Dance Ensemble brings stories to life at Drake’s Community Library – The Scarlet and Black

By Millie Peck
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“Dancing Storytime,” a partnership between the Grinnell College Dance Ensemble and the Drake Community Library, has reopened the door to in-person community interaction after the COVID-19 pandemic rendered engagement between the university and the community particularly difficult.

In 2019, the College received the Humanities in Action grant from the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation which provided funding and support for the college to create engagement between art classes and the community. A collaboration between the Dance Ensemble and the Drake Community Library in a series of performances is a project made possible by the grant.

The project includes four performances throughout November and December. The next two performances are scheduled for Saturday November 13 and Saturday December 4. The first performance took place on the lawn outside the library, but due to the colder weather, future performances will take place inside the library.

Community Engaged Learning Fellow Lia Schifitto connected Karen Neal, the director of youth services at the Drake Library, with professor Celeste Miller, theater and dance, who is also the leader of the Dance Ensemble.

The couple, as well as the four members of the Lillith dance ensemble Hafner `23, Arturo Hernandez-Ramirez `22, Elena Busick `25 and Emma Kaplan `25 have chosen four picture books around the themes of diversity and understanding what it means to be human. Each performance is unique and aims to explore the themes of each new picture book.

“It’s a performance with a lot of interactivity with the audience and this interactivity is an invitation for everyone in the room – child, adult and everyone in between – to find the joy of exploring a book of images through the stories, through the visual images and the ways of exploring those ideas through guided movement,” Miller said. “Particularly being able to observe a choreographic explanation of the material as well as by the four dancers.

Schiffito explained why this particular community event is unique in that most community dancing opportunities focus on competitive dancing. “They don’t focus on movement as a form of learning,” she said.

Each performance is unique and aims to explore the themes of a new picture book. Photo by Isabelle Torrence.

“To really think about community engagement through dance is that it’s a way of learning something, and movement helps memory. It combines early learning with picture books and movement. Schifitto said.

The project offers new opportunities and experiences for community members as well as ensemble members, as for many of the students involved, this is the first time they have taken part in this kind of performance.

Kaplan danced most of her life in studios with a director providing specific choreography. “I feel like for this piece, it was a very different experience. I showed up and it was like, ‘Okay, what do you want to do?’ and I was like, ‘What do you want me to do?’ “, she explained. “It was really a fit, and a good one! It was fun and it allowed me to broaden my horizons.”

Ensemble members also expressed positive feelings about the project’s interactions with the community. “I think our presence in the library also creates an interest in literacy at least in children, and I think it’s important to bring it [the performance] to a library because the library is such an important community space,” Hernandez-Ramirez said. “Growing up, I spent a lot of time in my own local public library in Des Moines, so it carries that meaning too, which is good.”

Schifitto hopes this project will be the first of many opportunities for classes to provide meaningful and lasting engagement with the community. “It’s an all-ages event, and everyone can have fun, but I think that long-term impact is what got me most excited about this class,” he said. she declared. “I think the leadership that students gain over time by being active players in designing programming is something that has excited me and is something that I hope to see other classes do. “

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