Kelli McGovern is as new to Bayonne High School as the dance class she teaches.
For the first time, dance instruction has become an elective and many of the nearly 100 kids who signed up for it are thrilled.
McGovern, who teaches the program along with Lori Alexander, said she’s still working out some of the kinks, but that the program covers all the basics that students need.
“I didn’t have dance in high school,” she said before one of the classes earlier this month. “I had to take it out of school. These kids are lucky.”
If the students are lucky, so is McGovern, who spotted the listing for a dance teacher last June just as BHS was gearing up to start this new program.
“This is my second week,” she said with a laugh. “This is the first year for the dance program so we’re writing the curriculum right now.”
McGovern is one of the first graduates to complete the five-year dual degree program at Rutgers University, where she obtained a Bachelor of Fine Arts in dance performance from the Mason Gross School of the Arts and her Masters of Education in dance education from the Graduate School of Education.
“I just finished in June,” said McGovern, who looked a little nervous until the class started. Then she swept through the room like a seasoned pro, going from student to student, offering advice and encouragement, showing each student the right position.
Her fellow teacher Anderson, a graduate of the University of Maryland in Baltimore County, is a Broadway veteran who has worked in television doing commercials and has performed in theatric venues all over the world.
McGovern also has a perform history in modern dance and ballet, and is currently working with a dance company in West Orange, and has performed at other venues such as the Joyce Theater.
“I also performed at Rutgers,” she said.
There has already been a lot of thought behind the program; the district has invested more than a year of development to include it as part of the art and music department. The courses includes Intro to Dance, which covers beginning dance movement and techniques; Ballet I, which focuses on classic ballet technique, as well as on placement and alignment of the body to develop a technical foundation; and Musical Theater, which is an intermediate dance class focusing on various styles used in Broadway and off-Broadway musicals.
But McGovern said that to start, the classes consist of various levels of experience from beginner to advanced, although she hopes to develop classes over time that are geared toward specific experience levels.
“We’re looking to teach a whole range of students from beginner to advanced,” she said. “We’re making the classes now so that any student no matter what their ability can get something out of it.”
The classes are offered to students in all four years of high school. As time goes on, the district’s goal is to have a progression of more advanced classes that are assigned by recommendation level. Also in the works will be an after-school program that will culminate in an end-of-the-year show alongside the daytime school students.
Its own language
A dancer since she was two years old, McGovern said she decided to follow it as a career path in high school. But her high school didn’t offer dance, so she had to take classes outside of school.
“I studied mostly as a studio,” she said, adding that dance is its own language.
“It’s a good outlet to learn new things and to experience things in a different way that you wouldn’t get in an ordinary glass room. It’s a different approach to learning. Movement is a language in itself.”
Students began to arrive, get changed, put their shoes to one side, and started to warm up.
“We go onto other things after that,” she said. “This class is ballet so we do what is typical to classical ballet.”
“It’s a different approach to learning. Movement is a language in itself.” – Kelli McGovern
The class sizes vary and range between 15 and 20 students, but it seemed that many were interested in a dance curriculum.
“I just wanted to try something different,” said Stephanie Melendez, a senior. “I always wanted to do ballet when I was younger, and I thought this was a perfect chance to learn.”
Melendez is eying social work as a career, so taking this class something for her own pleasure, only she didn’t expect it to take such a physical toll.
“There’s a lot of pain in the legs,” she said with a laugh. “I practice at home and I’m a gymnastics coach. So I’m kind of used to the pain. Still, this is a lot of fun.”
Caligh Higgins, a sophomore, intends to follow a career in dance, and that she was very excited when she heard the school was going to establish a dance program.
“I always wanted to go to a high school that had a dance program in it,” she said. “I’ve danced since I was little so I’m used to everything we’re doing now.”
Corryn DeFazio, a senior, teaches dance at Miss Huguette’s Dance Studio in Bayonne and has been dancing since she was three years old.
“I would like to continue that,” she said. “I got into the Arts Academy as a freshman for dance, but they didn’t have anything until now. I’m pretty excited about this.”
As a freshman, Angela DePinto, who also has an idea that she would like to pursue a career in dance, has four years ahead of her that will allow her to learn.
“This class is presenting me with a lot of new things,” she said.
Kailen Arambulo, a sophomore, is also interested in the arts.
“I’ve danced for seven years at Dance with Me,” she said, referring to a dance studio located in the Bergen Point section of Bayonne. “I thought this class was useful, even though I knew a lot of this already.”
But she said she has been exposed to new things here. “Different steps and different combinations,” she said.