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make your day dance

A backstage story

June 15th, 2011 · 1 Comment · Tags: ···

A story unfolded during the lead-up to our End-of-Year Performance this year, which is hanging with me, wanting to be pulled together. It’s about two 5th grade boys in particular.

Adiel is a 5th grader in one of our regular classrooms. I’ve been working with him since kindergarten & he’s always been a bit of a challenge. He spends most of his recesses inside, doing work that should have been done at home or in class — and sometimes in the office of the intervention specialist dealing with bad choices he’s made in his dealings with teachers & other students. Challenged about his work or behavior, he has a tendency to close his eyes & clam up… it’s like you’re talking to a turtle that’s pulled inside its shell. I noticed this year, however, that Adiel could take movement concepts — curvy & straight pathways, delicate & forceful energy, symmetrical or curriculum-inspired body shapes — and nail them using his own individual style… uprock with a lot of crumping, but totally clear at showing the movement concepts!

An aside: Most of the kids respond as though the concepts we explore demand something different from their favored style of movement… as in, “when are we going to do hiphop?” Not so, Adiel. He’s happy to explore his favorite moves with a new emphasis.

As is Daniel. Daniel’s also a 5th grader, but in a self-contained, special education classroom. Clearly, he’s been identified as needing some extra academic support, and in addition he could sure use some help getting to school! In a given year, he has 20-30 absences & 70+ tardies. He’s had some moments of poor choices & behavior difficulties over the years, but mostly he’s a pleasure to work with — if he’s there.  This year for the first time I was able to use the 5th Grade Classroom-Based Performance Assessment with my self-contained 5th graders.  [Logistical issue — they’ve always been mainstreamed with 4th graders before, but this year they were mainstreamed with 5th graders.] Daniel’s the only student who’s ever taken a short poem (the “Poetry in Motion” assessment item) & expressed it with his breakdancing style. Totally nailed it — 3 images from the poem, 3 different breakdance moves that clearly showed the words he had chosen to express. Perfect score: choreographing, performing & explaining his moves.


…I decided Daniel should have a chance to enjoy his strength by choreographing & performing not only with his own class, but also with the regular 5th grade classrooms. His teacher agreed to allow him extra time in dance class. Adiel & his group agreed to include him in their small group choreography, in rehearsal & performance. Daniel came to several rehearsals & this group of 5 boys got their moves sketched out, including a short “battle” between Adiel & Daniel.

Then Daniel didn’t come to school for 2 weeks. Every day when Adiel’s group rehearsed, they’d ask, “Where’s Daniel?” …and they continued to rehearse without him, perfecting their choreography with 4 rather than 5 dancers. Daniel had strep throat — a good excuse this time — but by the morning of the performance, he’d been out for 2 weeks, missing all the final rehearsals, including the development of a longer unison sequence the 5th graders made up by contributing segments of their small-group choreography to the combination. Morning of the performance, when we hadn’t seen Daniel in 2 weeks, I talked to his teacher & we decided Daniel had best just perform in the piece his own class choreographed.

I delivered the news to Adiel, so he could be prepared for how the performance was going to go. He looked downcast.

“Couldn’t we meet at recess & work him in?”

I returned to Daniel’s teacher, to let her know how much the group missed Daniel. She said Daniel had been disappointed but understood. She & I looked at each other with resignation.

I returned to Adiel.

“So… Adiel… do you think your whole group would be willing to show up at recess? If everyone can be there to work him in, he can hang back during the unison section & still join your group during the small group choreography…”

“Yeah,” he said, “we’ll be there!”

And they were. I overheard Daniel say quietly to Adiel, “Thanks, man!” before they all got to work.


During the afternoon performance, Daniel hung back during the unison section, following along as best he could. During the rotation of small groups, he came out & battled Adiel with confidence.

And at the evening performance? Daniel was right behind Adiel, move for move, during the unison section, looking like he’d never missed a single rehearsal.

And Adiel was leading the 5th graders, holding them in stillness to count them in for the beginning, keeping them on beat & together throughout.


This week, Adiel’s in for recess again, working on stuff that should have been done at home or in the classroom, and Daniel’s probably tardy most mornings, but it’s a pleasure to rerun their performances, both on & offstage, in my mind.

Onstage from Meg Mahoney on Vimeo.

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