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A New Season Celebrating Boston

Urbanity Dance has always been committed to engaging, celebrating, and empowering local communities through dance. This year, the companies incredible lineup of performances focuses on the power of collaboration to celebrate our community partners and the Boston arts scene.

As a nonprofit committed to local growth, Urbanity is working to bring imaginative performances that showcase Boston’s diverse voices and create dialogue for social change. Urbanity’s upcoming collaborations include organizations such as the City of Boston, Young Audiences, Inquilinos Boricuas en Acción, Museum of Fine Arts, Institute of Contemporary Art, Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum, and the Children’s Museum to highlight the performing arts as a social platform to empower.

 

URBANITY DANCE

May 30, 2012 (Boston, MA) – Portrait shoot for Urbanity Dance. Photo by Kristyn Ulanday

Known for its effortless curves and use of breath, Urbanity places a strong emphasis on the foundations of modern, jazz, and ballet, while utilizing the highly detailed gesture work and hard-hitting articulation usually associated with hip-hop. This hyper-athletic fusion creates a unique all-encompassing visual experience. The Company was announced Best of Boston by Boston Magazine in 2015, Boston’s Best by the Improper Bostonian in 2013, recently shortlisted for Bostinno’s 50 on Fire, and named a Top Ten Critics’ Pick by The Boston Globe. Urbanity has presented at Jacob’s Pillow Dance Festival, The Alvin Ailey Citigroup Theater, the Institute of Contemporary Art, and shown works by Pilobolus, Larry Keigwin, Carl Flink, and Andy Noble. Utilizing its’ public platform and unique hybrid of styles,Urbanity Dance exists to engage, inspire, and empower individuals and communities through the art of dance and movement.

On top of our regularly scheduled public performances, Urbanity is putting on two special shows for school aged children. The first is a matinee of Call of Courage for Boston Public school students. Urbanity is working with the City of Boston to present an original piece using stories from middle and high school youth. Presented at the Strand Theater in Dorchester, this piece celebrates voices of courage and uses dance as a platform to investigate themes of empowerment and bystander intervention.

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“Call of Courage” Photo By Eli Akerstein

The second performance is a matinee of Neruda’s Book of Questions for youth from the Villa Victoria community. This piece is a collaboration with Villa Victoria and Inquilinos Boricuas en Acción, to create original dance and music inspired by Pablo Neruda’s Book of Questions. Urbanity dancers team with Boston based musician and composer, Beau Kenyon, to celebrate Boston’s diverse community and investigate themes of justice and fairness.

Highlighting the voices of Boston communities and making sure they are heard is crucial. By collaborating with community organizations and local artists, choreographers, and musicians directly, Urbanity hopes to ensure these voices are at the forefront of the Boston Arts scene.

Please view all of our Season Performances and other collaborations with the community. 

 

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Dance With Parkinson’s

“I looked up on the internet and dance with Parkinson’s was happening in two places. I think one was California, and the other was Shawmut avenue….

Dance with Parkinson’s is a free weekly class led by Betsi Graves here at Urbanity for those with Parkinson’s. Parkinson’s Disease is a chronic and progressive movement disorder. Typical symptoms include trembling, stiffness in limbs, slowness of movement, postural instability, and impaired balance and coordination. In addition, many people with Parkinson’s experience depression and emotional changes.

Urbanity’s classes are part of a program developed by David Leventhal of Mark Morris Dance Group in conjunction with the Brooklyn Parkinson’s Group to help combat these symptoms. The curriculum operates under the theory that professional dancers are essentially experts on movement.  As stated by David, “The fundamentals of dancing and dance training—things like balance, movement sequencing, rhythm, spatial and aesthetic awareness, and dynamic coordination—seem to address many of the things people with Parkinson’s want to work on to maintain a sense of confidence and grace in their movements.”

The curriculum was developed to guide participants through exercises designed to enhance and maintain mobility, flexibility, balance, coordination, and strength, all modified for various levels of mobility.

…Besti is amazing… she works with a narrative.. you want to take an apple off the tree, you want to fly like a bird, you want to gather balls… really childish and wonderful narratives. Everyone is moving. When I first started there was maybe 4 or 5 in the class, we’re about 14 now…

The class functions as a safe and therapeutic space where all participants encourage each other to move and explore creative expression. The targeting exercises help to combat movement symptoms associated with Parkinson’s and dance creates a heightened connection between the mind and body. Learning to control movements, balance, and rhythm helps to give a sense of control and expression in all dancers, leading to increased confidence.

…since I’ve been in Betsi’s class I actually have a collection of CDs. probably 3 or 4 hundred, that I never played. And since Betsi’s class I wake up, play my CDs, and prance around the kitchen. I often wonder what my neighbors must be thinking because there’s no shades in my windows…

What participants appreciate most about these spaces is the atmosphere that dance and community inherently creates.

