The Experimental Dance Group founded in 1999 by Bryan Scott, was created out of a need to form a performing arts dance company and teach dance history to students in the public school system. The idea grew out of an experiment Mr. Scott conducted in 1995 with children with special social/emotional in needs at PS 94 who demonstrated poor academic ability. The question was, could these children develop self discipline that would help them improve their behavior as well as developing a desire to achieve academically?
Despite the fact that the group got a chance to dance around the New York City area participating in various dance festivals and inter-school performances, unfortunately, due to lack of support and funding Mr. Scott was unable to continue working with the special education population. However it should be noted that in speaking with a few of the former members 7 years later, they told him that they were in fact able to implement some of the strategies learned in dance to the classroom, enabling them to have more academic success, transfer to a less restrictive setting, and a few even went on to regular education placements. That was the end of the PS94 Jazzy Dancers.
In 1998, Mr. Scott started working with a small group of students in the school formerly known as PS 61. These students were in the regular education program and were interested in dance, but there were no dance programs in the school at the time. Since Mr. Scott worked in the same building, although in a different school, he decided to meet with the girls once or twice a week for 30-40 minutes and teach them modern dance(the Dunham Technique) and they became known as the PS61 Jazz Dancers. The classroom teachers were very receptive and it became somewhat of a collaborative effort scheduling rehearsal time between academics and Mr. Scott’s prep periods.
By 1999 PS 61 closed and the school building housed the special education school PS94 and The Children’s Workshop School. In an effort to continue the Dunham dance tradition and have a public school children’s dance company, Mr. Scott started another group which became known as Experimental Dance Group (EDG). This time Mr. Scott, who worked in a special educational program as a Speech & Language Pathologist, decided to collaborate with the principal (Ms. Maria Velez-Clark) and the teachers in the Children’s Workshop School. It was truly en experiment in that both groups knew very little about each other, and it was not clear how a dance program could be started by a person working within one school/program for children who were part of a different school/program. However, the goals for the group remained the same: (1) to teach them Dunham Technique, (2) to teach movement using modern/Caribbean/Latin rhythms, (3) To teach performance technique, (4) to help school age children develop confidence and build their self esteem, (5) to help elementary school age children develop their critical thinking skills, and (6) to provide them with some knowledge about dance history.
It was decided that the 5th/6th grade class taught by Aimee D. would have an opportunity to participate and would meet once a week during the last period of the day. Participation in the group was dependent upon the student’s behavior and academic performance in the classroom. Academic and behavioral progress was discussed periodically amongst the classroom teacher, Mr. Scott and Ms. Velez-Clark.
In 2001, the group which became known as the Experimental Dance Group, performed for audiences within the school building as well as in local schools in the East Village and West Village area. They danced to various pop, gospel, rhythm & blues, and jazz music, while teaching audiences about different styles of dance originated by such choreographers as, Katherine Dunham and Alvin Ailey. The group began to get a lot of school wide recognition and many parents wanted their children to have an opportunity to participate in the group as well. As a result, an after-school club was formed for junior EDG members which included 2nd through 4th grade.
By the end of the academic school year 2002, EDG had performed throughout the East Village and West Village area. The group was invited to participate in the East Village festival at The Theater For The New City and was well received. EDG was slowly becoming one of the most popular after-school clubs and it was decided by the club coordinator, Ms. Anita Mercier, that in the Fall of 2002 EDG the Children’s Workshop school would offer both a junior group (2-4th grade) and a senior group (5th-6th grade) as after-school clubs. The junior group would meet from 2:45 pm to 4:15 pm, and the senior group from 4:15 pm to 5:30 pm. As a result, EDG now has a roster of 20 students, who knows where they will go from here.
Membership for the 2002-2003 season increased to 20 members, and EDG split into a junior company (2nd-3rd grade) and a senior company (4th-6th grade). Rehearsals remained on Thursdays from 2:45 pm to 4:15 pm for the junior company, and 4:30 pm- 5:30 pm for the senior company. The focus this year was on creating a repertoire that would give the group a chance to perform different selections for different types of audiences. We were able to develop 5 selections that were used for performances throughout the year. The students were still required to do some research on Katherine Dunham and Alvin Ailey, in order to be knowledgeable about the technique and history. This was the largest group to date and we had a lot of fun working on choreography and developing strength, flexibility and endurance. The group again had the opportunity to performed at neighborhood schools (P.S. 15, P.S. 34), as well as participating in the annual East Village Festival at The Theater For The New City during Memorial Day weekend.
