A role model for community-based dance
By Rachel Berman
Patricia Reedy and Nancy Ng have an audacious plan: to change the perception of the field of dance, one teacher at a time, and to cultivate choreographers from childhood, while the limits of imagination are boundless. Their plan takes tangible form as the nonprofit Luna Dance Institute, based in Emeryville, California, just across the bay from San Francisco.
Over the past 19 years, Luna Dance Institute has established a strong foothold in the San Francisco Bay Area dance community, reaching children, teens, parents, and dance educators of all levels. Last year alone LDI provided resources for 250 dance artists and teachers, thereby enhancing the dance instruction for more than 24,500 students.
Presenting a line of thinking that deviates from the traditional focus of a beginning dance class, Reedy, Ng, and their teaching artists encourage children to create rather than re-create. Their goal is to redefine the role of teacher as we know it, transforming the old paradigm of technical mastery to developing a dancer’s whole-body intelligence through a composition-based dance-learning curriculum.
How it began
Reedy and Ng—both performers, choreographers, teachers, and mothers—met as graduate students at Mills College in Oakland, California. Reedy founded the first incarnation of LDI after earning an MA in creativity and education from Mills. The author of Body, Mind & Spirit IN ACTION: A Teacher’s Guide to Creative Dance, she now holds the title of LDI’s director of teaching and learning. Ng holds an MFA from Mills in performance and choreography and is LDI’s director of community development.
As directors, the two have a symbiotic partnership that keeps them on track. Reedy says her vision is “far-reaching” while Ng “stays the course.” Reedy spends time in the studio teaching and training staff, while Ng is often the face of LDI for funders. Ng, Reedy says, has the uncanny ability and imagination to “stand in another’s shoes in any situation.” Both women, having been recognized in the dance field numerous times, were the first to receive the national award for mentorship (in 2003) from the National Dance Education Organization. In 2008, NDEO awarded Reedy the Outstanding Educator award.
In 1992, responding to the lack of neighborhood studios in Oakland (many of which were displaced by the 1989 Loma Prieta earthquake), Reedy opened Luna—A Dance World, a community space used for rehearsals and gatherings, as a hub for classes, teachers, and choreographers. Ng was on faculty before becoming co-director.
It was a magical time of collaboration, which Reedy speaks of with nostalgia and warmth.
However, she and Ng found that they could reach more students and train more teachers (with less overhead) by developing in-school programs and cultivating artist– teacher partnerships. So in 1998 they closed the studio and rebranded as Luna Kids Dance, training teachers and establishing partnerships with the Oakland Unified School District. LKD was committed to children’s education and its mission of “bringing all children to dance.”
In 2005, in order to expand their teaching roster and spread the word of dance, Reedy and Ng founded the California Institute for Dance Learning (CIDL) to serve as the pedagogy engine of Luna Kids Dance. The institute provided comprehensive education and support for all who teach dance, encompassing LKD’s professional development work. However, Reedy and Ng realized that although they were focused on children’s education, it was the educators who were driving their mission.
So in the fall of 2010 they rebranded yet again, placing all programs under the Luna Dance Institute heading and opening a new space with studios, administrative offices, and a Professional Learning Resource Center in Emeryville. Reedy is excited about once again having a physical space, realizing its potential for collaborations, classes, and audience-building for LDI’s programs.
Ng agrees, pointing out that “place is so important in dance, in choreographic terms, and now structurally, in the evolution of LDI.” Both are excited about re-creating the sense of dancers, teachers, and choreographers gathering in community that they fostered almost two decades ago.
Luna in action
On a sunny Northern California day, energetic fourth-grade students at New Highland Academy in Oakland file into the classroom for their weekly dance class. Wearing their street clothes, they go through simple warm-up exercises led by Luna Dance Institute instructor Danae Rees, who bangs on a small drum to keep time.
Then, dividing the students into groups of three, Rees guides them through a game called “shape museum,” in which they take turns playing the “statue,” freezing in complementary or asymmetrical shapes. The two not frozen are asked to interact with their friend’s still body, moving “over and under” or “near and far.” Rees is complimentary, singling out individuals for their interesting choices.
