Meet The Fellows...
photos by David Conkin and Robert Eyerman
"I am more than a dance instructor," says Robert. "I am the embodiment of a tragedy to triumph story. I am an example of how hard work and dedication pay off. I am a friend who understands adversity and can help guide you through it."
From ages 7-11, Robert and his siblings were in a foster care program. "My experience there was extremely negative, so I needed an outlet to channel my energy." That's when he joined an after-school breakdance program offered by Jubilation Foundation grantee ArtsCorps. "Breaking came at a time I needed it most. I understand the power it has on adolescent individuals."
After a few months in the program, "I learned this really cool move that no one else could do. For that moment in time I felt powerful. I felt my voice being heard. I earned the respect of my peers. From that moment forward I knew I wanted to share my art with the world."
Nine years later, he's a teaching artist with ArtsCorps and Jubilation Foundation grantee Centrum, holds two degrees in chemistry, founded a dance crew, and has traveled internationally.
"Breaking has always been about the unification of people. The lessons I implement are inclusive. I understand that I have access to a platform that can provide youth with life-changing teaching and performance opportunities. While I use dance as the vehicle, the lessons I hold dear are life lessons: learning how to learn, how to set and accomplish goals, and learning when and how to lead or follow."
How do you produce a vibrant learning environment?
"Learning is a conversation, not a lecture. It's important that instructors enter the space with students as humble and eager to learn as they are. Entering the environment with this perspective allows me to connect in a more personal way, which makes students feel as valuable to the class as I am as the instructor."
How do you foster youth leadership?
"Promoting youth leadership and empowerment is something I value greatly. First and foremost, it's extremely important that we treat youth as equal members of society. They're intelligent, creative, and imaginative -- they just lack wisdom from experience. So every class, I give them opportunities to lead. During warm-ups, we play Follow-the-Leader, where everyone (including myself) follows a student for 30 seconds. And I often pair students together and they'll trade off as leader and follower while creating dance routines."
How have you evolved as a teacher?
"As my programs grow, I find myself thinking of more opportunities I can create to benefit the students long-term. One goal I've had for a long time is to create an annual scholarship program for youth with a rough upbringing who are trying to go to college. Being able to set and achieve goals like this is the definition of success and evolution for me."
What is an example of a good day teaching kids?
"If I see that the students are being challenged and remain focused for a majority of the exercises, that is a great day."
(shooting and editing by Maximilian Stockstill)