A handful of Bronx Theatre High School students have taken a step into a dance that they never thought they would do before.
Amanda Selwyn Dance Theatre Notes in Motion continues to give back to the community as it has for 22 years. The acclaimed dance education program partnered with Bronx Theatre High School for the first time.
“What really unites our programs is our methodology, and what we strive to do no matter whether we’re teaching fourth grade, fifth grade, 10th grade, is bringing together the technique of the dance form with opportunities for individual expression,” said Amanda Selwyn, creator of Notes in Motion and her dance theatre company.
Notes in Motion is a Department of Education vendor and nonprofit outreach dance program gives a collaborative dance experience to underprivileged students in 17 different New York City public schools, and their roster contains 65 teaching artists.
Selwyn manages year after year to create choreography and work with the education department to create fluidity through her dancers at Notes in Motion.
As the semester comes to a close, Selwyn has run around all boroughs to go to performances with schools with whom she is a partner.
Performance styles run from Bollywood, jazz, hip-hop, and West African.
“It’s very special to me because when I was growing up, I was having theater and dance, in schools and in my community that showed me that this was something I loved and that I wanted to do for the rest of my life,” said teaching artist Rosie Needy.
Notes in Motion rooted its purpose by providing access to communities to promote individual expression through collaboration.
Needy grew up in Ohio in a community that thrived on performing arts, and — like any artist’s dream — New York City is the heart of continuing that education. The Big Apple is known to be the cultural center of the world.
“In general, in the New York City public schools, there’s a lack of arts education, you know, the first thing that’s going to be cut,” Selwyn said.
The education department made budget cuts, and performing arts was on the list. She said many schools didn’t even have these programs in New York. According to reports, $15 million was cut from the $21.5 million budget for arts education services in middle and high schools in the fiscal 2021 city budget.
Math science and language arts are the few subjects that the education department finds a valuable need for prime education. The department feels performing arts does not measure up to these other subjects.
It was shocking for the Ohio dancer because she believes every child deserves the opportunity to be exposed to the arts. Studio dance classes and private lessons do not come free to most elementary and high school students. Some main reasons are finances.
The education department’s office of arts and special projects receives a handful of grants for art programs.
Selwyn told The Riverdale Press without these grants, the program will have a hard time paying for it. Year after year, they promote themselves in the community, and through building relationships, they expand to something huge where schools across the city find interest.
Needy told The Press that teaching dance to students who do not have access to it is incredibly important for her because she gives back to the community.
The dancer introduced famous Broadway choreographer Bob Fosse, best known for his work in “Chicago” and “All That Jazz.”
He is best known for his choreography in the famous term “jazz hands,” a performance dance that uses the extensions of the performer’s hands with fingers spread apart, moving drastically.
Despite Bronx Theatre School’s name, Needy felt like she started from a beginner’s level to educate the students in dance, but she has learned a lot from her students.
The handful of students in her class related to Fosse’s song, “Rich Man’s Frug,” and current singer-songwriter Beyoncé in her song “Got Me Bodied.”
That following class, the students compared and contrasted the two pieces, and that’s where Needy’s and the students’ knowledge met.
Her class was optional as students also had the choice of taking traditional gym class.
Notes in Motion class tries to do a balance of creative instruction and tries to give students creative choices. Through exercises and creative exercises, students learn multiple dance tools.
“Eventually, students learned how to improvise and wanted to do a piece on sexuality and gender identity,” Selwyn said. “We love to give them (high school students) different opportunities for ownership.”
Which is a strong topic in our culture today.
Students wanted to create a dance piece on that topic it gives them a safe space to explore these ideas and express them through movement. The expression allows them to ask questions and challenges.
“We sit down with the school, and we try to figure out what are the goals of that particular school is,” Selwyn said, “Bronx Theatre High School wanted to find a way to bring some of the assets they don’t have into their population.”
The high school has a lot of theatre and music — but not a lot of dance.
Each school collaborates with the dance program to help benefit their students and give them a range of programs they lack. Each school has a goal and Notes in Motion helps to provide it.