Meet Two of Our ROAD Teaching Artists

Left–R.O.A.D. Teaching Artist Olivia Shaw at Crossroads Academy | Photography by Andrea Wilson. Right–R.O.A.D. Teaching Artist Jenna Wurtzberger at a R.O.A.D. Rally at Hartman Elementary School | Photography by Elizabeth Stehling
Left–R.O.A.D. Teaching Artist Olivia Shaw at Crossroads Academy | Photography by Andrea Wilson. Right–R.O.A.D. Teaching Artist Jenna Wurtzberger at a R.O.A.D. Rally at Hartman Elementary School | Photography by Elizabeth Stehling

Kansas City Ballet’s Reach Out And Dance (R.O.A.D.) Residency Program has been in community schools since the year 2000. But under April Berry, KCB’s Director of Community Engagement and Education, this program has expanded considerably over the last two years.

WHAT IS R.O.A.D AND ITS GOALS?

R.O.A.D. Residency programs use movement/dance to support the academic curriculum taught in many 3rd and 4th grade classrooms throughout the metro. The program currently serves over 20 schools in urban, suburban, and rural school districts in Missouri and Kansas.

Teaching artists from Kansas City Ballet’s Community Engagement and Education department teach weekly movement classes to hundreds of local 3rd and 4th grade students in their schools. Live music is provided in these classes by pianists from KC Ballet. The result is that students learn and retain new information and a different learning paradigm is created to support academic instruction.

The program has many goals. The introduction of various styles of movement and music is one goal; another is to incorporate basic principles found in dance such as: space, time, effort, cooperative learning, and self-discipline into the learning environment. Yet another is to incorporate exercises and games that support Language Arts, Social Studies, Math and Science curriculum.

WHAT IS A TEACHING ARTIST?

A Teaching Artist is different from a dance instructor. KCB Teaching Artists, also called artist educators or community artists, are responsible for teaching students in a wide range of community settings, the fundamentals of dance, and integrating dance concepts and principles related to movement with National and State Education Standards.

Two of our four R.O.A.D. Teaching Artists, Jenna Wurtzberger and Janie Olivia Shaw,  have been working in KCB’s R.O.A.D. Residency program for the past two years. Jenna and Olivia collaborate with KCB’s R.O.A.D. director and with classroom teachers to advance learning for their students. Both use the art of dance to reinforce academic studies within the classroom. They also stress the importance of creativity, critical thinking, improvisation, and communication.

Jenna is a dancer, choreographer, and dance educator. She has an undergraduate degree in dance and psychology from the University of Nevada and a master’s degree in dance from Temple University in Philadelphia.  Olivia has a degree in performance and choreography from Coker College in South Carolina. They have both studied dance and performed.

ON THE JOB

We asked them to talk about why they love their jobs as teaching artists at Kansas City Ballet.

Jenna has taught dance in many different settings; in dance studios, community centers, other dance residency programs in schools, and college dance programs. But she has never encountered a program like R.O.A.D. “The unique structure and approach to dance education are what makes this job at KC Ballet so wonderful. The curriculum is flexible enough to be able to incorporate my teaching philosophy while also valuing what the students have to offer. I get to share a room with expressive, talented, funny and loving students each and every day. I am beyond humbled to be able to share my knowledge and love of dance with this community,” she says.

“There are so many rewarding aspects of this job,” Jenna continues. “Some are small, such as a student with a huge smile walking into the room and telling you that they ‘love to dance!’ or telling you that they have been practicing the R.O.A.D. Chapter Dance in their backyard while their parents are watching. Some are much bigger, such as working with students who are non-verbal and they are communicating with their body just as effectively as their verbal peers or seeing the transformation of a student who is extremely shy and self-conscious to being the center of attention with confidence.”

R.O.A.D. Teaching Artist Olivia Shaw at Crossroads Academy | Photography by Andrea Wilson
R.O.A.D. Teaching Artist Olivia Shaw at Crossroads Academy | Photography by Andrea Wilson

Olivia notes that for her the most rewarding part about being a teaching artist is being able to give back to the community. “I am able to share my experience, training, and passion for dance with a diverse range of students and create relationships with the children I teach. The R.O.A.D. program provides an outlet for these kids through dance and helps them build confidence.”

Jenna admits there can be challenges. Keeping students interested in class and particularly students who think they do not like to dance are examples. “However,” Jenna notes, “these challenges of the job have pushed me to become a more creative and effective educator.”

Olivia feels this position has provided her an opportunity “to do what I love.”

EXCITING MOMENT

Engaging community schools, teachers, students, and their families, and igniting a passion for dance are other benefits of this program. This past December Jenna attended KC Ballet’s The Nutcracker and had an emotional experience. “I saw some of my R.O.A.D. students on stage at the Kauffman Center,” she said. “To see them sharing the stage with other talented dancers from Kansas City Ballet made my heart melt and was something I will never forget.”

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