…What’s amazing is watching; we have people in wheelchairs, we have people who can’t stop moving, but at the end of class everyone is moving, and we are all dancers, and we are all joyous.”- Shirley Kane 

Written by Michelle Thomas

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Movement and Learning

“We have known for years that Children who miss the vitally important crawling stage may exhibit learning difficulties. Crawling, a cross-lateral movement, activates development of the corpus callosum (the nerve pathways between the two hemispheres of the cerebrum)” – Carla Hannaford

You may ask why dance is important to a 6 months old, or a toddler, or even a child. Why start them this young? What benefits does dance have at this age? Dance is a constant source of movement and activity. Learning takes place constantly as children move based on visual cues and later verbal cues. For young infants and children, exploratory movement and sensory engagement are the primaries ways that they learn. As discovered by Piaget and explained by Sue Stinson in her paper Dance education in early childhood,

children move up and down before they know these words. Next, the words become associated with the movement and the accompanying body sensations; young children cannot think or talk about movement without doing it. Gradually the words begin to stand for the movement: the need to do the full movement disappears, and the movement gets smaller and smaller until it is no longer physically demonstrated…although we are not always aware of it, we still use this internalized movement to think conceptually.

It has been often noted and documented that most people do their best conceptual thinking during a repetitive low level movement. This is why you often have an amazing idea while shampooing your hair or on a quiet walk. “Even Einstein noted that he made his discoveries initially through visual and kinesthetic images of movement; he saw or felt an idea, and the words came later.” (Stinson)

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But why move through dance? Dance not only keeps children actively engaged and learning, but adds layers of education through creative movement. Asking children to move in creative ways forces them to explore new options, and starts to develop creative problem solving skills. In addition, children learn to control their own bodies and think spatially. When they dance,

They become aware of how fast they are moving, how to speed up and slow down, how to stop and start, and how to control their bodies when they change direction…Creative dance helps children learn to move in their own personal spaces, to be aware of other children’s personal spaces, and to respect others as everyone together moves in a shared space. When children become used to these unwritten understandings about space and movement, they carry them over to other daily activities (Dow)

Moving creatively is one of the pillars of Urbanity’s teaching philosophies. One of our teachers who best exemplifies creating space where this type of exploration is encouraged is Leilani Ricardo. When talking about her class, she forms an entirely new world for the children:

  “I want my classroom to be a Spaceship. Self-contained and self-sustaining. By nature a space that is both highly disciplined and highly collaborative. A space that as soon as you enter, you are insulated from the outside world, but with a mission of exploration and discovery so that when you do re-enter society (whether disembarking from the ship or leaving the classroom) you have something beneficial to share, progress and perspective. Everyone is essential in a spaceship: no one is superfluous and I want a classroom where students feel their importance. A classroom built on the foundation of experimentation, exploration, discipline, growth, and freedom. I want my students to enter the space and drop their baggage and the heaviness of gravity-bound day to day life so they feel like through movement they can reach those stars. ” – Leilani

Our children excel because they learn to move creatively from a young age, and it impacts energy, creativity, and education.

-Written by Michelle Thomas

 

Learn more about teaching for creative movement:

https://www.naeyc.org/tyc/files/tyc/file/V6N1/Dow2010.pdf

Works Cited:

Dow, Connie. “Young Children Learning.” The Power of Creative Dance (n.d.): 209-25. Web.

Hannaford, Carla. Smart Moves: Why Learning Is Not All in Your Head. Arlington, VA: Great Ocean, 1995. Print.

Stinson, S.W. (1990). Dance education in early childhood. Design for Arts in Education, 91(6), 34-41. DOI: 10.1080/07320973.1990.9934836

 

 

 

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The Importance of Play

The other day a little girl came in with her mom to register for dance classes, and while her mom spoke about the logistics of starting, we made up our own secret language. It was quietly decided that each time I stuck out my tongue, she would create a brand new dance move. And as my faces stretched in added absurdity, her moves went from marches to twirls to tumbles to jumps. In 10 minutes I watched her change from a dinosaur to a hungry frog to a funny rain soaked dog. That is the magic of play and improvisation that children know so well.

The importance of play has been in the media frequently, from articles by Huffington Post and the New York Times, to TED talks, to entire day festivals at our own Boston Children’s Museum. It is well documented that play helps children express themselves, view life with optimism, test alternatives and learn the necessary social skills to help handle stress. But it is not as often discussed that the movement offered in dance is a key component. According to the National Institute for Play,

Learning about self-movement structures an individual’s knowledge of the world – it is a way of knowing, and we actually, through movement and play, think in motion. For example the play-driven movement of leaping upward is a lesson about gravity as well as one’s body. And it lights up the brain and fosters learning. Innovation, flexibility, adaptability, resilience, have their roots in movement. The play driven pleasures associated with exploratory body movements, rhythmic early speech (moving vocal cords), locomotor and rotational activity – are done for their own sake; pleasurable, and intrinsically playful. They sculpt the brain, and ready the player for the unexpected and unusual.

So when a game is introduced in a classroom setting, it not only helps to break the ice and engage all children, but is helping children learn about their body in an environment safe for experimentation. It helps us think spatially, and the physical exertion and effort to get a movement right fosters adaptability and resilience.

