Yale, New Haven foster bonds through dance

Yale and New Haven high schools been dancing together long before the New Haven Promise was made.

An after-school dance program, called the “Yale Co-Op Dance,” founded last fall has been cultivating a link between Yalies and high school students at the local high school. Just at the end of last spring, a Yale administrator from the office of New Haven and State Affairs, Suzannah Holsenbeck ’05, was assigned to coordinate after-school programs at the high school. Since the assignment, enrollment in the program has tripled, and two weeks ago, evaluation forms completed by Co-Op high school students came back unanimously positive, encouraging increased collaboration with Yale students, Holsenbeck said.

“I listened to what would make it take [Co-Op] to the next level as a performing arts high school and what Yale could do for it,” she said.

In fall 2009, Grace Needlman ’11, the Community Service Coordinator for the Alliance for Dance at Yale, approached Holsenbeck — who, at the time, was working on other partnership initiatives between Yale and New Haven high schools — about starting an after school dance program. As of then, the program — known as the Yale Co-Op Dance Collaborative — has been bringing in a different Yale dance group to Co-Op each week to lead a class for the 27 high school students enrolled. So far, members from Yaledancers, A Different Drum, and the Jashan Bhangra Team have taught workshops.

“The first thing that comes to mind is the students that we’re working with are really interested in college,” Needlman said. “Asking about what college is like, how to get in — a lot of them are interested in Yale because it is so close to home.”

The collaboration with the Co-Op High School was the first outreach program that the Alliance for Dance at Yale — the undergraduate umbrella organization for Yale dance groups — participated in, Needlman said. She added that the partnership has so far been a natural one, especially given the high school’s artistic academic environment.

“It’s an awesome place, because these are students who are used to working in a studio setting,” she said. “They have really consistent arts training, so they’re really comfortable in the classroom.”

Holsenbeck said that the program also benefits Yale students, many of whom are interested in dance instruction, by giving them a substantive background in teaching in the studio. While this was not a focus of the collaboration last year, Holsenbeck said that this year she has begun meeting with the Yale student volunteers to talk about dance pedagogy, or teaching theory. Next semester she said she hopes to increase training for the core group of Yale students.

The after-school dance classes take place every Thursday and last two hours. In addition to dance, Holsenbeck oversees after-school initiatives between Co-Op and the Yale Center for British Art, Yale University Art Gallery, and the School of Drama.

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