Blind, disabled, sight-impaired or special needs, students of St. Joseph’s School for the Blind in Jersey City got their chance to dance on June 6 as part of a special program called “Cosmic Moves.”
This exploration of dance was designed by Nimbus Dance Works of Jersey City, and used a unique approach to working with a population aged from 3 to 21.
The concept, according the professional dancers involved, was to get these students to approach movement and space on a personal level.
The students of St. Joseph’s School for the Blind come from various places throughout Hudson County and other parts of New Jersey. They were able to work with seasoned professionals as a result of a grant from the New Jersey State Council on the Arts in partnership with the National Endowment for the Arts, and the Hudson County Office of Cultural Affairs.
Under the direction of Jersey City’s, Nimbus Dance Works, students learned, through body placement, poses, and touch, the sequence of movements in professional dance.
Nimbus teaching artists Myssi Robinson and Daniel Mont-Eton based the interactive program on the exploration of shapes, space, time, and energy and drew on the methodology of Nimbus founder and Artistic Director Samuel Pott.
“We did a lot of work with the students to develop this.” -- Myssi Robinson
Ellen Felicetta, director at Concordia Learning Center at St. Joseph’s School for the Blind – a facility located on Summit Avenue in Jersey City – provides early intervention for its students, and even offers a residences program for students who live in more remote parts of the state.
She said this program was funded last October and the dance company worked with the students until they put on the performance on June 6.
“We loved the methodology of the program, and how they worked with our students,” she said. “It was a huge accomplishment that involved using the senses, touch and feeling to express themselves through dance. It was a very moving demonstration.”
The dance included about 60 students from as young as 3, she said, and teachers at the school are doing a follow up on the program.
“We’ve applied for the next round of funding,” she said. “We would like to bring them back and take it to the next level.”
Nimbus Dance Works specializes in interaction between high-level dance and innovative ways of involving communities and audience. But this was a challenge even for them.
Performers with Nimbus Dance Works are top-tier dance artists drawn from widely recognized companies including Ballet Hispanico, Ailey II, and the Martha Graham Dance Company.
The company’s JC Grooves program serves over 2,000 youth each year in the Jersey City public schools and it was out of this experience that performers were able to craft the performances at St. Joseph’s on June 6.
Pott founded Nimbus Dance Works in 2005 with the belief that the arts can play in bringing people and communities together.
He said a number of members were involved with the program. The great challenge was the wide age range of the students, the level of concentration, and the differing abilities of the students. In other words, how could his team get these students – with their varying disabilities – to dance, and still stay true to the basic concepts of the art.
He said they drew a lot of some of the experiences they had had with other schools.
“We’ve worked with students in a school setting. The idea was to make these students self-ware of space in relationship to each other, and to use this,” he said.
The company has number very talented artists, and Myssi Robinson and Daniel Mont-Eton worked very closely with the students and the staff.
Robinson said they developed the curriculum that was special to this group, partly because of the age range from 3 to 21.
“We did a lot of work with the students to develop this,” she said. “We developed something from their world, and created movement in their space.”
This involved physical movement that was developed around the each dancer, but allowed everybody to be in the same place. She said this created a special bond between instructors and students.
“This involved a lot of improvisation, going with the situation, rather than teaching technique, and we found it together,” Robinson said. “This wasn’t just about finding body position in space, but about finding power in themselves, and feeling better.”
She said it was a very emotional experience for everyone.
She said she is lobbying to try to get funding for a full year, but even if the school does not get the grant next October, she will likely volunteer at the school anyway.
Al Sullivan may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.