Across town at Marshall Elementary, another set of 10-year-olds, almost all rambunctious boys, is following the same curriculum. The students run across the room to illustrate “near” and “far” and slither on the ground to get “under” their friends. LDI instructor Erin Lally keeps them focused, using a drum and rhythmic clapping to bring them to attention when necessary.
At this age, as expected, some students are more reticent to participate while others jump at the chance to show off for their peers. Most are having a great time. All are encouraged to try and are told that there are no wrong answers. In less than an hour both classes will have made rudimentary trios, with a beginning, middle, and end, utilizing space, energy, and levels, along with college-level concepts like counterpoint. Students are able to verbalize recognizable elements in their own compositions and their classmates’ and fill out assessment worksheets to record actions and observations each week.
The LDI curriculum embraces creativity in a playful environment, yet pays rigorous attention to the principles of child development. The students are allowed to be adaptable and flexible. Given parameters framed as a game, they learn an important part of dancemaking: making choices. Following the appropriate National Dance Standards guidelines (and grade-level benchmarks), LDI aims to provide children with the tools to create, perform, and respond.
Just as academic schools aspire to instill in all students the ability to put words together, make sentences, and write complete essays, LDI wants children to do the same with movement—to put expressive ideas into a complete dance. The goal is not to make choreographers but to help children understand the building blocks of creating, no matter what they do later in life.
A presence in schools
Strong partnerships within the Oakland Unified School District, from administration to the classroom teachers, are what make the LDI program successful. The classes at New Highland Academy and Marshall Elementary are offered through LDI’s School and Community Alliances program, which also offers coaching and consulting to public schools and teachers throughout the Bay Area.
Most dance-in-schools programs in California differ structurally from LDI, offering a residency model in which guest teachers, for a finite amount of time, focus on a culminating performance. Luna believes in continuity and putting down roots. The LDI program encompasses one hour a week for the entire school year and makes sure each grade is involved in successive years, thereby building students’ skills in scope and sequence.
“One of the things we do best is help dance teachers become their best teaching selves, gaining in skill and confidence. I delight in watching them start, expand, and improve the programs they work in, stay in the field, and mentor others.” —Patricia Reedy
Other programs offered through LDI include the Studio Lab, a choreography program for children and teens, and Moving Parents and Children Together (MPACT), which offers parent–child dance classes to families in Alameda County (where Oakland is located) and through the child welfare system.
But LDI doesn’t target only kids. Each week on the Mills College campus, Reedy guides MFA candidates in dance through exercises that have the same sense of play and self-discovery. The course’s focus: to incorporate compositional ideas into technique class syllabuses. Her students practice their ideas on classmates and later in studio settings as part of their fieldwork.
Reedy and Ng would like to see the establishment of a national dance credential that supports high-quality, rigorous programs in schools and studios. Their goal is to help establish a California teaching credential for standards-based dance classes within the public school system. If and when a national credential is established, they hope it will align with the state’s.
LDI operates on the dual premise that all students deserve teaching of the highest quality and that all teachers deserve opportunities for continued professional growth (and should be recognized for their mastery and compensated accordingly). Currently, to teach dance in California public schools, one must complete requirements for a general BA degree plus 32 units of dance instruction. LDI offers courses that fulfill the latter requirement, and its Certificate of Study—CIDL Foundations of Dance Teaching—is the first step in working toward a California credential. The Mills College course Reedy teaches is part of this certification program, open to both Mills dance majors and non-Mills students for continuing education credit.
According to Reedy, states that offer certification (like New York) have robust dance-in-schools programs. She thinks California is stuck in a catch-22: there’s no need for certification because dance isn’t being taught in the school system, and dance isn’t being offered because of the dearth of certified dance teachers. Of course there is the bigger picture that the performing arts at all levels are scrambling for funds and that dance is not as valued in our society as it should be.
Another way LDI serves teachers is with its 10-year-old, nationally recognized Summer Institute, held on the Mills campus each July. Twelve people (six dance artists and six classroom teachers) from diverse teaching backgrounds participate in an intense six-day exploration, followed by a year of collegial activities in dance learning, all free of charge. These artists work together in studying state and national standards for dance, child development principles, and learning theories. They investigate the teacher–artist partnership and strategies for partnering with schools, districts, organizations, and the community to bring dance to life in their individual settings.
