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Students learn the art of community change through dance

April 10, 2018
group of students dancing in a classroomWilson High senior Nailah Phillips, center, and School of the Arts student Ethan Beckwith-Cohen, right, participate in ArtMoves on the University of  Rochester's River Campus. Students from the University of Rochester spent their semester with students from high schools across Monroe County, encouraging dialogue around community building through art and the creative process. (University of Rochester photo / J. Adam Fenster)

Can high school students inspire political and social change? Based on the headlines, the answer is probably “yes.” Can high school students do it with the instruments of dance, theater, and visual art? University of Rochester students in the Program of Dance and Movement are working with local high schools to answer that question.

University students taking a course on “the art of dance, change and community practice”—part of community-engaged scholarship at Rochester—have been learning how to lead dialogue around community building and through the creative process of art and movement. “They learn how to facilitate and how to go into a community and listen,” says Rose Pasquarello Beauchamp, senior lecturer and instructor of the course. “They learn to encourage or empower the high school students to use their voice without bringing their own ideas into the discussion or to colonize the community.”

Over the course of the semester, the student facilitators met regularly with students from five area schools, including from the Rochester City School District, Aquinas Institute, and Brockport High School. The discussions focused on the assets and struggles of each community and “what they wanted to see change, but also what they love about their communities,” says Beauchamp.

Rose Pasquarello Beachamp, center, senior lecturer in the Program of Dance and Movement, leads students in socially engaged dance and movement techniques.

“We learned a framework that helps us create movement and art activities to address specific topics,” says Hannah Dick ’19, a dual degree student who is pursuing a bachelor of science in brain and cognitive sciences in the College as well as a degree in percussion performance at the Eastman School of Music. Dick visualizes a future working in music within the community, either as a performer or teacher. “It’s been a fantastic learning experience to do, rather than just talk about community arts engagement,” she says.

Community Connections: A Newscenter series highlighting the ties between the University and its communities.Each student facilitator was responsible for implementing the discussion in their assigned location.  “It hasn’t always been easy. Every high school is different. Some students aren’t always willing to talk about things,” Beauchamp says.

About 90 students from the participating high schools gathered together on the River Campus for a day to connect and collaborate as part of the process. Beauchamp and her students coordinated activities that included games to get to know one other. “The idea is that we bring the high school students together from different communities, so they spend time talking about the assets and struggles from each community,” says Beauchamp. The students broke up into groups in which some created visual art, some constructed movement choirs, and others engaged in theater techniques—all as a way to talk about social and political change.  “It was very different from other types of dance styles,” says Kelsey Wegman, a senior at Aquinas Institute. Wegman, who aspires to study dance, thought portraying struggles through dance movements was “pretty cool.”

(University of Rochester photo / J. Adam Fenster)

The results of their work on that day will be presented as an exhibition of art work and performance set to begin at 5:30 p.m. Thursday, April 12, at the Memorial Art Gallery. The event is funded as part of the community-engaged learning grant from the Rochester Center for Community Leadership.

“The best part of the experience for me has been to see how inspiring they can be when given a safe space where they can share,” says Sibel Spahija ’18. This marks the first dance class that Spahija, a finance major, has taken at Rochester. “We tell them many times that they have the opportunity to have their voice heard and can make a difference,” she says.

“I was impressed by the enthusiasm and focus of the high school groups,” says Dick. “I hope this project prompts change in the community, because that was our goal.”


Aquinas high school student Kalista Miller ’20, center. (University of Rochester photo / J. Adam Fenster)



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Category: The Arts