MIM Insights: Dance Connections
January 3rd, 2020
“I explored how dance…could overcome lingual and political divides to create shared experiences.”
Alex Zaslav has been dancing practically all her life, including participating in the Minds In Motion program during 4th grade. She currently acts as the Minds In Motion Israel Residency Coordinator. We had a long-distance chat with Alex about her journey from dance student to dance teacher, and discussed her studies of dance as conflict resolution.
What was your MiM school/theme?
MIM School: William Fox Elementary School
Theme: Maggie Walker; my class dance was “Pennies from Heaven” 🙂 (Spoiler alert: rumor has it that “Pennies from Heaven” might appear in the 2020 Richmond show.)
Can you describe your dance journey?
I began my dance training at Richmond Ballet when I was very young, back when the studio was still on Lombardy Street! I continued my ballet training and in fourth grade…started my journey with MIM, eventually staying on for four years with Team XXL (MIM Ambassadors). The training, performing, and touring I experienced through the school of Richmond Ballet and MIM Ambassadors sparked a deep love for dance, and inspired me to pursue dance as a professional aspiration.
I went on to earn my BFA in dance performance from Butler University, and during my degree also spent time training in Israel with Kibbutz Contemporary Dance Company. During this time abroad, I fell in love with the unique contemporary dance scene in Israel, and after finishing my degree joined KAMEA Dance Company, in Be’er Sheva, Israel.
However, after a year with the company, and a year living within the complex political climate in Israel, I decided that I wanted to explore how I could apply my dance experience to other fields, and therefore returned to school for my Master’s in Conflict Resolution at Tel Aviv University.
Your current studies involve using dance as a cultural bridge: can you describe in your own words what you are doing? How do the Israel MIM residencies tie in with your studies?
During my Master’s degree, I focused on integrating dance into the conflict resolution field, essentially re-embodying a field that is often verbally-oriented. My thesis focused on using dance as a platform for cross-cultural encounters with children in conflict zones. The study was based on the Israel residency, which brings Jewish-Israeli children and Palestinian-Israeli children, who normally study separately, to meet each other and engage together through dance. I explored how dance, an innate and shared language, could overcome lingual and political divides to create shared experiences, which could cultivate awareness and empathy.
Do you feel being in Minds In Motion as a 4th-grader in any way contributed to your current field of work/study?
Yes, I feel that my MIM experience when I was younger contributed to my current work. Even though it was not in the same intensity as the Israel residency, as a fourth-grader, and especially in Team XXL, we also had the opportunity to meet kids from different schools and communities and found ways to connect through a shared passion for movement and dance. Experiencing this firsthand contributed to my belief in the power of dance to overcome differences and foster connections.
What’s the most rewarding experience you have/have had as a residency teacher?
The final performance in Israel is very powerful because on the stage are two different com
munities of children, who normally would never have the opportunity to meet each other, and there they are dancing together as a cohesive unit, sharing space together, and creating something together. In the audience, meanwhile, is a mix of parents, siblings, and teachers also sharing in this experience. No matter the challenges that arise during the residencies, in that moment, where the communities come together, the final performance is not simply a culminating project for the participating students; the performance creates a symbolic platform for collective meaning-making and for imagining an alternate reality. Watching this transpire always gives me goosebumps.
Just for fun: what’s your favorite dance you danced in MIM—either in 4th grade or as a member of XXL?
“Boogie Till the Cows Come Home” was one of the first dances I learned when I joined Team XXL, and I still remember how fun it was to learn it and dance it 🙂
Alex and the residency team will be bringing dance to a new group of 4th-graders in Israel this January.
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