Follow-up collegial activities are mandatory and include a midyear meeting, an end-of-year reflection, regular participation in the interactive forum on LDI’s website, and communication with an assigned coach. The coaching, tailored to each participant, may include curricular design, observation and feedback on teaching, or assessment or strategic planning of a dance program. During the follow-up year, all Summer Institute participants may also take any LDI workshop or participate in any professional learning community activity.
More than 120 teachers have participated to date, teaching collectively more than 25,000 children. Reedy says, “One of the things we do best is help dance teachers become their best teaching selves, gaining in skill and confidence. I delight in watching them start, expand, and improve the programs they work in, stay in the field, and mentor others.”
An LDI success story
A 2005 Summer Institute graduate, Erica Rose Jeffrey, speaks glowingly of LDI, calling it an “oasis.” Jeffrey has degrees in ballet and mediation and conflict resolution. She now teaches dance in Bay Area public schools, through San Francisco Ballet’s Dance in Schools and Communities program, in recreation programs, and at local dance studios. She is outreach director for Let’s All Dance!, a dance-in-schools residency program at Marin Dance Theatre in San Rafael.
Jeffrey calls the ongoing mentorship of the LDI program and its collegiality “invaluable.” Unless they have studied pedagogy in college, dancers often come to teaching in a solitary rite of passage, learning through trial and error and without professional support. LDI offers semi-annual Issues of Practice seminars as well as two events per month—free brunches and happy-hour get-togethers, plus consultations and workshops for the community.
Jeffrey, who is interested in leadership and dance advocacy, believes she emerged from the Summer Institute with renewed skills, concrete exercises, individual lesson plans, and the confidence to direct a program. “LDI encouraged me to look at complexities within the field,” she says.
She has stayed connected to her LDI family, serving as a facilitator and mentor to new program participants. She also takes part in the Advanced Summer Institute, a four-day workshop for Summer Institute graduates that furthers their knowledge and solidifies their sense of community. She will expand her own conflict-resolution dance education program, Moving Toward Peace, when she travels to Australia on a Rotary Peace Fellowship in 2012.
Promoting the power of dance
Reedy and Ng are role models, innovative thinkers who allow their students the freedom to explore and help connect them to the greater dance community. They believe in the power of dance education to bring about social change, heal communities, and develop future leaders. Their philosophy begins with the idea that, as Ng points out, “working with composition makes for thoughtful dancers.” Thoughtful dancers in turn make thoughtful choreographers and teachers, or transfer to any vocation. They believe that putting nonverbal expressive ideas into motion and crafting them into a dance utilizes a whole-brain approach to learning.
The National Art Education Association claims that the arts make a tremendous impact on the developmental growth of every child and help level the learning field across socioeconomic boundaries. Reedy and Ng simply want every child to be able to create and to have access to qualified dance teachers to guide them in the process.
The Paul Taylor Dance Foundation (PTDF) has announced three staff appointments.
Sarah Schindler returns to the company as director of finance. Schindler served as PTDF’s manager of finance from 1987 until 1994, before serving in a similar capacity with Harlem Stage and the Orchestra of St. Luke’s. Rachel Berman, who danced with the Paul Taylor Dance Company from 1989 to 1999, returns to the foundation as development officer. Most recently, Berman was company manager of the Bay Area’s Company C Contemporary Ballet. Also, Jessica Remmes, formerly with the Buglisi Dance Theatre, joins as information and research associate.
The Paul Taylor Dance Foundation supports the Paul Taylor Dance Company and Taylor 2. Since its founding in 1954, the company has performed in more than 520 cities in 62 nations. Taylor 2, established in 1993, teaches and provides community outreach. For more information, visit www.ptdc.org.
Nā Kamalei: continuing the traditions of men in Hawaiian dance
By Rachel Berman
Hula is not just dancing. For many Hawaiians, torn between pride in cultural traditions and a yearning for Western ways, hula is the embodiment of their culture. Before Western contact and the introduction of a written language, Hawaiian culture was kept alive through dance, mele (song or poetry), and chant. Hula expresses everything Hawaiians hear, see, smell, taste, touch, and feel.
