Within the GENERATOR platform, in the middle of April, Milena Todorović, Sanja Tropp Frühwald and Irma Unušić visited the Mediterranean Dance Center, working on the Teen Generator program within the Teach & Reach program unit. It is an idea partly taken from France, which aims to bring the history and idea of contemporary dance closer through two educational booklets, theoretical lectures and talks, video materials, and dance and movement workshops. The program was recognized by the Ministry of Science and Education of the Republic of Croatia and included in the program called Backpack (full) of culture.
We can call such an undertaking truly daring just because we know that contemporary dance as a performing art is not included in the school curriculum, either through physical education, music or visual arts, or through media culture in Croatian language and literature course. Starting from the assumption based on this fact, we come to a new premise - that in elementary school students are not acquainted with the concept of contemporary dance, as well as its history and concept, through the educational process and that they have a rare opportunity to enjoy it as an audience. Also, contemporary dance is equally foreign to them, if not more, in experiential and practical terms. In such a situation, it is not necessary to look for the culprit, the omissions or the reasons that led to it, now that there is a beginning of a concrete and high-quality way of solving it, and the successful models that will enable it are recognized.
With a visit to two schools - a bigger one in Rovinj, and a smaller, local one in Svetvinčenat - this assumption was confirmed. First we had to explain and familiarize the seventh and eighth graders with the concepts needed for a conversation about contemporary dance, as well as to motivate them with various practical exercises to get familiar with some of the important choreographers and artists represented in the work materials, and they proved to be active and interested interlocutors and participants.
At first, students reacted shyly when asked to actively participate in the practical part of the workshop, which was expected. As the concept and the idea of contemporary dance became clearer and more tangible through the experiential moments of each participant, it became easier for the participants to follow the instructions. They allowed themselves the freedom of their own physical expression, exploring more and feeling less ashamed or restrained by the fact that they were doing something that, according to them, was from the beginning different than what is usually expected from a school day.
Students were better in conversations about videos of certain choreographies or performances, because of the fact that analysis and conversational guidance were frequent in schools, which is somewhat expected and in which students feel more relaxed. It has also proved to be an opportunity to express their own opinions, observations and experiences, which is very important and necessary for children of this age. Most of all, they were entertained by the connection with pop culture that they knew and through which they could actually get an insight into how much contemporary dance affects it, how much the pop culture draws from it, but also how much something that started “off the street” played an important role in development of dance that they have perceived so far to be “distant” or “complicated to grasp” - that is, a whole area of art with which they had no direct contact. With a notion that the familiar often remains distant and alien unless it is explained in more detail, they listened with great interest to the information that the workshop leaders provided them and felt extremely pleased to connect, until a moment ago, completely disconnected concepts, motives and elements. The third test group consisted of students from the Drama Studio INK. This was a slightly older population, mostly high school students who were already acquainted with contemporary dance and it falls under their direct interest. This is where the value of the project becomes very obvious. The number of exercises performed, the breadth and quality of the reactions, as well as the newly created ideas and comments have provided a complete insight into the pronounced need for such programs within the educational process as well as the real time required to realize them. If high school students encounter contemporary dance during their elementary education, as an audience, but also as amateur dancers, or if they are exposed to it through dance and movement workshops, the three-hour workshop goes by really fast. This kind of meeting provides truly constructive work and better insight for both participants and leaders, and the creative enthusiasm that remains behind it can be further invested in the work and development of all present, each according to their own needs and aspirations. There is a big difference between two school hours to implement an initial introduction to the program, and a full three solar hours that allow for better implementation of a planned and well thought out idea. What in all three cases was indisputable and obvious were the final reactions of the majority of the participants of the workshop - which stimulated interest in the history and works of artists in the field of contemporary dance, as well as relationships that were previously unnoticed, unknown and existing -and ultimately, perhaps most importantly, enabled and accepted a way of different, less verbal communication, that is, its awareness and active use. It is also important to note that a suitable space, that is, a ballroom space, greatly contributes to the quality of work and implementation of such a program, but it is by no means an inevitable prerequisite. It is more important to provide this experience to as many students as possible.
“Aaaa, first I have to say that all the workshop leaders are very cool and funny, really relaxed and it was comfortable working with someone like that. We laughed a lot and learned through various exercises, nothing was too much, it would be even better if we had even more time. Definitely an experience that we will gladly remember with a wish to meet again”!
(13 years old)
“I like the idea of familiarizing kids our age with dance, especially those which never had the opportunity to do anything similar before. The short movie was a lot of fun and the booklets are great. It was interesting for me to see on the sequences with the papers how they all interpreted the same order of movements in different durations and ways. I can't single out something I didn't like, and if I had to change something, maybe I could extend those improvisations in the frames or immediately set those group tasks when we were looking at each other, because at least it seemed to me that it went by quickly. That “standing calmly” exercise surprised me because I had never tried it before and it was quite interesting, so it might stand out as a potential AHA moment.”
(15 years old)
“The theoretical part was new and interesting to me with great explanations in the video. I would prefer the practical part with even more exercises, I don't think that one more hour of workshop would be tiring. I would leave some more time for feedback - since we had to everything in a rush.”
(25 years old)