A Backstage Story

So much effort goes into a performance, but the stories backstage – unseen – can be far more important. This one centers on two 5th grade boys…

Adiel is a 5th grader in a regular classroom. I’ve been working with him since kindergarten, and he’s always been a bit of a challenge. He spends most recesses inside, doing work that should have been done at home or in class — or sometimes in the office, dealing with bad choices made among teachers and other students. Challenged about his work or behavior, he has a tendency to close his eyes and clam up — it’s like you’re talking to a turtle that’s pulled inside its shell. I noticed this year, however, that Adiel could take movement concepts — curvy and straight pathways, delicate and forceful energy, symmetrical or curriculum-inspired body shapes — and do them using his own individual style…uprock with a bit of crumping, but totally clear at showing the movement concepts!

An aside: Most of the kids respond as if the concepts we explore demand something different from their favored style of movement… as in, “when are we going to do hiphop?” Not so with Adiel. He’s happy to explore his favorite moves with a new emphasis.

As is Daniel. Another 5th grader, but in a self-contained, special education classroom. Clearly, he’s been identified as needing extra academic support, but he could also use some help getting to school! In a given year, he has 20-30 absences and 70+ tardies. He’s had some moments of poor choices and behavior difficulties over the years, but mostly he’s a pleasure to work with — if he’s there.  This year for the first time I was able to use the 5th Grade ClassroomBased Performance Assessment with my self-contained 5th graders. Daniel’s the only student who’s ever taken a short poem (the “Poetry in Motion” assessment item) and expressed it with his own breakdancing style. Totally nailed it — 3 images from the poem, three different breakdance moves that clearly showed the words he had chosen to express. Perfect score: choreographing, performing, and explaining his moves.

So… I decided Daniel should have a chance to enjoy his strength by choreographing and performing not only with his own class, but also with the regular 5th grade classrooms. His teacher agreed to allow him extra time in dance class. Adiel and his group agreed to include him in their small group choreography. Daniel came to several rehearsals, and this group of five boys got their moves sketched out, including a short “battle” between Adiel and Daniel.

Then Daniel didn’t come to school for two weeks.

Every day when Adiel’s group rehearsed, they’d ask, “Where’s Daniel?” They continued to rehearse without him, perfecting their choreography with four  rather than five dancers. Daniel had strep throat — a good excuse this time — but by the morning of the performance, he’d been out for two weeks and missed all the final rehearsals, including the development of a longer unison sequence the 5th graders made up by contributing segments of their small-group choreography to the combination. The morning of the performance, I talked to Daniel’s regular teacher, and we decided he had best just perform with his own class.

I delivered the news to Adiel, so he could be prepared for Daniel’s absence.. Looking downcast, he said,

“Couldn’t we meet at recess and work him in?”

I returned to Daniel’s teacher, to let her know how much the group missed Daniel. She said Daniel had been disappointed but understood. She and I looked at each other with resignation.

I returned to Adiel.

“So… Adiel… do you think your whole group would be willing to show up at recess? If everyone can be there to work him in, he can hang back during the unison section and still join your group during the small group choreography…”

“Yeah,” he said, “we’ll be there!”

And they were. I overheard Daniel say quietly to Adiel, “Thanks, man!” before they all got to work.


During the afternoon performance, Daniel hung back during the unison section, following along as best he could. During the rotation of small groups, he came out and battled Adiel with confidence.

And at the evening performance? Daniel was right behind Adiel, move for move, during the unison section, looking like he’d never missed a single rehearsal.

And Adiel was leading the 5th graders, holding them in stillness to count them in for the beginning, keeping them on beat & together throughout.



p class=”MsoNormal”>The following week, Adiel was in for recess again, working on stuff that should have been done at home or in the classroom, and Daniel was probably tardy most mornings, but it’s a pleasure to rerun their performances, both on and offstage, in my mind.

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