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Last weekend we had the pleasure of seeing the outcomes play firsthand as our students performed at the Boston Children’s Museum for their event, the Power of Play. Our students were asked to improvise a dance to rhythm made on the spot by a local drummer. When it came time to perform for the second time, our dancers began, but the beat did not. Rather than panic or stop, something incredible happened; the dancers began to respond to each other’s rhythms and movements instead of the auditory. As they performed and the music picked up, other children were encouraged to join in and play. Hesitant at first, kids of all ages came forward and began, first mimicking the movements of the dancers and then trying on their own. This learning to play could be seen trickling down even as our own Dance Instructor, Haley Day, joined in on the fun. As Haley tried a new move the students had never seen, the students watched and experimented with the new shape, which informed the public and encouraged others.

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Our actions as parents, instructors, and role models shape the lives around us. As such, it is important that we remember to play. According to psychiatrist Stuart Brown, the founder of the national institute of play, “Play is something done for its own sake…It’s voluntary, it’s pleasurable, it offers a sense of engagement, it takes you out of time. And the act itself is more important than the outcome.”

Doing something purely for your own sake is something we, as adults, often forget. Working towards a goal and managing our time to get there becomes so important that we forget to act without an outcome in mind. While talking with Kurt Joyc, one of our teachers here at Urbanity, he noted that adults in dance classes often seem stiff, embarrassed to move freely. In contrast, he noticed that, “if you start when you’re young, you just have the instant confidence to self-express”

Dancing acts as one of the few activities that allows us to hold on to play in its true essence. It is an act of constantly learning and engaging with your environment and others. Kurt added, “In life you need to be excited to try new things, dance allows you to do that”. Even when dance reaches a professional level, play is essential. It is what allows choreographers to create new material, or dancers to build chemistry. Contemporary Dance performance allows for play on a different level. It engages true fantasy and allows the audience to speculate, or participate in the fantasy. It creates the physical urge to move and is one of the few spaces left that gives room to create fantasy of your own. So whether taking a dance course, grooving in your room, or watching a performance, don’t forget to embrace fantasy and play. After all, you never know who you will leave an impression on.

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Photo credit in order of appearance:  Mark Wilson, Whitney Waddell, Michelle Thomas, Celso Enrique

want additional academic reading on play and movement? Check out these sources :

Ito, Maseo, (1993) Movement and Thought Identical control mechanisms by the cerebellum. Trends in the neurosciences 16, 448-450

Sheets- Johnstone, Maxine, (1999) The Primacy of Movement, Johns-Benjamin Vol. 14, Advances in Consciousness Research

Forencich, Frank, (2001) Play as if Your Life Depended Upon It. ISBN: 0972335803

 

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Meet the New Marketing Manager

Hello all.

I am the new Marketing and Communications manager here at Urbanity Dance and wanted to introduce myself.  I am an Artist and Author living in Boston, Massachusetts, and thrilled to bring my skills to the amazing community at Urbanity. Michelle

As an artist, I am most Intrigued by issues of communication; from how people choose to use or shun labels, to the nonverbal communication of dance. My work investigates how written and visual form can communicate together, often experimenting with format and process.

Often working in series, I strive to call attention to issues within my own communities, and help to give a point of access and understanding to those outside of the community. In this way, I hope to bridge gaps of communication too often found within different fields, and mediums.

I am fascinated by dance from a physical, personal, and interpersonal perspective. My focus is in social partner dances and I am eager to explore how dance creates nonverbal connections intensely and immediately. You can view my most recent installation project, Magnetic Movements, Here. 

Magnetic Movements Magnetic Movements, Mixed Media, 2016

I am excited to bring my voice and skills to Urbanity and help the community grow. Going forward, you can expect some changes in tone and subject here at our blog. I will be working to make this platform into a forum to have deep conversations about what we do, why we do it, and what impact it has outside of Urbanity. There will be many guest writers weighing in, and you can expect a deep and academic look at the philosophy of dance, as Urbanity pushes the contemporary Dance scene forwards.

Until next week,

Michelle Thomas
Marketing and Communications Manager
http://michellebthomas.com/

 

 

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Meet Urbanity!

Welcome back to another segment of Meet Urbanity! Since we’re coming to the end of our first week of the intensive, this week’s blog post is on Meg Anderson!

A powerhouse while dancing and teaching, Meg will always push our dancers and herself to their fullest potential.

Positions @ Urbanity: Company Dancer, Youth Company Director & Lead Summer Intensive Teacher

College Attended: Dean College (Dance Major and Psychology Minor)

Fun Fact: Meg LOVES crunches and coffee!

Why She Loves Urbanity: “I love Urbanity for so many reasons, but its versatility astounds me! We do everything!! It keeps us incredibly well rounded and constantly challenges us to try something new and push to our limits (and then discover new limits to break).”

Her Favorite Urbanity Moment: “Being able to learn and perform Pilobolus’ founding quartet “Ocellus” with fellow company dancers Jamie Ballou and Jacob Regan and former company dancer Brian Washburn. It was truly and challenge, an honor, and a rewarding experience.”

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Thanks for everything Meg! We are thankful. We also wouldn’t love crunches without you.

Until next time Urbanitarians!

By Erin Saunders