As children and their parents enjoyed a recent sunny spring day at Wheaton Regional Park’s playground, a group of nine high school students congregated at the foot of three long, yellow, tubular slides. When music began to play, the students started dancing, and children stopped to watch.
The high school students are enrolled in the advanced dance class at the upper school of Sandy Spring Friends, taught by Hannah Kerr. Kerr has been teaching her students about exploring performance in public spaces.
“By performing in public spaces, the students are making dance more accessible, bringing dance to the audience, and redefining the role between audience and performers,” she said.
This spring, the students learned a modern dance called “Super-Struck!” Kerr choreographed it, but the students played a large role in generating the movement.
“The dance is exploring the role superheroes and villains play in our society,” Kerr said. “The cast was specifically set on this group of youth because of their energy, enthusiasm, athleticism, sense of hope, invincibility, camaraderie and cohesion.”
Student Carley Richards, 17, of Baltimore said the villain/superhero theme was taken to a new level in the dance.
“It incorporates not only the traditional ‘cape and superpowers’ vision people have, but also the pedestrian side of it — our everyday heroes,” she said. “The dance uses a lot of flying moves, lifts and flips, but also a lot of choreography that shows the human side of the dancers, such as changing our music and improv.”
The public performances always attract an intrigued audience and prompt conversations about dance, Kerr said.
Richards said they are showcasing the work this way as sort of a social experiment, to see how people react.
“We are trying to make the dance very real, rather than performing it on a stage, where it would be very separate from the audience,” she said. “We want to incorporate them into the dance. Many people have been stopping to watch, and the children wanted to be a part of the dance, running through the middle or around the outside.”
Zenniah Davis, 17, said performing in public allows the group to do things differently.
“A change in the spacing, a switch in show places, a music change, or a different time for a cue can change a dance so much,” she said. “And that’s what it did for our dance. At times, our showcases didn’t faze anyone, especially the little children. But most of the time, the parents and people that surrounded us watched and photographed us. They were puzzled by what exactly we were doing.”
April 17 was the second time the group had performed at the Wheaton Regional Park and Brookside Gardens. In the fall, the class went to Olney Town Center, where the students performed solos using only “pedestrian movement,” which Kerr describes as everyday motions, such as walking down the aisles of a grocery store. Their assignment was to assess where the line of performance fell as they increased these movements: When did the public start noticing them?
Kerr said she is looking for places in downtown Rockville for future performances.