After the first grueling modern dance class of the summer, 11 students sit on the floor in the hot, sticky air of the sun-soaked studio. Drinking from their Phillips Exeter water bottles, they listen to the modern dance teacher, Amberlee Darling, narrate a brief biopic of the “Mother of Modern Dance,” Martha Graham. Looking around the room, one can easily see the multicultural, coed, and international buildup of the class, and that as Martha Graham herself said, “dance is the hidden language of the soul of the body” — a language that does not need translation.
Diversity is represented not only in the students’ cultures but also in their dance backgrounds. Samantha Valle, a 17-year-old former student of Ballet Tech in New York City and frequent performer at the Joyce Theater, calls the selection of dance taught at Exeter Summer “unique.”
“I certainly enjoy learning something different,” she said, referring to the jazz and modern techniques taught.
Wynston Turner, a 16-year-old student from Memphis, Tennessee, who has a background in musical theatre, affirms this statement.
“I think Ms. Darling and Ms. [Sarah] Duclos do a really good job of appealing to a diverse student body,” he said. “The class feels like everybody’s involved … it’s a very friendly and encouraging environment.”
He also enjoys dabbling in different dance styles, describing his choreography for the final concert as a “feminine empowerment” piece set to Beyonce’s “Flawless.”
Out of 11 students in the C/D format Dance Workshop class, there are students from South American, European, and African backgrounds. Apart from this class, dance is offered as a P.E. credit, and there are two students who are added to the ensemble for the final dance concert.
When asked about how the class caters to such diversity, Ms. Darling describes it as a “getting to know you process.” She explains her efforts of inclusivity and the conspicuous omission of ballet from the program by stating,
“Ballet and other western dance styles like ballet aren’t offered all over the world, and it’s really important that we give everyone … an even playing field.”
She also elaborates on how the students bring their own culture into the performances:
“In the past we’ve had dances from Africa, such as traditional West African dance and street dance from Ghana,” she said. “We’ve had many different Latin dances such as bachata, merengue and flamenco … we’ve had a lot of different ones, and it’s really important that if that’s a piece of your culture that you want to bring to the table, we think it’s really important also that those of us who don’t come from your culture experience dance from that.”