At the Ethical Culture Fieldston School, students often find opportunities for movement during sports practice, gym class, or recess, but Fieldston Middle students have recently relished these moments in the classroom. By participating in the extensive dance program at ECFS, they’ve discovered how dance, as well as the arts, may become a healthy form of self-expression as they mature.
“Our Fieldston Middle dance program gives all students the opportunity to explore dance as an art form,” says Theatre and Dance Teacher Robert O’Neill. “Our dance journey provides students with a way to get to know themselves better and to experience the joy that comes with moving. Our program values getting to know and respecting each student and inviting their diverse experiences and identities to be present in their work.”
The Fieldston Middle dance curriculum fosters healthy physical awareness, ignites every student’s creative spark, and guides students in physically-based collaborations. Creative partnership was key in the 6th Graders’ recent Project Arts course, an assignment in response to the question, “What does the world and dance look like in the year 3000?” Groups of two or three students each created dances demonstrating what the year 3000 may look like in the areas of transportation, environment, and how people treat each other. Presentations included ideas of “global freezing,” robot populations, and celebrating human connection in simple ways.
“We hope students gain trust in their physical and creative expressiveness and that they develop healthy physical awareness,” O’Neill says. “We hope they listen to their body instincts and be more aware of their surroundings, other people, their mental state, and what their body may be telling them to maintain safety and well-being.”
In 7th and 8th Grade, the final dance project required students to collaboratively choreograph a dance based on their own ideas and using their chosen music. Students were encouraged to develop original movements and apply their knowledge of body design, space, time, and dynamics. These older dancers are often looking ahead to someday performing with the Fieldston Upper Dance Company in its annual Dance Repertory concert.
“I have been a dancer for almost two years now,” says Javin G. ’28, a Fieldston Middle Dance Company member who enjoys hip-hop dancing. “As someone who is hyperactive, dancing has given me a healthy outlet to express my feelings and positively impacted my mental health. From the North Bronx to East Harlem, I have met amazing people who have pushed my physical limits as a dancer.”
Dance has also allowed Javin to grow more comfortable with other movement types, seen in his final dance project with partner Parker N. ’28. “I used to think that contemporary and jazz dance were more feminine and less fulfilling dance styles; I was wrong,” he says. “Mr. O’Neill was able to break me out of those predetermined notions about dance.”
Additionally, connecting with Fieldston Upper dancers and new Hip-Hop Dance and Ballet Teacher Victorius Remak broadened Javin’s perspective of dancers’ identities, helping him feel less alone as a Latino dancer. With decades of international experience as both a teacher and a performer, Remak is also choreographing this year’s “50 Years of Hip Hop” Repertory project. “After meeting Mr. Remak and those in the high school dance company, I felt more confident as the person I am,” Javin says.
Even for students who are not natural dancers, Fieldston Middle’s introductory classes encourage joyful exploration of artistic identity and the safe space that art can create for a person. “Trust your creative instinct,” O’Neill advised students in one class. In another, he expressed, “I hope you have an art in your life that you love to do.”
“I hope students give up the notion that they cannot be a dancer unless they have done it since they were three,” O’Neill shares. “We treasure students who begin to see themselves as potential dancers from their exposure to dance at Fieldston.”
Dancers of all ages now look forward to the annual Dance Repertory concert and the Spring Dance Concert, as well as the Fieldston Middle Dance Company performance, where the youngest dancing stars will hit the spotlight.