Student-led Dance Program at ISKL Embodies 21st Century Learning Skills
The Dance program at The International School of Kuala Lumpur has had a long history of student engagement and agency. Dancing is also inherently social, which appeals to many teenagers; it embraces different genres and styles and is ever-evolving.
This year we have nine different dance companies in Middle School (MS) and four dance teams in High School (HS). Quite unlike other dance programs at similar schools, our MS and HS dance programs are all completely student-led.
In dance education, students are tasked with creating and choreographing a dance within a set of specific guidelines – students help with choreography all the time. But to be given a chance to have your own dance group in a self-directed learning situation, without adult intervention or constraints, is unheard of – except at ISKL.
Each of our 13 different teams has one or two student directors who have been responsible for developing a vision for a show, auditioning their team, choreographing, teaching, choosing music, costumes, lights, and ultimately directing their own show.
Watching our ISKL dancers on stage is a sight to behold! The effort and determination are obvious, and they exude a level of joy and enthusiasm that is heartwarming to watch.
But that isn’t the measure of success that is impressive. It’s the backstage; the planning and executing a process that is what makes this opportunity for students so unique and rewarding. It allows the students to both get and give back to our ISKL dance program, creating a community of dancers who are fully invested.
Our MS dancers had their major performance this past November. There were eight different mini-shows and fifteen different student directors who worked together to put on ‘Xtraordinaire.’
From Hip Hop to Contemporary, student work was on display as approximately 100 students graced our stage in the Robert B. Gaw theater. Adding to the student engagement were two HS students who worked with our MS dancers as part of their Community, Action, and Service (CAS) Project. Modeling appropriate dance behavior and etiquette, our HS students were value added to an already well-developed skill set amongst the dancers.
We have four dance groups with similar leadership responsibilities as the MS program. HS students appreciate the opportunity to have the freedom and license to express themselves using their ideas and creativity. From our IASAS Dance Team to our KPop team, students self organize and plan their busy schedules around their dance teams.
ISKL’s mission statement is reflected in each of these student-directed dance groups. Students cultivate their collaboration and cooperation skills working together to present their show. There is a shared responsibility and pride of association with their final product. They spend hours and hours dancing together, sometimes laughing, sometimes crying, but always moving forward.
The passion exhibited at every rehearsal is in abundance. So is the pressure. It’s not easy to lead a group of other students, some who may be older than you, through weeks of rehearsals.
Students learn so much about themselves through this process. Dance can be physical, and whether they are working towards perfect synchronization that you might find in hip hop or jazz, or empathetic dancing that you might find in contemporary or lyrical dance, the bonding that takes place on a dance team is extraordinary. It’s not just the directors who benefit. It’s the entire dance team.
ISKL dancers are peppered with lots of different workshop opportunities to help them grow in their dance abilities. Workshops are offered throughout the year by a variety of dancers, including alumni, guest artists, teachers, parents, and students themselves!
For a school without a curricular dance program, it is quite extraordinary to have so many dance experiences on offer. With student agency on the rise at ISKL, it won’t be long before our entire community is dancing!
About Karen Palko
Karen is in her 36th year at ISKL and teaches Middle School dance, drama, and PE. She works with both the Middle School and High School performing Arts teams on theater productions and is the Malaysia Week Coordinator in the Middle School. Karen holds a Bachelor of Arts degree in Health, PE, Recreation, Dance, and a Masters in Education. Karen is originally from the US, growing up in California, but having her home base in Colorado. In her spare time, she loves to read, dance, do arts and crafts, and is an avid collector of Christmas crafts, dogs, and special interests.