A moving experience: Jacob's Pillow celebrates 25 years of Curriculum in Motion in schools

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Note: This article has been amended to correct the title of the showcase.  

GREAT BARRINGTON — When a Curriculum in Motion class is in session, you can't take a back seat to learning. In fact, sitting is not encouraged at all.

On Thursday afternoon, in the wrestling and yoga room at Monument Mountain Regional High School, it started with Jacob's Pillow artist-educator Liv Schaffer leading a warmup to the Latin-tinged hip-hop track "I Like It" by Cardi B, Bad Bunny and J Balvin.

About 60 students in circle formation, wearing everything from jeans and sports team hoodies to tank tops and yoga pants, lunged, squatted, stretched and literally lifted each other before taking what the dance company calls "A Pause in the Process" of the two-week residency to showcase their work.

"Today we ask that you continue that bravery, generosity and curiosity and look through that lens of love," artist-educator Elizabeth Johnson told the students before their presentations.

For classes like physical education, anatomy, and acting and directing, the idea of using movement seems inherent. But for social studies and chemistry, sometimes there's a greater learning curve. But after 25 years of being in Berkshire County kindergarten through Grade 12 classrooms, it's a challenge that Curriculum in Motion instructors embrace.

Pillow artist-educator Celeste Miller co-founded the program with education director "J.R." Glover, first putting it into practice at Monument during the 1994-95 school year. Now, the program reaches about 400 students in 20 classrooms each year, and provides professional development for 80 educators and six dance artists. Conte Community School in Pittsfield is also a longtime collaborator, and the program continues with the goal of expanding to every Pittsfield public elementary school by 2022.

"Our schools have been great and our educators are just the best," said Jacob's Pillow Director Pamela Tatge, who stopped in to see Thursday's workshop.

"We go in asking classroom teachers about what's been hard for students to learn," said artist-educator Margot Greenlee, who has been with Curriculum in Motion on and off over the past 17 years.

The artist-educators then learn about that concept themselves and work with the academic teachers and students to develop choreography that can reinforce the concept.

"The motive is that if we study an idea and put it into our body, we won't forget it," Greenlee said.

Freshman Nick Zanin said he wasn't sure what to expect when Curriculum in Motion came to his social studies class. But, he said, "It's been really enjoyable to learn differently."

"I live for theater, but some people wouldn't normally get to do this," said freshman Kate Goble. "They'd likely be more comfortable on the football field or a classroom, or at home reading a book. I'm excited to see people sharing my passion for this."

A common approach to movement in all classes involves breaking up cliques, bringing out confidence and building up trust among students.

In one movement presented by gym class students who have been taking a sexual education course and learning about consent, two students had to ask permission from one another before moving the other person's hand, arm or leg into a pose. In another portion of the movement, students would spontaneously call out "falling" before letting their body tip to one side, in hopes that their classmates would catch them.

"I've got you," one student said as his classmate fell into his arms.

Faye Ross, a freshman, said she hopes more classes embrace the movement as she has.

"It love it so much," she said. "It made me feel happy and free."

Jenn Smith can be reached at jsmith@berkshireeagle.com and 413-496-6239.


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