“Create and collaborate” are among the objectives for the day posted in Maria Krey Gibson’s Fusion dance class at Frederick A. Douglass mid-high.
The east-side school serves sixth grade through senior (12th) and is a part of Oklahoma City Public Schools.
“From the things I read, the biggest problem for employers is they don’t see adults who have the capacity to create and problem-solve with other adults. They just butt heads.”
“We work on that a lot,” said the six-year OKCPS veteran dance teacher. She has been at Douglass for the last four years.
Before that she was at Jefferson Middle School on the south side of the district.
Students in her class went to work quickly as soon as the bell rang. They cycled through warmup and stretching moves to music sometimes led by students and sometimes by Gibson.
This week her students are working on one of several assessments they have where the class divides into smaller groups. She then teaches each group the first part of a dance and then they must create their own completion of it.
When instructed, the students got into their groups and started to work. They were in the final stages of developing their dance.
At each of the two groups struggled to get together. They would stop, start and stop again, each time talking with each other about which moves work the best.
Gibson stopped them part way through to remind them of the process they should be using to assist each other and create a unified appearance.
“What I’m seeing and what I’m hearing is you need to take time to slow down,” Gibson says to the attentive students. “And we need to talk about count. We need to clarify and communicate. We need to say ‘On count one, do this. On count two, do this.’”
When they got back to work on their dances this time, both groups were calling out their counts together.
Now, each group started to look more like a whole with each repetition of their dance.
Free Press talked with four of the students about their involvement in the class.
The two youngest members of the troupe are eight-graders Dali Norwood and Aelani Haskins.
Norwood said that she went straight from the Middle School class to Fusion because she wanted something “more challenging.”
“At first I didn’t want to, but then she [Gibson] kind of convinced me to. I’m happy I did,” said Norwood.
Aelani Haskins was in the middle school class and then decided to try out for the Fusion troupe. Why?
“I actually like dance because you can express yourself without using words,” she said. “I’m kind of a shy person anyway. I don’t talk a lot.”
Zyron Rattler is one of only two young men in the class mostly because his sister, also in the class, kept encouraging him to join. He said at first, he was reluctant.
“Now, I love it,” he said. “I enjoy choreography.”
“In dance, you can portray emotions into a dance and make it look a billion times better than you could say anything,” Rattler said.
Phuong Nguyen is a sophomore and wants to be a movie director one day.
So, the collaboration is a good early experience for her to get ready for the highly collaborative movie industry.
“I like the ballet part of the class the best,” Nguyen said.
OKCPS has made a “real commitment” to dance, Gibson said.
Gibson was in the first class at University of Central Oklahoma to graduate with a dance education degree. The program is designed to create school dance teachers.
Many of those in that graduating class now teach in different schools in OKCPS.
She said that she feels privileged to be able to focus her whole energy on teaching the deeper disciplines of dance all day.
She said that what she heard is that OKCPS used to be in the same situation as many other surrounding districts. They have a dance curriculum, but no one dedicated to it.
But not so in OKCPS now.
Throughout a normal day, Gibson alternates between the Middle School, Dance I, Dance II and Fusion dance classes.
In addition, she teaches modified yoga for a special needs class at the school.
Starting with the Middle School class, Gibson starts letting the students find out if they even like dance as a discipline and form of expression.
From there, Dance I and Dance II are developing the student further in their skills.
Fusion, then, is like the varsity team.
In order to be in the Fusion troupe, students have to audition and be willing to create their own dances in a group process.
They also travel and represent the school, such as performing before the meeting of the OKCPS Board of Education recently.
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