Taconic Hills Fund Helps Students Explore Creativity Through Dance

Taconic Hills Fund Helps Students Explore Creativity Through Dance

On a chilly December morning, young students in the Taconic Hills Central School District took to the Performing Arts Center stage to participate in a dance recital full of beautiful movements, creative storytelling and a surprising amount of heartfelt emotion, thanks to a residency program funded in part by the Taconic Hills Arts and Humanities Fund.

The level of skill showcased at the event is even more impressive when you consider that the students only had three days to learn the choreography for “Fables,” a dance that brings to life the classic tales of 17th-century French writer Jean de La Fontaine. Fourth- and sixth-graders participated in numerous workshop sessions under the guidance of teaching artists from RIOULT Dance NY, a New York City-based dance company led by Artistic Director Pascal Rioult, in preparation for their live debut.

RIOULT Dance NY’s residency program has been a staple at the school for nearly a decade with support from the Taconic Hills Arts and Humanities Fund, which provides funding for arts and humanities programs in the district. The fund, which was created through the generosity of an anonymous donor, is celebrating its 10th anniversary this year.

The program is offered through RIOULT’s DanceREACH arts-in-education program, which uses modern dance as a springboard to explore student creativity and partners the dancers-in-training with teachers who are masters in their field.

Teaching Artist Michael Philips told the crowd how the students learned the three ingredients needed to become a professional dancer: they warmed up, trained and took care of their bodies; they rehearsed what they already knew and created new work; and they performed for an audience — this time full of their peers, family and friends.

The sixth-graders crafted their own moves for four fables, including the famous “The Hare and the Tortoise,” while a select group of fourth-graders worked on a special project called “Drawing through Dance,” which RIOULT created specifically for Taconic Hills. When asked to derive a theme from “The Animals Stricken with the Plague,” a fable in which an animal council casts out a donkey for eating grass, they chose to focus on bullying. After practicing their movements, the children each wrote a poem or story on the topic.

“They all came back with these incredible, creative pieces of writing,” Philips said. “We created one collective poem, and then the students improvised and made movements based on their own words. That’s why we call it ‘Drawing through Dance.’ They’re drawing conclusions on a topic using their bodies. They’re drawing conclusions based on an inspiration to write stories. It’s really about the creativity of a young mind.”

The moving poem, “We Stand,” tells the story of a lost, embarrassed person who was lifted up by his or her peers. Together, they started to dance. They became encouraged, happy and strong. They stood up for each other. “You are beautiful the way you are,” the fourth-graders wrote. “You are beautiful the way you are.”