To say that Bates students are passionate about community engagement is an understatement. Many take part in classroom help in the local middle school or one of the several elementary schools near campus either during the day or after school. However, not much has been done about integrating dance into these interactions between Bates students and elementary/middle school students. Mallory Cohen ’17 and Shae Gwydir ’20 are two members of the Bates dance community expanding their passions for movement and teaching into the Lewiston-Auburn community.

Cohen, a Sociology and Dance double major, designed and launched this program last year after a summer internship with Urbanity Dance in Boston, a non-profit contemporary dance company that also partners with the Boston Public Schools, community health centers, community housing developments, juvenile detention centers and the local population with Parkinson’s disease, just to name a few of their relationships. For this internship, Cohen was responsible for writing dance curriculum and teaching numerous classes in several different communities in the Boston area. She said it made her “recognize that arts education is something really valuable that all children should have access to as it aids so much in cognitive, emotional, social and physical development.” On a more selfish note, she said, “It also completely brings me life to be teaching movement and engaging with children who are really benefitting from it, so it seemed obvious to bring with me back to Lewiston, for myself and for the community.”

Cohen received grants from the Harward Center for supplies to enhance her classes here in Lewiston in addition to building steady partnerships. Now, her position is a part of the Community Outreach Fellowships which will solidify her work and allow it to grow and continue in the future.

Along with Cohen, Gwydir has also found her work as a dance teacher to be extremely fulfilling. The two of them, along with others, teach multiple classes per week at the YWCA. The preschool classes run during the day as part of their physical education class and focus not on technique, but on the idea that “movement is a way to communicate with our bodies instead of our mouths in order to learn how to express ourselves in a more dynamic way,” says Cohen. To foster this creativity, they play with different themes, such as animals or superheroes. The elementary school kids participate in dance classes later in the afternoon. Cohen and Gwydir offer them modern/contemporary/ballet classes or a fusion of hip-hop/funk/jazz classes. Cohen said, “In these classes we mainly teach technique in a fun, creative and engaging way through the lens of promoting self-confidence, comfort with one’s own body, self-love and using dance as a healthy physical outlet.”

Gwydir is currently taking an education class and needs 30 hours of fieldwork, which is how she got involved with teaching in the first place. However, expresses how much she has been benefitting from this experience in more ways than just receiving credit. She noted how the immense social improvement among the elementary school students has truly made her work worthwhile. “For the first two weeks, one of the girls would stretch and then go hide and cry in the corner and no matter what we did we couldn’t get her out. Only her mom could take her outside. This is the fifth or sixth week now and last week she had a beaming smile on her face the whole time and was dancing with her friends. So there is definitely improvement.” She also noticed how the boys, who usually do not want anything to do with dance, are breaking the “gender expectations” and actually having a great time in class.

For Gwydir, this teaching these kids has provided her with just as many rewards as it has the students. “This is the one time during the week when I can completely shut my brain off to anything happening at Bates. You have to give all of your attention to the kids.”

Both Cohen and Gwydir are seeing huge transformations that translate to applications in their everyday lives and behaviors; this is true for both the students and the teachers. The power of arts education is truly at work here. After graduation, Cohen plans on attending graduate school for Dance/Movement Therapy which will directly align with her current work of fostering personal growth and promoting the value of the arts.