Dance Major Builds Connections, Enhances Early-Childhood Expression Through Co-op
Sometimes, the benefit of a great co-op position is less about the work you do, and more about the relationships you make. This was the case for Alisia Lipsey, a fourth-year Drexel University dance major who worked at two different locations for the Young Children’s Center for the Arts (YCCA) during the fall/winter 2020 co-op cycle.
Lipsey was happy to find a co-op working related to dance movement therapy, the field in which she will next year begin pursuing a master’s degree for at Drexel, but got the most out of learning how to build relationships with the Center’s young students and older faculty. Find out more in this Q&A as well as what it was like for Lipsey to complete an in-person co-op at the pandemic’s pre-omicron peak:
Q: Tell me more about your co-op experience at the Young Children's Center for the Arts.
A: I worked with different age groups, from one-year-olds to six- and seven-year-olds. Basically, I did dance sessions with them for about 15 to 30 minutes throughout the day as a little dance break from their everyday schooling, just to switch gears and to focus in on their mind and body. [This] gave them a different outlet for expression rather than sitting at their tables and doing work. And whenever I wasn't doing dance sessions, I would assist and be near their teachers … continuing to develop relationships with them outside of being their teacher during the dance session.
Q: What would you say is the overall goal of the Center?
A: It's basically a preschool or daycare; however, they incorporate the arts into their everyday experiences in school. So there are different recreational therapists, dance movement therapists and music therapists. Throughout the week or throughout their days, [the students] have experiences with live music and dance and art.
Q: Did you know you wanted to work with kids?
A: I do love working with kids. Going into co-op, I didn't have a preference, but I found this co-op probably a week before I needed a co-op, and it just happened to be with children, which was right up my alley, and I enjoyed it. Even when I wasn't teaching them dance or instructing their sessions, I was able to build relationships with them and just be with them daily so that they could build trust and security in who I was, along with their teachers.
Q: What was it like doing this in-person co-op during the pandemic?
A: [That fall/winter] was right in the middle of getting back to what we kind of knew as normal. The children were masked and had their temperatures checked daily. There was a lot of hand washing. … There were instances within the six months where groups of children had to quarantine because a child was exposed or their parents caught it, so they caught it. So, there was a lot of flexibility that I needed to adapt to, which I was already okay with. So, if I didn't do dance sessions one day or I did a few less than normal because a group wasn't in school, then I would just have to adapt with what I’d do that day.
… With children, you can't really help if they get close to you or they lean on you or they want to be intimate and closer in contact. So, I definitely took care of myself with hand washing, temperature checks, etc. Throughout my week, I was making sure that everything was okay, and I believe at that time I was getting tested weekly at Drexel. So, definitely staying on top of things because I was with so many different people, especially at two different locations.
Q: What was your favorite thing about the co-op?
A: [It] was continuing to not have expectations for the day. A child might be invested one day and the next day does not want to move or do anything. I think building relationships with them throughout the day, not only seeing them in the dance setting, but in different settings, they were able to understand me as a teacher and understand that they should follow along in certain ways. So even if they would begin and not really be invested, but see my engagement with the other children and how the other children were enjoying, then they'd follow in.
[The older children were] developing their own sense of what they want to do, so they'd say, “I don't want to do this,” but they're able to vocalize that versus the younger children who would just sit aside and stay quiet and to themselves. So, it's definitely important for me to keep trying to engage with them, not force them, but make it adaptable to what they needed at the time.
Q: How did the co-op inform your future career goals?
A: I'm a dance major, and I am on the dance movement therapy track within the major. So next year, I’ll be going into the master's program for dance movement therapy and counseling. So of course, for my co-op, I wanted to stay in that field and stay in that realm of dance therapy. And although there are dance movement therapists that work at the different locations of YCCA and there are graduate students who actually come in as a part of their coursework, I was technically an intern. I wasn't yet able to necessarily classify myself as a dance movement therapist, but more as their dance teacher throughout the day. So, it wasn't necessarily super tied into the title of dance movement therapy, but dance movement therapy is really just moving and analyzing someone’s mental, physical, emotional, spiritual wellbeing through their movement, which is simple because we all move. Working with the one-year-olds all the way up to the seven-year-olds, I was able to see how their days were going before I stepped in and then see after how their moods might have changed or their energy or creativity might have flourished, even though they were having a bad day.
So it was important for me to just meet them where they were, which is an element of the dance movement therapy field — to just hold space for them to be creative or be themselves. If they didn't feel like doing it today, OK, well, did they maybe want to draw or write or read, do something else? And there were also kids on the autism spectrum, so I also had to adapt to their needs and understand that if they didn't want to dance today, OK, what did they want to do? So, finding ways to make them comfortable, which is important for my career.
Q: Did you experience professional development through this co-op? How did Drexel help prepare you for this experience?
A: I would say that I was probably the youngest person working in both the locations. … Working with people who are older than me, I would say that impacted my co-op because I was able to learn from them, and they were even able to learn from me and see how I was able to get to a student differently. Working with different age ranges as well as ethnicities [was also impactful]. Drexel is pretty diverse in the Dance program, so [I continued to practice] having different connections and being able to be flexible with who I'm talking to and how I talk to them and what I'm learning from them and just to hold professional conversations and engagement.
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