For Leah Glenn, associate professor of dance at the College of William & Mary, taking on the role of program director of the College’s summer program in Cape Town, South Africa, meant creating an experience that blended classroom instruction with dance, movement and service learning. Not only would her 16 William & Mary students study how post-apartheid South Africa is working to combat racial, ethnic, economic and political disparity, but they would experience it as well.
“Movement is a universal means of communication, and dance and music are an integral part of African culture,” said Glenn. “Also, there are many similarities between the American Civil Rights Movement and South African apartheid, and I am intrigued by how the arts — dance in particular — have been used as an empowering tool in the quest for social and political change.”
To help William & Mary students explore these similarities, Glenn offered an African-American and South African Movement Exchange course that focused on African-American and South African modern dance pioneers, and the historical, social and political issues that have and continue to influence their choreography. In addition, students enrolled in a service-learning course that enabled them to work as English, math and computer tutors, or dance teachers, to 11- and-12-year-olds in Khayelitsha, Cape Town’s largest township.
“What really struck me about the Cape Town 2012 program was the blending of dance with the service learning aspect of the program,” said Lauren Coble ’14. “Being able to use art as a tool to teach kids is so powerful. Art can be used to change the mindsets of these young kids and give them an outlet to express their feelings and voice their stories.”
In addition to their classroom and Khayelitsha work, the W&M students also participated in group tours of locations such as Robben Island, the site of Nelson Mandela’s imprisonment, Table Mountain, Cape Point and museums and historic sites in and around Cape Town. They also were able to take workshops with the Jazzart Dance Theatre and view a number of local dance and musical performances.
“We have gone from exploring the city center to working with an amazing group of kids in the townships. I have loved getting a taste of everything Cape Town has to offer,” said Diana Villarreal ’13. “Through all of those experiences, this study abroad program has been one of the most influential experiences of my life.”
As part of their program, William & Mary students worked with Glenn to host a Community Festival in July. The Festival gave the Khayelitsha students the opportunity to showcase what they learned, and perform for their local community. In addition to dancing, the children also wrote poems and made a mural for the event.
“The Community Festival was an opportunity for the kids to showcase their skills and talents,” said Lemondre Watson ’13. “It gave them a chance to show what they can do individually, but also celebrate their collective talents and the diversity within their community.”
Yet despite all that they experienced and accomplished, simply watching the interactions between the William & Mary and Khayelitsha students was perhaps Glenn’s favorite part of the program.
“One of the most rewarding experiences was teaching modern dance and watching the South African students teach William & Mary students gum boot dancing, while one of our students demonstrated step dance, a derivative of gum boot dance practiced by African American fraternities and sororities,” said Glenn. “This kind of exchange is invaluable. It opens the doors to verbal discourse, a clearer understanding of the unknown and opportunities to build lasting friendships.”