The Joy of Dance: A Visit with Brearley's Dance Department

Dance is a lively and joyful endeavor at Brearley. Under the direction of Marisa Ballaro (left) and Whitney Jacobs of the PE and Athletics Departments, what began as a modern dance program now stretches way beyond to include overarching themes, creative explorations, compositions, dance techniques and styles. The program gives the girls more than just great dance moves. They learn the skills they need to compose their own dances and perform them. Here is a quick “behind-the-steps” peek into our beloved Dance Program.
Brearley girls begin their dance careers early. Accompanied by a live musician, Kindergarteners learn to move to the rhythm of sounds, shapes and pathways while expanding their dance terminologies. The study of creative movement is continued in Class I with a focus on connecting dance to what the students are learning in other courses, Ms. Jacobs explains, “We ask the girls to move in ways that feel good to them, in ways that are unique to them.” Each year, the girls add to their repertoire of dance styles: ballet, jazz and modern dance in Class II, choreography and learning to become “Dance Makers” in Class III, and collaboration, self-choreography and performance in Class IV. 
Building on their solid technical foundations, Middle School girls study various dance styles: salsa, swing dance, jazz, hip-hop, modern dance and West African dance. Students in Classes VI and VIII have an opportunity to perform at the two-day An Evening of Dance celebration on February 21 and 22 at 7:00 pm in the Assembly Hall. Also featured in these concerts are students who choose to be part of the after-school sports program in V/VI Dance and VII/VIII Dance.
In Upper School, girls may audition for Varsity Dance or choose Dance as an elective PE course which is offered every term.  At the beginning of each new routine, Ms. Ballaro says: “It’s intimidating for the girls to realize that they will learn something new and then perform it for an audience. I often hear ‘I can never do that’ but then an amazing evolution takes over, and each day the body becomes more familiar with the movement. Minds become more confident. We see their adventurous intellects and creativity in action. A couple of weeks into class there is deep confidence. The transformation is amazing and inspiring.” 
Ms. Ballaro and Ms. Jacobs believe that dance is an art form in which your body is your instrument. It requires humans experiencing each other, the physical synergy that comes from being together and having empathy for one another. Movements begin and end with multiple dancers. It takes great collaboration, trust and support towards each other. The journey to master a performance is rigorous and demanding. But, from this hard work, friendships grow. The audience sees the final product, but the dancers know well all that it took to get to that beautiful place. 
Both Ms. Ballaro and Ms. Jacobs agree on an important principle of dance. Mistakes have power. When a dancer performs a sequence that is not as planned, rather than deeming it wrong, it is a potential catalyst to add a beautiful new aspect to the routine. The attitude of “let’s try it this way” is essential and fluid in dance, further generating ideas, confidence and empowering girls to unleash their imaginations. This acknowledgement and respect for “mistakes” as part of the creative process gives power and authority to the girls’ efforts. Ms. Ballaro explains, “It’s important for the girls to know that I would prefer they make a mistake that is powerful and with conviction than do something perfectly right with hesitation and inhibition.”
--Kristen Chae
The Brearley School
610 East 83rd Street | 590 East 83rd Street
New York, NY 10028
(212) 744-8582
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