Performing Ourselves empowering underserved youth through dance


At UW–Madison’s School of Education, innovation is a way of life. In our classrooms, in our research and even in our spare time, we are creating knowledge and seeking ways to improve and transform lives across fields as diverse as the arts, health and education.

In this issue of “Learning Connections,” we hope to pique your curiosity and deepen your appreciation of the School by spotlighting a sampling of the many ways in which faculty, staff and students are developing creative programs, conducting leading-edge research and advancing innovative tools — all of which can help us better address the many challenges of the modern world.

Performing Ourselves empowering underserved youth through dance

Innovation is baked into the very nature of the School of Education’s Dance Department.

Thanks to the vision of dance pioneer Margaret H’Doubler, UW–Madison became the first university to offer a degree program in dance in 1926.

Some nine decades later, Kate Corby is a driving force behind making sure the department keeps its place as a leader in dance and dance education well into the 21st century.

Cover of Fall 2017 Learning ConnectionsThe associate professor and chair of the Dance Department launched a pilot project in 2011 that brought dance education and dance/movement therapy principles to middle school girls at Madison’s Kennedy Heights Community Center. The initiative came about, Corby explains, after trying to help her little sister through the Big Brothers Big Sisters program register for after-school activities.

“Her only options as a sixth-grade girl were tennis and wrestling,” says Corby. “I thought that was absurd.”

Corby shared her frustration and vision of starting a community dance program with colleague Mariah LeFeber, then an adjunct professor in the Dance Department and a board-certified dance/movement therapist.

The duo started Performing Ourselves, a combined dance education and dance/movement therapy initiative to foster resilience in young girls.

“We at Performing Ourselves and in the Dance Department believe dance has the power to change lives and impact communities, and that every child has the right to embodiment and creative expression,” says Corby.

Over the years, Performing Ourselves has grown significantly. During the 2017-18 academic year, the 30-week dance outreach program – which is taught by undergraduate UW-Madison dance students – will serve about 700 girls and boys in seven area community centers and four Madison public schools.

About 90 percent of the first through 12th graders taking part in Performing Ourselves are students of color, and 95 percent live in poverty.

Corby is a firm believer that art and movement are an essential and enriching part of youth’s lives. She notes how award-winning educator and author Carla Hannaford wrote in her 1995 book, “Smart Moves: Why Learning is Not All in Your Head,” that “movement activates the neural wiring throughout the body, making the whole body the instrument of learning.”

Corby is convinced dance improves motor skills, decision making, creativity, risk-taking, cultural understanding, attentiveness and more. But like many other endeavors in the arts, Performing Ourselves struggles with both sustainability due to a lack of funding, and research-based results proving its value.

“We know this work is effective in building social and emotional health in kids but its efficacy is challenging to prove with just great photos and anecdotes,” says Corby.

Corby is hopeful her innovative work is ready for yet another breakthrough. In September, Education Outreach and Partnerships within the School of Education helped launch the UW Community Arts Collaboratory. Corby, Art Department faculty member Faisal Abdu’Allah and Erica Halverson of the Department of Curriculum and Instruction are partnering to develop evaluation tools that can measure and demonstrate the impact of their arts-based education programs.

“This collaboration is one of the most exciting things I’ve worked on since coming to UW–Madison 10 years ago,” says Corby. “It’s an honor to be a part of the most unique School of Education in the country, where I get to work daily at the nexus of education, health and the arts while being surrounded by brilliant, passionate colleagues.”

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