Chance to dance: Georgia College outreach program gets Baldwin County moving

C hildren in Baldwin County Schools are getting an opportunity to dance—something they wouldn’t be exposed to in their early years if it weren’t for dance minors in Georgia College’s dance pedagogy class.

Our aim is to expand opportunities beyond campus and provide experiences for communities that have limited access to dance.
– Natalie King
Community dance is one of the university’s biggest outreach programs and has been around in some form for at least 20 years. Last year, a new element started: free dance lessons twice a week in Baldwin’s primary schools and academies.

Dance Professor Natalie King.
Dance Professor Natalie King.
“Our aim is to expand opportunities beyond campus and provide experiences for communities that have limited access to dance,” said Natalie King, dance professor.

“GC dance instructors benefit as much as their students because they get an opportunity to share what they love with a future body of movers. These instructors have dedicated their formative years to the art of movement. Now, they get to inspire young dancers to do the same.”

In Baldwin County schools, Georgia College dance students lead bi-weekly lessons for kindergartners through 5th grade. College students are also part of a campus dance program, where they lead or assist in a myriad of paid classes for ages 3 to adult. These include hip hop, tap, ballet, jazz and contemporary dance.

Many dance minors discover a love for teaching through the university’s outreach programs. Some go on to open their own dance studios or become performers and choreographers.

Senior Michala Hill.
Senior Michala Hill.
Senior accounting major Michala Hill of Douglasville just got hired to be a full-time dance instructor in Baldwin County academies. She’ll rotate between grades 3-5 throughout the week, ensuring all kids are exposed to movement and dance.

Hill has danced since she was little. Although she also liked accounting, Hill said she “fell in love” with teaching dance after taking King’s pedagogy class. Crafting her own lessons, adjusting for different age groups and adding her own individual twist has been rewarding.

“Dance allows students to be individuals and create something that’s unique and personal,” Hill said. “Sometimes in school, we can be trained to believe there’s only one right answer for everything. But, in dance, a lot of times there isn't one right answer. It's whatever you decide to create and what intention and confidence you put behind it. That's what makes it good. That's what makes it valuable.”

College students develop interdisciplinary lessons that allow young movers to learn through creative play, King said. This makes learning “fun, engaging and meaningful” for kids who are just beginning to incorporate dance in their lives.

Both Baldwin County and Georgia College are lucky—it’s unusual to have a community dance program, King said. Not many universities have outreach like this where undergraduates gain teaching experience in dance.

The university’s dance minor was certainly a big factor in Hill choosing Georgia College. She researched what other school dance programs are doing and says Georgia College’s outreach program is unique.

I'm just very lucky to have this kind of opportunity, because it’s just so rare. Finding colleges that offer pedagogy courses in their dance major is very hard to come by. So, I think Georgia College’s pedagogy emphasis is really something special.
– Michala Hill

Senior Anna Jean Saleeby teaches at Midway Primary School in Milledgeville.
Senior Anna Jean Saleeby teaches at Midway Primary School in Milledgeville.
Students acquire everything they need to know in dance pedagogy class—from warm-up to line-up. They choose music playlists and engage learners in interesting ways with overarching themes.

With kindergartners recently, students used emotions to teach youngsters how to act out their feelings. Then, they moved onto weather patterns, exploring moves that show evaporation and precipitation. Stomping out anger and moving like tornadoes gives children a much-needed break from sitting—bringing a fresh supply of oxygen to the brain.

“We recognize the importance of giving students a voice in their learning process,” King said. “This is especially important for our primary school learners, who are constantly encouraged to regulate their bodies. All day, they sit in neat rows, stand in straight lines and avoid talking out of turn. We give them permission to disrupt these standards and express themselves individually.”

Student instructors are peppy and engaging with their young pupils. They give directions in short, simple sentences. They let kids know ahead of time some movements may seem difficult. But it’s OK—their college instructors will be doing the steps with them.

They use ‘thumbs up’ signals, high fives and supportive statements with kindergartners, like “That was awesome—first-grade behavior if I ever saw it!”

Soon, the studio is abuzz with little bodies swaying, jumping, lunging and twirling to lively tunes.

They’re asked to freeze like statues, strike superhero poses and act like raindrops.

Senior Elizabeth Dunn teaching Baldwin County kindergartners.
Senior Elizabeth Dunn teaching Baldwin County kindergartners.

Senior sociology major Elizabeth Dunn of Marietta is a ball of energy herself. Standing in front of a group of kindergartners, she shows them how to stretch their arms to the sky. They flow side-to-side like the wind. They pretend to rake leaves for fall and swim for summer. They lunge and zigzag like lightning bolts.

“Now, wrap your arms around yourselves and say, ‘Thank you, body, for dancing with me today,’” Dunn said at the end of class.

This has really pushed me to blaze my own trail.
– Elizabeth Dunn
“I’ve been dancing since I was 2,” she said afterward, “and I'd love to help make it more accessible and equitable for children in Baldwin County. Dance is not just for one particular socio-economic population. There are so many counties that can't afford to offer dance. I’d like to make it happen for them.”

Like Hill, Dunn feels she couldn’t have gotten exposure to community outreach like this anywhere else. Since taking the pedagogy class, she’s developed a passion for teaching.

“This has really pushed me to blaze my own trail,” she said. “They let us come up with lesson plans independently and create our own teaching style, which has been incredible.”