.” Research has supported the idea that physical activity can improve “on-task” behavior, cognitive functioning, and focus. From experience, I know that it is hard to forget something when you have performed it yourself! Just as a professional dancer cannot help doing choreography to music they have performed to, students who have danced as air, liquid, and solid molecules will have a hard time forgetting the different states of matter.
I believe students should be exposed to the love and passion of dance, as well as receive the highest educational standards that can be delivered. A quality education is one of the most valuable commodities a person can have, and nothing brings me greater happiness than to share such value with others through the joy of discovery through dancing.