Kelly Berick, Director of Dance
Akron School for the Arts at Firestone High School, Akron, OH
Q: How did you participate in the arts as a child?
A: My mother placed me in dance classes at age 3 to reverse an inward hip rotation issue that developed from birth through my toddler years. I stuck with dance through the rest of my life. I also took piano lessons, played the bass clarinet in my school band, sang in my church choir, and took years art classes both at our recreation center and at school. I spent 6 years in a preprofessional ballet company in junior high and high school, then pursued a BA in Dance at Columbia College (SC) and later a M.Ed. in Dance at Temple University.
Q: Describe your favorite “a-ha moment” in arts education.
A: I was a member of a small modern dance troupe in Columbia, SC, and I was the company’s artist-in-residence in public schools across the state. I have numerous fond memories of those elementary school students during that four-year period, but one in particular made me realize that public schools was where I belonged and where dance and I could make a difference. I conducted an improvisation on “focus” to a group of 5th grade students. In one amazing moment, in a crowded room of 25 boys and girls, a boy, in slow motion, stepped out and over a girl in a low level stretched position. Neither of them looked at the other, but both knew of the other’s presence and planned accordingly. I realized in that moment that any kid can benefit from this work, any kid can be successful in this work, and that dance moment was more skillful and focused than even the most competitive and complicated dance step ever created, and it was completely improvised by two inexperienced movers inside of a crowd of other bodies. I’ve been in schools ever since.
Q: How do you practice creativity in your own life and / or what inspires you?
A: I enjoy the art and creativity of creating a great dance lesson, and I enjoy creating dance works with my students as collaborators. Daily though, I enjoy the structured improvisation of cooking! I like planning the week’s meals, improvising with my leftovers, and trying new spins on recipes. That’s feeding my soul as much as my body these days. I feel connected to my grandparents and to our old farmland when I’m growing vegetables and working with them in the kitchen.
Q: Name one puzzle, or problem, you are working on in the field right now.
A: I am currently looking at my program through an equity lens. While I currently serve all types of students with varying experiences, I am looking for ways to give those with less dance background more opportunities while also continuing to challenge my experienced students and paving their pathways into university dance programs. Time and space constraints are the problems, not to mention the need to establish a culture of mutual respect and peer leadership/support. Can we be all things to all people?
Q: Name an arts educator who impacted you and how they influenced your younger days.
A: Dr. Edrie Ferdun, professor emeritus of Temple University created a classroom experience for incoming graduate students that changed my life forever. I seek daily to create the sense of passion for dance/the arts, democracy, mutual respect and admiration, and family that she created in that year with my high school students. She balanced planning with spontaneity in a way that was so beneficial and human. With high school students, my aim is to eliminate the idea that dance is competitive and everyone must always strive to be better than the rest. Edrie’s class promoted selflessness and a joy for our differences. There’s not enough of that in dance world today.
Q: What can the average person do to advocate for more and / or stronger arts education in local schools?
A: It is always helpful to be present in your child’s school, helping the arts area teachers, fundraising for guest artist residencies (like the ones I used to do!), offering letters of support for arts projects the teachers would like to take on, and of course, going to bat when arts programs are on the line in budget talks. Talking to elected representatives at the local and state level keeps your school’s arts education in the conversation. Joining organizations that support the arts is a great way to lend your support to initiatives and legislation crucial to arts education. These organizations can help you remain educated about the benefits of arts education and the effect that arts have on culture. And of course, patronize your area arts events: go to the theater, the gallery, and the concert hall. Leave the comfort of your couch, and I guarantee that you will come back to it with feelings you never had before.
Portrait of an Arts Advocate is a monthly feature profiling an OAAE member active in advocating for arts education in Ohio. If you’d like to submit your information, or to learn more about this feature email firstname.lastname@example.org.