Student Explores Dance Through Independent Study

By Ella Gravitz ’20

Over the summer I spoke to Ms. McKinnon about how I had not been placed in any dance classes during the school day. She exclaimed, “Why don’t you just do an independent study?” This really interested me, but I had never met anyone who had done an independent study at St. Andrews. Luckily, with the help of my parents, the administration, and of course Ms. McKinnon, this past fall trimester, I was the first student to complete an independent study in dance. 

The first step was to decide exactly what I would be doing. I thought about my dance career and how I could make the most out of this opportunity. I have been dancing since I was three and have taken classes primarily in ballet, hip-hop, and jazz. At St. Andrews, I participated in the spring dance company and choreographed three pieces for that show. So, I considered what my ideal course would look like because I was given the chance to tailor a class completely to my own interests. This was a unique experience because, throughout high school, I have never been able to decide exactly what I wanted to learn and how I wanted to learn it. This experience of deciding the topics of my class made me reflect on what aspects of dance would benefit me most so I can truly enjoy learning.

As I continued researching, I realized that I have never taken a tap class before, and my only experience with tap dancing was a short piece in the spring dance show. I knew that tap was fun, and its unfamiliarity was a new challenge for me. Additionally, I knew that learning tap would help me become a well-rounded dancer. Other than tap, I realized that I wanted to learn the basics of choreography because I found it to be really challenging since I did not know where to start or how to form a storyline. With my main goal of becoming a better, more educated dancer, I decided to focus on tap and dance composition.

My independent study began with a unit on basic choreography, mainly turning inspiration into a cohesive piece, and I looked forward to that class every single day. As we moved into the tap unit, I felt a sense of joy in challenging myself and being able to see my improvements. Finally, as the trimester came to an end, I put my skills together and worked on choreographing tap combinations. I was even able to perform in the US Performing Arts Assembly with the D block dance technique class, something that I never thought I would have the courage to do. One of my biggest takeaways was the benefits of taking risks. I did this in multiple ways, from trying a new style to pushing myself to perform a solo section in front of the Upper School. When I heard the cheers from my classmates, I knew that these risks had paid off, and I felt proud of myself in a way that would not have been possible otherwise.

In general, my independent study was a terrific experience, and it had an incredible impact on me as a dancer. I accomplished my goal of becoming more well-rounded, and if I go to an audition that includes tap, I am confident of my new skills. I even feel motivated to sign up for some tap classes to continue my journey into tap. In terms of choreography, I now have the tools to do it properly and cannot wait to begin working on my piece for the spring show. In addition, something that surprised me was that completing an independent study had an effect on me as a student in general. I learned to think critically about my interests and what I actually want to learn. I also realized the power in diving deeply into a subject that you are passionate about, and how much joy can be found in unfamiliar topics. Finally, my independent study taught me that if you want to learn something that is not currently available, you should take the matter into your own hands and take the course.

In conclusion, my independent study was an experience that I will always cherish. I learned what I wanted at my own pace and was rewarded for my hard work. I especially want to thank Ms. McKinnon, who kindly offered her time and expertise for my betterment as a student and a dancer. The lessons I learned both inside and outside of the studio are invaluable.

This article was originally published in the Winter 2019-20 Print Edition, the full version can be viewed here