A Day in the Life of Students and Teachers -Catherine Gallant at PS 89 and Miles in 4th Grade

A Day in the Life of Students and Teachers -Catherine Gallant at PS 89 and Miles in 4th Grade
Christine Jowers/Follow @cmmjowers on Instagram

By Christine Jowers/Follow @cmmjowers on Instagram
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Published on November 24, 2008
Briana Blasko

A Dancing Choreographer Teaches ( and Juggles) and a Young Kid Kicks It at the Calhoun School

A Day in The Life of Students and Teachers

Photos © 2008 Briana Blasko



Catherine Gallant on Merce Cunningham and her students.

“They don’t need a history of dance to get Merce. They just go right to the play and experimentation. It’s beautiful for kids.”
Catherine Gallant has been teaching and directing the dance program at PS 89 in Lower Manhattan for ten years. How did she get the job? Not by handing in her résumé; she has never earned a dance job that way except, oddly enough, when she applied to be the Assistant Director of the 92nd Street Y. That post, which she held from 1994 to 1996, was, unusually, advertised in The Village Voice.

As for obtaining dance work, Gallant explains,“ Mostly you put yourself out there, and don’t wait. You need perseverance, patience, and to be willing not to be recognized immediately.”

Gallant, possessive of a keen sense for opportunity, had her eye on PS 89 when it was being built just over ten years ago. It didn’t hurt that the Head of School was her son’s 5th Grade teacher.

Conversations began. Soon Gallant was teaching at PS 89 once a week, then twice. Today she’s at school everyday from 8:30 am to 3:30 pm (sometimes longer) planning and leading classes ranging from Kindergarten to Eighth Grade, as well as supervising after-school dance clubs. She has known some of the older children at the school since they were babies.

Dance is an integral part of education at PS 89. The students experience dance for dance’s sake – as form of physical expression to be enjoyed and/or performed. They also find that dance offers a path to discover the world. The language of Laban Movement Analysis is explored—you can be bound, free flowing, high or low -- as well the languages of cross cultural dance - -from the dances of the Lenape to the moving forms of the Ugandan People.

As the 4th grade studies The Native American Friendship Dance-- a circle dance-- they discover that importance of this shape to the Native Americans who lived in circular wigwams, stood together round a shared fire, and believed a circle connected the sun and moon. The students won’t stomp or pound the ground as they perform the ritual dance because Native Americans respected the earth by wearing soft moccasins and dancing gently upon its surface.

The 2nd grade sees movement as a way to appreciate poetry. Skipping children become jiggling bops and twitching hops in attempt to reflect the action words of Shel Silverstein’s poem, "The Unscratchable Itch":
There is a spot that you can‘t scratch / Right between your shoulder blades/Like an egg that just won’t hatch/Here you sit and there it stays...

Gallant’s young dancers are in their 5th year of working with The Merce Cunningham Dance Foundation on an arts integration project funded by the New York State Council Of The Arts. She loves to see the kids work with Cunningham’s choreography. “They don’t need a history of dance to get Merce. They just go right to the play and experimentation. It’s beautiful for kids.” Merce Cunningham has also been very complimentary to the students, apparently reveling in their boisterous manner.

At the conclusion of her school day Gallant usually zooms out to rehearse, teach, or choreograph. A working dance artist for over 25 years, she is the Artistic Director of Catherine Gallant/Dance, for whom she creates original dance pieces and the Co-founder of Dances by Isadora for whom she recreates the work of modern dances pioneer goddess, Isadora Duncan.

In her spare time, Gallant can be found conducting dance education workshops for NYC Department Of Education, Manhattanville College, National Dance Educators Organization, New Jersey Performing Arts Center and the Dance Education Laboratory (DEL) at the 92nd St. Y Harkness Dance Center.
To learn more about Catherine Gallant and her company: www.catherinegallantdance.com/





9-year-old Miles gives advice to his students.

“Listen to the beat without your eyes. If you see it once or twice and listen to the movement, the feet can get it.”
As a babe in highchair Miles’ mom noticed he wobbled...and wobbled. What was wrong-- some sort of stomach ailment? She anxiously wondered what could be done. Eventually the family realized that the highchair commotion was purely a physical response to music. Miles was communicating his need to dance.

At age two, his parents enrolled him in Bounding Boys, an early movement class at The Alvin Ailey School. Now a full scholarship student at Ailey, Miles’ dream is to dance with the Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater when he grows up – oh, and also to have his own band. By the way, Miles already has his own band –-plays guitar-- and is currently preparing to dance an excerpt of “Revelations” in the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade.

He is 9.

During the week Miles is engaged in 4th grade classes at The Calhoun School on Manhattan’s Upper West Side studying the things 4th graders study: Immigration, Logarithms, Spanish, Organisms, How to write paragraphs, and more. Every Friday during the last period of the day the lower school students at Calhoun are offered special courses--classes designed to explore particular interests or talents students may have. Teachers or the students can design courses.

Miles approached the student government at Calhoun to ask if he could lead his friends in a dance class. He wanted to choreograph something that they could all do together. Calhoun, a progressive school, welcoming of student initiative, loved idea. A class was formed. Students from 2nd to 4th grade participated as well as some of the teachers.

What amazed the adults present was what a good manager Miles was. He immediately garnered the respect of his class, keeping them quiet, attentive and interested in what he was presenting.

Now, would you like a word of advice from a young person who has accomplished a lot? The word is “Listen.”

“Listen to the beat without your eyes. If you see it once or twice and listen to the movement, the feet can get it.”


For More Info on The Calhoun School: www.calhoun.org

For More Info on The Alvin Ailey School: www.alvinailey.org/school/

For The Dance Enthusiast Article on Ailey Day at City Center: www.dance-enthusiast.com/features/43/

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