June 15, 1998
Photo by Jesse Jaramillo
Fifth graders Chelsea Mobraten, Audrey Garrett, Nicole Jordan, Rachael Mack, Elizabeth Swift performed in a dance concert at East Ridge Elementary.
by Deborah Stone
The energy and enthusiasm is high among a class of fifth graders who are participating in Jesse Jaramillo's weekly dance session at East Ridge Elementary in Woodinville. Small groups of students are exploring various movement patterns as they mirror one another's shapes, work with different spatial levels and incorporate the use of beats and pulses. They are focused on creating their own choreography which they will present to the class as "works in progress."
This is Jaramillo's third year as a dance specialist in the Northshore district. He works with grades one through six at both East Ridge and Cottage Lake Elementary Schools, seeing each class once a week. At both schools, dance is part of a comprehensive, integrated program that includes physical education and music.
Originally from Texas, Jaramillo has been a professional dancer for over twenty years, working with such companies as Shirley Mordine, Dance Theatre of the Southwest and Bill Evans. Over the years, he has taught dance to inner city children and has been an Artist-in-Residence at various schools. In 1979 he formed Co-Motion Dance Company with his partner Gail Heilbron. He remains the company's artistic director, choreographing many of its dances which are performed to audiences worldwide.
"It is the kinesthetic art of movement that I love," says Jaramillo. "My first love is making art, but I feel a strong sense of responsibility to pass on what I know, the creative sensibility, to children." He likes the energy of kids and feels that kinesthetic learning is important, particularly in grade school. "Kids learn in many different ways and have a need to express themselves," explains Jaramillo. "Dance is one of a variety of expressions they can use if given the opportunity."
Students in Jaramillo's classes learn to make decisions and choices and focus their energy. They explore space, depth and movement paths and are able to take ownership of the choreography they create. "There is a responsibility that comes with being a dancer and a choreographer," says Jaramillo. "When kids own the movement, they take pride in it and this naturally boosts their self-esteem."
The dance program at both schools enhances the basic curriculum. For the second graders at East Ridge, Africa is a focus of study in the spring. Jaramillo uses African music and teaches African native dance movements to the students to tie in with this unit. He also often takes the works of composers being studied in music classes and utilizes them to emphasize different measures and meters.
Math skills play a part in his classes, too, as children are asked to count beats, subdivide measures and work with timing. "Jesse does a wonderful job of bringing what is being studied in the classrooms to his dance sessions," says Sylvia Lesser, principal of East Ridge. She feels strongly that dance is one of the many ways to build the whole child. She says, "The arts are every bit as important as academics in the development of children. Dance is also one more way to tap into the multiple intelligences as kinesthetic learning is a powerful tool. It definitely triggers the right brain and enhances critical thinking skills." Lesser has seen children grow comfortable with their bodies and with using movement in an uninhibited way. "The children adore Jesse and it's so obvious that he cares about them and accepts them completely," states Lesser.
Janie Putt, principal of Cottage Lake, is also full of praise when it comes to Jaramillo. She says, "He is a quality human being who we are fortunate to have as part of our staff. Jesse so easily develops a rapport with kids and shows them how to dance as a means of communication." Putt likens the teaching of dance to the teaching of writing. "In both disciplines, there are the stages of drafting, revising, editing and publishing, and children learn that dance is a tool just like writing," explains Putt.
Jaramillo is the sole dance specialist in Northshore. In other schools, dance/movement is most often the responsibility of the P.E. or music teacher, but it is not taught as a separate class. Jaramillo would like to see more dance specialists in the elementary schools. He says, "Starting early with dance at the grade school level is important in helping children to develop a creative sensitivity and a true appreciation of the arts."