By Andrea Sisney
Kirkwood High School physical education and dance teacher Lieschen Fink said she has had a lifelong goal to promote dance and fitness to students.
That’s why Fink teamed up this year with Webster University’s Dance Department for Dance Demo, a program that recently earned a $2,500 grant from the Fox Performing Arts Charitable Foundation.
Dance Demo takes Webster dance students into area high schools to teach teenagers dance. The program sprouted from Lecture Demonstrations, a presentation Webster dance professor Beckah Reed put on for years.
“We would go into schools and lecture on dance for fourty-five minutes,” Reed said. “Or students could go to a workshop for fourty-five minutes. Dance Demo is like a mini-residency, instead of doing it all in one shot.”
Last year, 10 Webster students went to University City High School for Dance Demo. Reed said students focused on teaching 30 high school students improvisation and composition. At the end of the Dance Demo session, the students put on a recital comprised of improvised movement.
“The students at University City were kind of an at-risk population,” Reed said. “But they never missed a day while we were there.”
Junior dance major Hope Harl has taught students through Dance Demo since it began in 2009. She said she joined to teach kids who don’t come from a dance background.
“It’s a great opportunity to teach different types of people,” Harl said. “I’ve been teaching since I was fifteen. I want to keep doing that the rest of my life.”
At Kirkwood this year, Reed and her students taught the teens a more structured, choreographed routine for their performance, which will take place March 15. Their final piece was choreographed by senior dance major Amber Franek.
“It’s about conflict,” Franek said. “They’re teenagers, you know, so it’s all about conflict and finding resolution.”
Seven Webster students participated in this year’s Dance Demo program. Reed said the students teach their pupils basic ballet terminology and how to properly warm up before they dance.
Fink said the experience has been helpful for her students. She said the Webster students help keep classes moving by providing one-on-one attention Fink could not give on her own. She also said they made the group a strong, cohesive unit.
“I have advanced and beginner students,” Fink said. “All of my classes are mixed ninth through 12th graders. They come from all sorts of backgrounds. Kids work together that wouldn’t normally work together. It’s great to sit back and observe.”
The Fox Performing Arts Grant, which has been awarded to the Webster dance department for the past two years, is helping Dance Demo pay Webster students for their help in the program. The leftover funds will be given to Fink for costuming, music or any other supplies she may need.
Reed said the idea to apply for a grant came from the lack of dance scholarships at Webster.
“I went to the development office and said ‘I need money for my students,’ ” Reed said. “I told them about the Lecture Demonstration program we were doing. The Fox Performing Arts Grant fit right into that.”
For Harl and other Webster students, Dance Demo’s payoff comes from seeing high school students succeed, and develop a passion for dance.
“It’s great to get the arts out there,” Harl said. “It’s a great experience seeing them develop. They have a lot of enthusiasm for dance.”