Student recalls teaching dance in South Africa

Dual BFA/EdM Dance student Elizabeth Rose Zwierzynski traveled to South Africa last summer with Rutgers Graduate School of Education’s South Africa Initiative: Study Tour 2011. During the three-week service/learning trip, Zwierzynski traveled to Cape Town, Johannesburg and Pretoria, where she taught dance to underprivileged children. She received support from the Mason Gross Academic Excellence Fund, the Graduate School of Education’s Alumni Association and Dr. Sarane Boocock, as well as George and Dr. Aubrey Leef. Zwierzynski relates her experience here:

The South Africa Initiative marked a lot of firsts in my life: my first plane flight, my first trip to another country and my first challenge as a dance educator. The trip was the most transformative experience of my educational career.

The study tour taught me the importance of being a flexible educator. Prior to visiting the various schools, I did not know how many students, what ages, and for how long I would teach them. To accommodate, I created a flexible lesson plan that could be adapted to any age range. These moments forced me to be sensitive to the actions of the students, to improvise and adjust as needed.

One of my most cherished memories is of a young girl who ran up to me after I had finished class. She caught word that someone was teaching a dance class, asked me if I danced ballet and began moving. The young girl allowed me to follow her dance movements. We shared a mutual role of leader and listener as we switched, dancing and following. There was something so brilliant and vital shared in that nonverbal communication.

Outside the classroom, I visited many historic sites, such as Robben Island, where numerous political prisoners, including past South African President and Nobel Laureate Nelson Mandela, were held during the apartheid era. In addition, was very touched by a tour guide at the District Six Museum in Cape Town. The guide, Noor Ebrahim, related how he was forcibly removed from his home once the area was declared whites-only. These personal histories have distilled for me the political tension of South Africa.

I was in awe of South Africa and its people. My trip has provided a lasting impact by setting up a foundation for my future learning in my dance-education course work.

Visit Elizabeth’s travel blog.

Posted April 2012