The familiar image of the hula girl—graceful, brown, and slender, bedecked with fragrant flower leis, her hips swaying while hands gesture—is only a fraction of a complex history. The stories told through hula chronicle the Hawaiian people’s spiritual beliefs, values, history, legends, love of land, and love for one another. Those romanticized, feminized visions, kept alive by tourist kitsch and Hollywood images of wiggling in tacky raffia skirts and coconut bras, have made it difficult for male dancers to carry on the traditions of their forefathers.
Difficult, but not impossible. For almost 35 years, Robert Uluwehi Cazimero has dedicated himself to teaching hula, struggling to overcome deep-rooted stereotypes and prove that men can dance.
The Hawaiian Renaissance
Laying the groundwork for Cazimero was his teacher, the great hula master Ma’iki Aiu Lake (1925–1984). Known as the “mother” of the Hawaiian Renaissance of the 1970s, Lake helped foster a resurgence of Hawaiian music, language, and dance. This cultural revolution continues today. She is also credited with bringing male dancing back into fashion and paving the way for male kumu hula (teachers of Hawaiian dance). In 1972, her hālau (which means “school,” with a larger sense of “community”) was the first to graduate men to the title of kumu (literally, “foundation” or “source”). One of great respect, this designation is awarded only to those who have gone through years of arduous training in rituals dating back to pre-contact Hawaii. A graduation of this type and magnitude had not been seen in several decades.
At Lake’s bidding, Kumu Hula Robert Cazimero, of Hawaiian and Portuguese ancestry, founded the only all-male hula school in the Hawaiian Islands, Hālau Nā Kamalei (Lei of Children). Already an established musician, he formed a musical duo with his youngest brother, Roland, the same year. Internationally renowned, with 38 recordings and a Grammy nomination to their name, The Brothers Cazimero are trendsetters in contemporary Hawaiian music and cultural ambassadors spreading the “Aloha Spirit” throughout the world.
Cazimero met Lake at a young age, accompanying her singing on the piano when she was a guest in his high school music class. That fateful day would change his life, though it took a few years before he joined her hula classes. Even today when he speaks of his kumu, his eyes sparkle and well up with joy, nostalgia, and deep loss, though she has been gone for 25 years. He misses her dearly and lives by Lake’s mantra: “Hula is life.”
The first to meld traditional and contemporary styles choreographically, Lake was also ahead of her time pedagogically. She trained dancers in both modern hula (‘auana) and the ancient style (kahiko), which had not been in the mainstream since the overthrow of the Hawaiian Monarchy in 1893.
Though danced by both men and women, kahiko, accompanied by traditional percussive instruments and chant dating back to pre-Western contact, is often more virile in nature: bombastic, aggressive, and reflective of more ritualistic forms. Traditionally kahiko was performed topless with a loincloth or skirt of tapa cloth or ti leaves. ‘Auana is more lyrical in nature, accompanied by song (in English or Hawaiian) and Western-influenced instruments such as guitar and ukulele. Costumes, also Western influenced, utilize the familiar flowered mu’umu’u or more festive attire. Both forms are danced barefoot and grounded in nature, employing the same movement vocabulary, with a constant sway of the hips, upright posture, and bent knees throughout. Gestures alluding to the lyrics or chants are often repeated on both sides with a “vamp” in between. Choreographers of both styles make visible the song’s text by skillfully enhancing or obscuring its meaning.
“The kahiko went over the top when men started dancing again,” says Cazimero. “It was so different, controversial—very sexual, primal, tribal, empowering, intimidating, haunting, teasing, and beautiful. It was what Nā Kamalei was founded on. Our [ceremonies in 1972] caused a great stirring here in the islands, and after I graduated I wanted to share what I’d learned. [Our teacher told us], ‘Take what I’ve given you and make it better.’ ”
In hula, lineage is extremely important; knowing where you came from allows you to move forward. All hula halau adhere to a proverb: “I ulu no ka lā lā I ke kumu.” (“The branches of the tree are only as strong as the trunk—without our ancestors we would not be here.”)
Lake’s dream was for Cazimero to teach only men. “There was no questioning her; she saw things in all of us that we never would have comprehended, let alone acknowledged what would come to fruition,” Cazimero says. “I loved her so much; I would have done anything she told me. Being in her presence was a celebration.”