During 2003-2004 membership reached 13, with 5 returning members. The group met on Thursdays from 3:00 – 4:30 pm and continued to develop technique while increasing their repertoire and experimenting with different types of music. Performances continued throughout the year, and culminated with a grand performance culminating with the presentation of awards to all members of the company.
The 2004-2005 season had 8 members with 7 returning members. The company was developing strength and cohesiveness because many of the students had worked together during the previous year and were familiar with the routines and technique. Rehearsals were held on Thursdays from 3:00- 4:45 pm. The group had many performances in the immediate East Village area and danced for various events within the school (i.e., science fair, graduation, fund raisers). In addition, we were invited back toe The Theater For The New City for their annual Festival of the Arts program held during Memorial Day weekend.
The 2005-2006 season was a highpoint for EDG because with 8 members, most of them had been with the group for 3 years. This allowed me to experiment with choreography and provided the students with an opportunity to work on being an ensemble, in addition to highlighting each student’s strengths. The coordinators were Claudia and Jan, both of whom worked diligently to assure that everything ran smoothly. The group had the opportunity to perform at neighborhood schools, such as, P.S. 15 and P.S.34, as well as the annual Festival of the Arts at The Theater for The New City. We also had an opportunity to have guest artist, Mary Vivian, master teacher of the Dunham technique and former member of the Eugene James dance. Co. ,work with the students during rehearsal. This was one of the EDG’s most successful seasons to date.
During the 2006-2007 dance season we had a total of 7 students, five of whom were new members. This required teaching the technique to students who had no prior training or exposure to the Dunham technique, thus the focus this year would be technique, not performance. Ms. Claudia served as club coordinator and worked very hard to help us attract new members. Many new clubs were being offered at C.W.S. and the children’s taste in activities were changing as well.
The 2007-2008 dance season had 5 participants, two seniors (members from the previous year), and three students from the 3rd and 4th grade. The focus continued on teaching Dunham movements and increasing the level of difficulty. Enrollment has remained about the same in comparison to last year. This may be in part to all of the new clubs CWS has to offer and the children’s interest to experiment with different types of activities. Claudia served as our club coordinator and setting the meeting time for 3:10-4:45 pm every Thursday. The big change this year was that the clubs did not take a break after the Christmas Holiday, but continued from October through June.
The 2009-2010 dance season had 12 members including one male, which we had not seen since the original group in 1995. The group was comprised of mostly first and second graders with 3 third graders. Many of the students had never taken dance before so basic Dunham technique was taught as well as developing a sense of rhythm and timing. Overall the new students did very well. Darryl became the club coordinator. The dance class was extended to 5:15pm.
The 2010-2011 dance season had 13 members with 7 members returning and 2 students in first grade, three students in second grade and two students in third grade. The goal this year was to teach the students about the inner feelings a dancer has to have when dancing and the importance of listening to the music and learning how to express this to the audience; as well as more Dunham technique. The enrollment has increased by two students from last season and Darryl continued as the new club coordinator. The class time was extended to 5:30 pm to provide more time to develop technique and to rehearse.
The 2011-2012 dance season had 14 members with 12 members returning and two new students (one in first grade and the other in 3rd grade). The goal this year was to focus on performance ability and connecting with the audience; as well as learning some advanced beginner Dunham techniques. Joyce became the clubs coordinator and class time remained 3:00 pm, to 5:30 pm.
In 2012-2013 The Experimental Dance Group went back to their roots! Based upon the growth and development of the company over the past 4 years it was time for the company to separate from the “Clubs” umbrella so that the original concept of what EDG was all about (the formation of a school dance company), was not lost or compromised. Of course with change comes growing pains but we were up to the challenge and with 13 members (11 returning) full force ranging from 2nd grade though 5th grade (3 of which were seniors) we were ready.
In 2013-2014 Season #15 The Experimental Dance Group made ground breaking history by having already appeared in the Wall Street Journal and bringing the house down at the Dance Educators Showcase during Spring 2013, were ready to take another bold step where no other school organization had gone before. The returning 13 members of The Experimental Dance Group would invite students from both schools (The Children’s Dance Group, and The East Village Community School) to audition for the company. This resulted in one new member from second grade, Maria R. (C.W.S.) and two new students from E.V.C.S. 4th grader Jaiden Rodriguez (Fall 2013 and second grader Ida Murato (Spring 2014). We also set precedent by allowing an alumni student Victioria Brooks to return and continue working with the company, something like this had never been done before. And of course our history learning portion of the company has expanded to include the study of Alvin Ailey, Katherine Dunham, Arthur Mitchell, Carmen De Lavallade, Martha Graham, as well as recent choreographers/dancers such as: Twylar Tharp, Bob Fossee, Debbie Allen, The Nicholas Brothers, Ron K. Brown.