By Crystal Lynn, Gary Crusader
Your approach to education can take a whole new direction once you see things through the eyes of an artistic engineer. Reason, tactics, communication– all are different depending on your cognitive perspective. Dr. Dionne Champion, owner of DancExcel in Gary, IN, has found how to bridge that relationship between the arts and education through her doctoral studies at Northwestern University.
Champion received her Ph.D. in Learning Sciences from the School of Education and Social Policy on Friday, June 16, 2017 while preparing for DancExcel’s 13th Annual Dance Recital on Sunday, June 18.
“Artists approach things differently from engineers. The great thing about having a background in both is having a widened perspective,” Champion explained. 1994 Emerson Valediction, BS in Chemical Engineering from Florida A&M, Master’s in Dance Education from Temple University and now a Ph.D. from Northwestern, Champion has the formal education to do anything.
Her doctoral studies in the Learning Sciences have changed the way Champion approaches instruction and interaction with her students. It has enabled her to make learning science and math more interesting and easier for her students to grasp. Champion does this by teaching the science in dance movements and the math used in choreography. Also she say, “The key is keeping them engaged in the conversation of what they like and what they know, so that they can be successful in the path they choose.”
“The conversation of higher education starts early, but I’d rather know what they think and feel and provide them with the tools to go their own path rather than tell them what they need to do.” Champion goes on to say, “I was shocked when students would tell me they hate science or math or that it was boring which was the basis of my research. I wanted to show the relationships between science and dance or math and choreography.”
Champion has successfully done this through her dance program offered to youth 2+, over the past 13 years. A lot of her research was conducted in the last two years in the full-day summer program that offered intensive dance instruction in conjunction with academics every year.
The group-based projects called a Makerspace, allowed the young people to create, invent, explore and discover using a variety of tools and materials. The four-week program included children ranging from 8-15 years old, and concluded with a program where they presented their creations.
With her research, Champion has been able to expand the minds of the youngsters. Some of the DancExcel students have finished high school and gone on to pursue business, engineering, and other degrees.
Champion pursued her degree at Northwestern because of its innovative approach to education that was three tiered – sociocultural context, cognition and design. She will continue her research in Boston for the next two years. Her beloved DancExcel studio in Gary will continue to develop and educate dancers in her absence, overseen by her parents, Dorothy and Carl, both retired educators. Champion will travel back and forth throughout the year to support the growth of DancExcel.
In the last decade DancExcel has been featured numerous times at the Chicago McDonald’s Thanksgiving Parade, Windy City Live, and Dance the World at the Walt Disney Studios in Orlando, FL. Champion’s production, The Spirit of the Baobab Tree, a dancumentary co-authored by Sherice Grant, DancExcel co-director, has been performed at the Chicago Harris Theater and traveled to Indianapolis, IN and Nashville, TN while also showcasing an annual production in February at West Side High School.
This summer DancExcel will offer a two-weekend intensive dance program, consisting of different styles of dance. The program will also have workshops in theater. Ages 10 and up will experience six hours of dance each day with three different classes. Regular classes will resume August 26, 2017. For more information contact the studio at (219) 944-8066 or visit them at 2345 Grant Street, Gary, IN.