Dance program teaches youngsters to twirl

Chloe Moss left the hour-long dance class joyfully kicking and screaming toward her mother, Sarah Moss.

It was only a little more than three years ago when Chloe was kicking Moss from the inside.

Moss signed up her 3-year-old daughter for Creative Movement, one of three weekly non-credit dance programs offered through Temple’s Music Prep Program that are meant to stretch the appendages and the imaginations of children, from toddlers to teens.

“I like dancing and magical scarves,” said Chloe, an aspiring ballerina and firefighter.

Victoria McGuigan, an adjunct art and art education professor, knows all about magical scarves.

McGuigan created the Music Prep Dance Program nine years ago, adapting the time, space and energy principles of 19th century movement theorist Rudolph Laban into creative movement. The program uses games, songs and improvisations to “encourage the movement vocabulary” of 3- to 4-year-olds.

But before they can fully learn about those principles, McGuigan said they must first learn about their bodies.

“Movement can be injurious without proper knowledge of the body,” said McGuigan, 42.

Her colleague and fellow class instructor, Kristen Shaverdian, uses games and music to facilitate some of these lessons for the tots. On Saturday, Shaverdian, a Temple alum, supplied each of her four students with scarves, instructing them to etch shapes in the air.

Five minutes later she told them to touch the corners of the room through sashaying, jumping and a number of exercises that emphasized “staying high” or stretching the body.

“And freeze!” Shaverdian ordered, bringing the giddy tots to a halt with some struggling to maintain their balance.

Between this and other tiring games, such as jumping into an imaginary bucket of paint to decorate the dance hall with make-believe stains on their feet, Moss said she has no trouble coaxing her child into a nap.

“After [last] class, she was exhausted,” said Moss, 28, an elementary education grad student and South Philly resident. “She fell asleep in the car on the ride home.”

While McGuigan and Shaverdian like to maintain the idea that these toddlers are here to learn how to dance, Amy Hamilton of Fairmount said that’s not the main reason why she enrolled her 3-year-old daughter, Sarah.

“I don’t think [learning dance is] important,” said Hamilton, 35, who found the class online. “I think it’s little kids that just run around. It’s just something I knew she would enjoy. It could have been just as easily gymnastics or swimming lessons.”

The classes are taught in the basement of Friends Select School, at 17th Street and Benjamin Franklin Parkway. There are two other 10-week programs – Music & Movement, for 5- to 7-year-olds and Modern Dance, for 8- to 18-year-olds.

McGuigan said one of her dance exercises in Music & Movement, a class that stresses rhythm and note-value, teaches the children quarter notes by activating only certain body parts with each beat. Shaverdian said these children are able to understand lessons involving counting since most were already taught basic math in school.

For those who think that an Usher video or an episode of Dancing With the Stars is as informative as attending a dance class, McGuigan argued that her classes fuse together lessons of improvisation and anatomy.

“It’s anatomical language informing them of what exactly is occurring within their bodies,” she said. “You also learn more about yourself because you’re not just mimicking someone. They’re learning how to create their own choreography rather than simply copying someone else’s.”

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