“Coming from a time in the ’60s when being Hawaiian wasn’t important and the idea of hula was foreign, men dancing was a novelty. Getting men to dance is just as difficult now.” —Robert Uluwehi Cazimero
Continuing Lake’s teachings, Cazimero in turn has graduated several students who are continuing her legacy. His responsibility and purpose in life are to make her proud. “To this day, not embarrassing my teacher remains a concern and a promise.”
The origins of hula are shrouded in mystery and its meaning is surrounded by misrepresentations and misconceptions. Although hula was developed by Polynesians at the beginning of the fifth century, it’s impossible to document rituals before Captain James Cook’s arrival in the islands in 1778. From old lithographs we know that both men and women danced in ancient Hawaii, though only men performed ritual movement, or haʻa, in places of worship. Lua, an ancient, bone-breaking Hawaiian martial art, was practiced for the art of war. These forms are now incorporated into what is recognized as hula today, especially in its more masculine form of kahiko.
Branded as “licentious” and “heathen” by missionaries in 1820, hula was banned by the high chiefs. But it continued to be taught and performed clandestinely away from missionary establishments. During his reign from 1874 to 1891, King David Kalākaua proclaimed hula “the language of the heart and therefore the heartbeat of the Hawaiian people,” and brought the po’e hula (hula people) out of hiding. After Hawaii’s annexation to the United States in 1898, many parents, in a desire to function in an English-speaking world, prevented their children from learning the Hawaiian language and the hula.
Because it is constantly evolving, all hula today can be considered innovative. At one time, the poetry accompanying the movements was the most important component (since there can be no hula without it) and could be interpreted on many levels. But as English became the chosen language, few Hawaiians understood the songs behind the hula, and the choreography had to adapt accordingly. With the resurgence of spoken Hawaiian, teachers of hula can once again concentrate on melding these two elements.
Hula, Cazimero style
Cazimero shook up the state when he began his hālau in 1975, against great odds. “Coming from a time in the ’60s when being Hawaiian wasn’t important and the idea of hula was foreign, men dancing was a novelty,” he says. “Getting men to dance is just as difficult now. You’ve got to be a strong guy to take all the hard work you must put up with to learn the style you’ve chosen. Then there’s the stigma, the cast dispersions on a man’s masculinity. Psychologically it can either make or break you.” His students live by another Hawaiian proverb,“Dare to hula . . . leave your shame at home.”
Cazimero does not advertise or audition. Men are handpicked to come to rehearsals, traditionally on Sundays, in Cazimero’s apartment building in Honolulu, and instructed in basic vocabulary and his particular style until deemed ready for performing. Cazimero does not take any payment; instead, his singing career and annual fund-raisers cover any expenses the hālau incurs.
When starting Nā Kamalei, Cazimero worked hard at inventing his own style of manly grace, breaking away from Lake’s more feminine approach. The vocabulary of hula movements is the same for men and women; it is the way in which the steps are done that differs. Men use such stylistic nuances as a closed fist rather than an open palm on a particular gesture, a deeper bend of the knees, a stronger stance, or sharpness to certain movements.
Much of hula is based on unison movement. Cazimero has an incredible eye for line; particularly how the arms, elbows, wrists, and fingers create beautiful shapes that complement the male form. He is detailed and precise, interested in the overall patterns onstage. But he was also criticized for being too avant-garde in his choreography. Early in his career, influenced by some of his dancers who had trained in other dance forms, he often incorporated modern, ballet, and gymnastics into his hula productions. After Lake’s death, he returned to the more traditional side of the art form.
Members of Nā Kamalei perform at almost all of The Brothers Cazimero concerts, dancing for sold-out crowds around the world, from their own backyard to New York’s Carnegie Hall. They have won most major hula competitions, including the “Super Bowl” of hula, the prestigious Merrie Monarch Hula Festival, held each year on the Big Island of Hawaii. In celebration of its 30th year, Nā Kamalei returned to the contest, taking top prizes in both the ‘auana and kahiko categories as well as the coveted all-around award, a rare victory for a male hālau.
Although Cazimero teaches only men in Hawaii, he usually includes women in his shows. As a master teacher he is in high demand and travels often to Japan, a country enamored with hula, to share his music and dance. He feels validated by his students and strives to be better for them, whether passing on ancient dances or choreographing new works. The primary lessons he learned from his kumu were in patience and tolerance.
