RCCL Course Development Grant Summary of Moving Memories, DAN 247, Spring 2019
Submitted by Anne Harris Wilcox, Program of Dance and Movement
It is my great pleasure to share the development of DAN 247 Moving Memories for the Spring of 2018. The success of this inaugural year has prompted us to offer the course again for the Spring of 2019. The following is an account of the course’s development including pre-planning initiatives, professional development, implementation, and reflection.
After the good news of receiving the grant from RCCL, I began researching other organizations who offered creative experiences with elder populations. Since Moving Memories emphasized creativity and artful engagement, I wanted to learn from other programs’ who offered this particular kind of participation. I first looked at Americas Best Intergenerational Communities (voted in 2012) such as City of Georgetown, Texas; Town of Lamoni, Iowa; City of Oberlin, Ohio; County of San Diego, California; Virginia Planning District 10. I focused in on the center closest to me hoping to visit if needed. I had several conversations with the Activities Director at Kendal at Oberlin in Oberlin, OH, and one conference call where I was able to interview the staff who provided a creative movement opportunity at the senior residence. The most significant take-way from this conversation was the importance of social engagement with the students and senior participants. This was new information for me and definitely shaped the manner in which I set up the course. I asked if 9-10 weeks seemed a reasonable amount of time for what I was designing and they confirmed my sense of time. The semester is fifteen weeks, but there would need to be preparation time for the students prior to working with their partners, so I was concerned about devoting an appropriate amount of prep and implementation time. I was also curious how their programs went about pairing students and elders. They responded that the senior organization took more of the lead on this, but both parties weighed in. This in fact is exactly how we went about pairing UR students with River Edge Manor participants (but I’m a little ahead of myself). Right here on the River Campus, Thom Slaughter has been doing an ongoing intergenerational collaboration transcribing of the Seward letters. I interviewed Thom to get his advice on setting up my course. Thom also encouraged social engagement, so I knew this had to be an important component of the syllabus.
I felt it was important that I have first-hand experience working in an inter-generational creative setting. This is what brought me to Dance Exchange, in Tacoma Park, MD. Dance Exchange is kind of a mecca for intergenerational work thanks to its Founder, Liz Lerman. Liz Lerman has been working and writing about designing creative classes and performances for intergenerational participants for decades. I participated in a Winter intensive workshop in January with Dance Exchange that focused on inter-generational choreography. Our group ranged from teenagers to octogenarians, and was truly inspirational and informative. After the semester finished, I also went back to Dance Exchange to be in an intergenerational performance in July. This experience was extremely different from the Winter Workshop and broadened my personal understanding and appreciation for the creative process. Besides these intensives at Dance Exchange, and interviews of people working with elder citizens creatively, I also researched numerous books, articles, and websites to gather resources and flesh sources for the course. In addition, I arranged for two of my dance colleagues Ann Diamond and Ellen Tomer Baker MSW, to be guests in the early stages of the course. Both Ann and Ellen have spent their careers working with senior citizens and are also both dancers and choreographers. So, I engaged both of them to work with the students; Ellen led a workshop on “Aging: What Does It Mean? What Does it Look Like? How to Work with Elders”; Ann invited our students to come to her at Marion house to observe a Dance Therapy class with seniors in various stages of Alzheimer’s. Both were marvelous experiences that helped students demystify ideas of elder generations.
Contacting the Activities Director at River Edge Manor was another critical step. Bonnie Gregoire was the lynch pin that made this semester a success. Her enthusiasm and all-in commitment made the partnership work. Prior to the semester beginning, I visited RE in December to introduce the course, and encourage people to consider joining the class. The course would run (from their perspective) from Feb. to end of April. In addition, we made a flyer, and Bonnie also spread the word, which resulted in securing seven willing participants; four from the RE independent living and three from the RE Nursing home.
The format for the course included 5 weeks of independent preparation before meeting the RE partners and 9 weeks for the partnership. During the partnership time, we all met together on Mondays for a combined choreography class: on Wednesdays I met with only the students: and one time a week the students and elders met without me at a self-scheduled time. This was one of the ways of insuring that social engagement! For the few weeks prior to the partnerships, UR students focused on their own stories and exploring the idea of translating stories into movement. We utilized interview questions from Story Corps, and created movement studies to explore different aspects of narrative. Bonnie came to visit UR one of the days the students were showing movement studies. This gave her a little understanding of the students’ personalities. This helped Bonnie facilitate the pairing of the seniors and the UR students. We believed it better to have Bonnie who knew the seniors so well, to be the ultimate match maker and she was simply spot on! In addition to these narrative-focused classes, the students participated in Ellen Tomer’s workshop and visited Marion House with Ann Diamond. So that the first meeting wasn’t completely new, students wrote short note cards to their elder partners and they provided Bonnie with 2 sentence bios to give to the students.
On the first day, we went over the course schedule, so everyone could know the agenda. Also, each elder was presented with a UR choreography folder to use throughout the project. In the folder they found the syllabus, the week to week schedule, and a chart containing the Elements of Dance. The folders acted as small “gifts” and set a great tone for the opening day.
Regular choreography classes anchored the course; each week a new choreographic element was explored such as: Space, Time, Energy, Relationship, Body, Stage craft, etc. The social-bonding events enable both student and elder to share in a mutually engaging experience to reflect upon and be inspired by as they develop their own work. The final projects are presented in fully produced concerts whereby participants see their ideas realized as a theatrical treatment and shared among their peers and community.
Using last year’s class feedback as evidence for students’ experience, I have learned that Moving Memories was incredibly valuable to all participants. In some cases, students stepped out of their comfort zone to work with seniors and found it profoundly meaningful. The independent meetings were as critical to the success of the partnership as the regular class time. Of the students that are still on campus this year, each one has told me that they continue to visit their partner and regularly communicate with them even though the class finished in May. Other students who had prior experience in working with seniors, were able to expand their interaction by working with their partner, in a mutually collaborative and creative mission. One senior told me that they had never done anything like this before and it was both scary and exciting. Not only are the seniors regularly required to engage in creative skill building, but they also have the opportunity to give voice to a meaningful memory. Sharing this memory and putting it into a dance context is the challenge and the thrill.
Lastly, I’d like to address the importance of the funding for this course. The grant provided vital opportunities and practical needs of the class. My research at Dance Exchange (and continued work with Dance for Parkinson’s Disease) provided valuable insight and experience with intergenerational work . The funds also provided important transportation for students to River Edge in inclement weather and for fieldtrips. Another vital component of the funding was the costs toward producing two concerts for the final projects. Both venues provided very different, yet important experiences for both students and seniors. I am incredibly grateful to have had the opportunity to design and implement this course. I have grown as an educator and a person so much, and I extend my sincere thanks to the RCCL Course Development Grant committee.