Angela Major
Students from Beloit College's Picta Movement Collective spent an hour Friday at Rock Prairie Montessori School sharing the power of dance with children.

WATCH: Beloit College students bring movement, storytelling to Rock Prairie Montessori

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Catherine W. Idzerda
Saturday, February 11, 2017

JANESVILLE—If a tree falls in a forest or an iceberg melts in a school gym, do they make a sound?

Yes, and it's the sound of giggling.

Students from Beloit College's Picta Movement Collective spent an hour Friday at Rock Prairie Montessori School sharing the power of dance with children.

“Movement is a form of expression, of storytelling, of connecting with other people,” said Clare Harper, a Beloit College senior. “We want to share that with them.”

Harper and her classmates created a workshop introducing those dance ideas to students. They also wanted to put those ideas into a larger context, and to do that they picked “ecosystems” as their theme, Harper explained.

The hour started with a warmup of power wiggling and animal imitations.

When asked to pretend to be their favorite animal, most kids went directly into dog or cat mode, but more than a few refused to be domesticated.

A monkey/ape galloped about the gym, beating his chest.

A kangaroo made a brief appearance before transforming into something unidentifiable.

Some children stood on one leg. Were they flamingos? Sleeping ducks? One-legged sparrows?

Then they broke up into groups and became ecosystems. The tundra ecosystem included penguins—much waddling and huddling—along with polar bears, special flowers that can live only on the tundra and one of the finest representations of a chunk of ice seen south of the Arctic Circle.

A winter storm, represented by flailing arms and skittering bodies, was another highlight of the piece.

After a bit of practice, they were ready to perform.

A mix of ecosystems took the stage. Kids became grass, animals, water. Kids in the audience watched, giggling at appropriate moments and applauding wildly.

"The students were emphatic about the children performing,” said Gina T'ai, a visiting assistant professor of dance at Beloit College. “They were really thinking holistically.”

In other words, students learned about dance, became dancers, performed their dances and then became audience members.

T'ai teaches Repertory Dance Company, a course that highlights the business and entrepreneurial side of dance.

Students apply to be a part of the company, decide on a name, work with a graphic design class to create a logo, write a mission statement and sign contracts—basically everything a new dance company would do.

Thus the Picta Movement Collective was born. One of its goals is to offer workshops in the community combining dance with biodiversity.

Friday's workshop was particularly appropriate because young children understand the world through movement, T'ai said. Think of the toddler who never stops moving or the kindergartner who, when set free from the classroom, feels the need to race from once place to another.

Students can use dance to explore an academic subject through a different point of view, giving them a different way of understanding the world, she said.

“We believe that movement is integral to health and well-being,” T'ai said.

Younger students are more receptive to dance and movement as a means of expression.

“It hasn't been taught out of them yet,” T'ai said.

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