Lake Norman & Mooresville

Novel inspires middle school dance project

Lately, it's been hard to go a day or two without hearing something about "The Hunger Games," the buzzy, bestselling book series about post-apocalyptic teens fighting to the death.

And with the movie being filmed just down the road in Charlotte, it seems that people in our area have the names Katniss and Peeta even more on the tips of their tongues.

The middle schoolers at Community School of Davidson certainly did.

Dance teacher Sara Keys heard them talking about the books between classes and noticed copies in backpacks. It gave her an idea: Why not interpret and choreograph the novel into a dance?

The result was a winter dance unlike anything the school had seen - an unusual interpretation of the curriculum that exemplified everything Keys was trying to achieve within her department.

The fact that Community School offers dance classes is unusual in itself. Keys spent two years there teaching at the elementary level before the dance position opened up.

A lifelong dancer, Keys, 27 and a resident of Mooresville, grew up on Walnut Street and began taking classes at Dance Davidson at age 21/2.

"My heart was telling me that this would be fun," she recalled.

"When I was growing up, I used to tell my mom I wanted to be a teacher, an artist, a dancer and a youth leader. She'd say I couldn't be all four, but it came together, and really, I am," said Keys.

Middle schoolers at CSD can choose from two dance electives: a technique class, or a survey class that combines the elements of space, time and force.

The latter option also lends itself to integrating curricular aspects. Keys has done units on geometry and art.

One of Keys' goals was to increase the number of boys choosing the dance elective.

"I knew I couldn't just start everyone at the ballet barre. I had to prove to them that this was something kinesthetic, and make a connection to sports," she said.

Keys worked in hip-hop and break dancing and saw the number of boys participating leap from just one when she started to 41.

"The Hunger Games" dance concept came to her as she began reading the book.

"As I read, I just envisioned movement," she said. She also noticed her students talking about it.

"Since I've been teaching middle school, I'd never heard kids so passionate about a book," she said.

Last spring, she reread the novel, taking notes on small details in hopes of bringing them to life.

"The project began to take on a life of its own, with the kids suggesting musical selections and contributing to choreography," she said.

The product was a one-hour performance consisting of 20 dances in which half of the middle school participated.

Keys says she was thrilled by what her students took away.

"The unit really allowed the kids to explore character and emotion, and my kinesthetic learners were able to recall character details more easily by interpreting them through movement."

In addition, Keys said she feels the interpretation helped with critical-thinking skills and language perception.

Perhaps most importantly, though, was what the students thought of themselves.

"My goal for these kids is to help build self-confidence, and allow them to feel comfortable in their own skin. Middle school can be an awkward time, and this gives them a way to communicate."