Five ballerinas sashay across a wood floor as The Episcopal School of Dallas’ new dance teacher, Glen Dawson, claps out a series of eight-counts from the corner. Wearing pink tutus and worn-in pointe shoes and slippers, the students are the epitome of grace, poise, and strength.
Students need no prior dance experience to enroll in a class. Rather, Dawson works with students at their individual skill level, while still choreographing routines that compliment all degrees of difficulty and style.
“I try to keep classes open, but I allow those with more experience to take on a leadership role and help their peers,” Dawson explains. “The ultimate goal is to push everyone to be better, while still working to develop a strong foundation and excellent technique.”
The new curriculum provides students with basic classical training, as well as historical overview of different styles. Dawson places an emphasis on ballet, but also incorporates jazz and contemporary.
“Being able to take dance at ESD is a great opportunity for me to try something new in school,” Claire Everbach ’21 says. “It gives my friends who don’t dance outside of school the chance to try different styles and work with a really fun teacher.”
Right now, only girls are enrolled in the courses, but Dawson hopes to one day expand the program to include boys, including student-athletes. Most recently, she organized the fifth-grade “Thriller“ flash mob to show that dance courses are not just for girls.
“Ms. Dawson has created a strong foundation in her classes for students to build upon, while preventing those with less experience to be intimidated by their peers,” Libby Conder, Assistant Head of Middle School, says. “Students can learn and excel at their own pace in a safe and non-competitive environment.”
In addition to the physical benefits associated with dance, Donna Wilson, Ph.D., the developer of the Masters and Ed.S. Degree Program in Brain-Based Teaching, confirms, “incorporating exercise and movement throughout the school day makes students less fidgety and more focused on learning.” Furthermore, Edutopia asserts that exercise also facilitates a student’s brain readiness and ability to learn and retain information. Activities that involve multiple senses, such as dance, also make learning more memorable.
Upper School students also have the opportunity to earn Fine Arts and Physical Education credits by participating in classes before the school day begins. In their first performance of the year, Elizabeth Lipscomb ’17, Zoe Long ’16, and Bailey Parsons ’17 danced to “Amazing Grace” during a Middle School chapel service.
“These girls are starting to do their own choreography, and in November will perform pieces in the Jennifer & John Eagle Gallery in front of a piece of artwork they selected,” Dawson says. “Having the opportunity to create their own piece really gives them a feeling of self-worth and lets them present their feelings in an artistic sense.”
Dusty Davidson, the Fine Arts Department Chair, believes dance has filled a void in the Fine Arts curriculum, and better aligns the department with peer schools.
“By adding another component of artistic expression, our students gain the ability to look at the world from a different perspective,” Davidson explains. “Our dancers will become more flexible, focused, and toned, while improving their self-confidence and self-discipline.”
Dawson, who received her BFA in Dance and Theater from the University of Texas, and MFA in Dance from SMU, owned and danced in Austin Repertory Dancers. She also danced in summer musicals for Austin Zilker Musicals and performed with Austin Ballet Theater. She taught at McCallum Performing Arts High School in Austin where she developed the dance curriculum and dance program for the school and for Austin I.S.D. She has served as an adjunct professor at several local colleges and taught dance and yoga at local studios.
“I’ve been dancing since I was five,” Dawson says. “I started teaching because working with kids is such a joy. They are such sponges, and if you can watch them early enough to where they aren’t overwhelmed, they just might stick with dance.”