According to his dancers, who are fiercely respectful and protective of their own kumu, Cazimero is a loving tyrant—demanding, gentle, and firm. With no set curriculum, he is spontaneous and creative, employing humor and off-color remarks in his teaching style. Because he was not much older than his young students when he first began, he often needed harsh language to get through to them. “There is real power in being a kumu,” says Cazimero, “like being a parent.”
Falling in love with hula
Joining a hālau is a big commitment. More than a traditional school or dance company in Western terms, it is a catalyst for a community to connect through its culture. You don’t have to have Hawaiian blood to dance hula—you become Hawaiian in your heart.
The two dozen men of Hālau Nā Kamalei are 18 to 55 years of age; they have full-time jobs, families, and lives apart from dancing. They are sons, fathers, husbands, Hawaiian and non-Hawaiian. They come together each Sunday for camaraderie through dance, song, food, and gossip. Most of their social interactions outside of hālau are spent with hula “brothers.”
The men of Nā Kamalei find it hard to articulate why they connect to hula. For many it is a spiritual key that unlocked the door to their cultural identity. Their reasons for starting to dance are familiar—perhaps a sister or relative danced, or classes were available to them in school. Some connected through the music or ran across a performance that drew them in. Several have described it as “falling in love”; hula ignited something powerful in them that defies words. They agree that it is “bigger than all of them” and feel great pride in dancing, despite any societal stigmas. Early on, the senior members of Nā Kamalei settled disputes “in the parking lot” and put up with peer comments and sideways glances. They have proved their place in history, and as times have changed, the same name-callers now have sons who dance.
Hula is a survivor. It has had to adapt because of the many social, economic, and political factors in Hawaii’s history that stripped it of its masculinity. Hawaiians of old were much more accepting of male dancing, becoming less so as they became acculturated to Western ideals. But hula is about inclusiveness, connecting people to community and perpetuating the Hawaiian culture. All who dance participate in this noble cause.
Mai’ki Aiu Lake believed it was a privilege to have a man dance for you. Carrying on the traditions of their forefathers, Cazimero and the men of Hālau Nā Kamalei have been bringing this privilege to the world for almost 35 years, proving that hula is more than wiggling in a grass skirt.
Nā Kamalei: The Men of Hula
As a filmmaker living in New York City and a hula dancer who studies in San Francisco, Lisette Kaualena Flanary offers a unique perspective into the stories surrounding those for whom hula is a way of life. Battling Western stereotypes and feminized visions of hula, Nā Kamalei: The Men of Hula tells a tale of pride and strength in continuing the traditions of their forefathers.
When filming her first documentary feature, American Aloha: Hula Beyond Hawaii, Flanary was introduced to Patrick Makuakāne of San Francisco, who had once been a member of the only all-male hula hālau (school) in the Hawaiian Islands. His teacher, the legendary Hawaiian entertainer Robert Uluwehi Cazimero, founded Hālau Nā Kamalei during the Hawaiian Cultural Renaissance of the 1970s and set out to prove that it was “hot” for men to dance hula.
Fast-forward to 2005, the hālau’s 30th-anniversary season, and her second film. In Nā Kamalei: The Men of Hula, Flanary chronicles months of grueling rehearsals in preparation for the prestigious Merrie Monarch Hula Festival. Under Flanary’s cinematic artistry and cultural sensitivity, the dancers share heartfelt stories of the struggle to continue their traditions while facing societal stigmas.
Interspersed with shots of studio rehearsals and interviews with Cazimero and notable member of the hula community, we get a glimpse of the men’s lives at work and home—a full spectrum of male camaraderie, including private rituals, emotional confrontations, inside jokes, and their deep bond of friendship. At one dinner table, a teenage boy admits for the first time how proud he is of his father’s dancing, despite his peers’ teasing. Backstage at the competition, the camera captures the men’s nervousness and excitement. When Nā Kamalei sweeps the awards, a rare victory for a men’s group, history is made and the triumph is tangible.
Flanary’s films have won several awards and were broadcast as part of the Independent Lens series on PBS. They can be purchased at lehuafilms.com. Her next film is about hula in Japan.