For members of the school’s Dance Master Seminar the answer is simple. “Without the arts my experience wouldn’t be the same.” “Arts are everything to me.” “The arts give us an outlet we don’t have in regular class.” “I took no art classes last year and I felt dead. With dance classes this year I feel more like myself.”
The arts, and more specifically dance, are powerful for students of all ages and all backgrounds. Research collected by the National Dance Education Organization (NDEO) shows that “dance has a positive impact on student achievement, teacher satisfaction and school culture.” NDEO offers the following specific examples of the positive impacts of dance:
Episcopal dancers are quite familiar with these benefits. In fact, senior Madeleine Cope is currently working on a thesis examining the benefits of implementing dance at schools. Through her own research and experience, Cope says she has found that dance also boosts verbal and non-verbal communication skills. She equates learning dance with learning a new language as dancers hone these skills and learn what it means to be present and engaged in the moment.
There are also the emotional benefits that are garnered from dance. Watching members of the master seminar perform in the dance studio without the frills of stage lighting, costumes or professional sound, you feel the emotions of the dancers. These teenage performers are strong, powerful and fully focused on their movements and the message they are conveying to the audience. There is passion in each twirl and joy in each leap. The students are poised, graceful and expressive beyond their age.
Within the studio, students are comfortable enough to be vulnerable with their expressions. They celebrate each other’s success and provide positive, constructive feedback with the goal of helping their fellow dancers. Most of these students have been dancing since they were preschool age and many of them perform with multiple ensembles. In reflecting on the Episcopal arts experience, the dancers say the school provides a more loving and supportive atmosphere in which students can flourish. “This is a community here.” “We’re different, but that’s ok.”
Such cohesion could only be achieved in a nurturing, caring environment. That environment is cultivated by dance teacher Christine Chrest, who is now in her fourth year at the helm of the Episcopal dance program. When watching this professional dancer interact with her teenage protégées one thing becomes abundantly clear – Chrest truly cares about her students and wants them to be successful in whatever they do. This passion and Chrest’s expertise make the Episcopal dance program truly special.
For members of the Dance Master Seminar, dance is a lifelong commitment. Many of the current students have aspirations of pursuing a major or minor in dance once high school is over. As part of the seminar class, Chrest guides students through the process of creating their own choreography and writing scholarship essays to compete for spots in university dance programs. Chrest is like a proud mom as she reports on the success of Episcopal dance program participants thus far. Alumna Emma Scott Singletary ’17 is currently dancing at Elon University and former Episcopal dancer Azha Alston ’17 is studying dance at LSU.
As Chrest puts it, dance lights a fire within students that transcends the studio. Students are motivated to study, achieve and excel in the classroom because they are consumed by their passion and creativity. At Episcopal, there is a marriage of the arts and academics that truly helps students learn more about themselves and the life they want to live. It is one thing to say that arts are integral to a well-rounded education, but it is another to witness the focus and determination in the dancers’ eyes as they express themselves in such a vulnerable way. The art of dance has opened students’ minds to different possibilities and perspectives that are helping them define who they are today and where they want to go tomorrow.
Don't miss your chance to see the Episcopal dancers in action.