Meet The Fellows...
Stories of Jubilation: Chris Daigre
"My job is to create an environment where students feel safe, and learn how to move in a healthy, joyful way without fear of being judged," says Chris. "I believe that the joy and feeling of being connected to others is something they carry within them out into the world. It is a touchstone that will nurture and sustain them no matter what life brings their way."
As a shy kid in his mother's dance studio, Chris was fascinated by the teaching artists and professional dancers passing through. "They were some of the most engaging people I had ever met; very funny, but also wise and full of vitality, mental dedication, and discipline. To be in the midst of them, to see how they went about their work, creating dances and working together, was transformational for me. That was the spark."
That spark ignited a teaching career that has continued for more than 25 years. It also led to the creation of Chris's own method, danceDaigre, which combines African, Latin, jazz, and modern techniques, while nurturing mind-body connection, and cultivating strength, agility, and balance.
Warm and friendly, Chris has an innate way of connecting with people from diverse backgrounds and with differing abilities. He's good at spotting the shy folks in the room, and connecting with special needs kids, easing them into movement, comfortably and naturally. "He can teach all abilities," observes one classroom teacher, "even cerebral palsy, autism. One kid loved martial arts, so Chris used capoeira to get him going, using his autism as a benefit, and gave him a solo with just a drumbeat, like the Matrix! The boy was thrilled."
The month-long residencies he developed for local elementary schools are now taught throughout the region. "He can get them to unfold and unravel like nobody else I know," says another classroom teacher. "After his residency is over, the kids want to learn all the dances! The fifth graders start doing the kindergartners' dance, and vice versa." A natural community builder, Chris's residencies culminate in epic all-school dances. "It's our biggest event of the year. Parents, great grandparents, even alumni attend."
Chris also teaches at community centers, and middle and high schools. "All ages and all stages," says Chris. Working with tactile sign language interpreters, he choreographed an exuberant flash mob for blind and deafblind students that was performed in downtown Seattle. "Dance is for everyone," he says, matter-of-factly.
"I believe that dance and movement are essential for human development. I believe that inspiration comes before learning, and that people need to feel good to be able to learn. My job is to create an environment where students feel comfortable and good about themselves, and are inspired to learn. I don't get lost in technical terminology. Explanation is minimized, movement is maximized."
How do you produce a vibrant learning environment?
"I get to know who's in the room, find out where they're at. Make sure they're comfortable first, and get a sense of who they are. If I don't know that, I could take a wrong turn. It's also important, in the beginning, for them to have success immediately." So classes are non-competitive. "Individual students are not singled out for criticism or praise. I recognize the whole class as students make progress.
"Powerful, clean music is integral. Students learn to articulate the beat, marking the rhythm with their bodies. They say the way you move is part of your culture, and I love to fuse culture, style, and attitude in my classes.
"Whenever possible, I like to collaborate with other teaching artists to enrich the learning experience. One successful partnership? With a steel pan musician. The sweet vibrations of the music complement the vibrations of the dance and enhance the dance experience."
How do you encourage youth leadership?
"It's part of class, part of the environment. Self-expression, free-dance, learning to dance with peers on equal footing. I also make a few kids responsible for knowing phrases in a certain section. Even kids who aren't into school, will be into leading dance pieces."
"He doesn't call it a dance move," says one collaborator, "he just starts moving across the floor in a funky, jazzy way, engaging them in choreography by asking, ‘What do you think of this?' He wants them to find themselves, express themselves deeply, and be healthy."
How have you evolved as a teacher?
"I used to be so concerned about what people thought – were they having a good time? I was nervous about presenting material. But I came to believe that dance is vital and life-sustaining, not just about steps. It is a practice. The arts can be part of everyday life."