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The challenges and rewards of teaching dance

A group of local youngsters will have all the right moves at a prestigious performing arts festival in the United States this summer and it’s all because of dance teacher Zalika Millett.

Ms Millett is a dance teacher at Dellwood Middle School, and was the choreographer for Troika’s performance of Misunderstood which will be performed at the National Black Theatre Festival in North Carolina, Troika’s first overseas appearance.

Misunderstood is a musical written for Troika and first performed in Bermuda in 2011. Ms Millett started working with students at that time.

“Most of the Troika youngsters in this, a lot of them didn’t dance,” said Ms Millett. “They sang and they acted. We had a few that did dance, but most of them were like, ‘look, I don’t dance’.”

So it was up to Ms Millett to get everyone into shape and dancing on the same page.

“I made them run shuttles,” Ms Millett said. “The studio is at the Old Berkeley. Shuttles involved running up and down all the steps in that building. I had them running shuttles to warm up, and then another warm up and a bit of technique to get their body engaged. ‘They were like, are you serious?’. It was to get their heart pumping and to get them prepared. In the show they have to dance and sing at the same time.”

Ms Millett said they also had to learn the dance at first, strictly to a count and without any music.

One, two, three, four and six and seven ...

“That was to help them master it the way I wanted it done and also to stay together and be able to project their voice while moving,” she said.

It was her first time choreographing a production such as this, and she found she really loved doing it.

“That is the part of choreography and teaching that I love, to be able to break it down enough so that everyone can get it, even the person that doesn’t dance. That is what drives me at the heart of it. That challenge was keeping the choreography creative and interesting and a little edgy but still helping the players that felt they couldn’t dance accomplish something.”

She said she was always a person that loved movement and sports. She became serious about dance at 14 years old and worked as a volunteer teaching assistant with Suzette Harvey when Ms Harvey opened her school United Dance Productions several years ago.

“I love the physicality of dance,” she said. “It is extremely challenging. I appreciate the discipline. The staunch discipline it requires has had a positive influence on other parts of my life both as a child and as an adult. I love teaching. To be able to teach and be able to express emotion and be able to communicate without speaking is something that I enjoy. Sometimes I tend to be shy when it comes to speaking.”

Ms Millett finds her middle school students very receptive to dance teaching. Many of the young people she works with have never taken dance classes before.

“For many of them it is a new experience,” she said. “I try to expose them to things outside of their world and what they know. I introduce them to the classical genres such as ballet. I show them tap. I would like to teach tap, I just have to get the resources. I introduce them to different cultural styles. A lot of students thrive in the arts. They need an outlet.”

She studied dance education at the University of the Arts in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. She is also about to finish up a Masters in Education.

She became involved with Troika because she has been friends with Troika founders Seldon Woolridge and Shoa Bean for many years.

“They approached me for Misunderstood and asked me if I was willing. I was like, ‘wow, I will do it, let’s go for it’.

Ms Millett last performed at a United Dance Production show a month ago. This may be her last performance at that level.

“Life goes on and you have other commitments,” she said. “Now I dance at my church, Miracle Temple New Testament Church of God. People call it liturgical dance, but what I do is so different that a lot of people are saying it is not liturgical it is something different. That is me, always doing something different.”

l See more on Troika’s performance in North Carolina in tomorrow’s Lifestyle.

Dance teacher Zalika Millett

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Published June 11, 2013 at 9:00 am (Updated June 10, 2013 at 11:49 pm)

The challenges and rewards of teaching dance

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