Dancing with children

Weehawken teacher improves learning and bonding through movement

As she sat cross-legged, then legs outstretched, and then cross-legged again in her Weehawken residence, Ivy Epstein-Barile recalled how her life was changed forever when she was offered dance as an alternative to her elementary school gym class.
Epstein-Barile, a professional dancer and local substitute and student teacher, believes in the transformative powers of dance.
“This is the most important thing about me,” she said. “I have to have movement in anything I do, whether it’s typing, or teaching, or doing absolutely nothing.”
Between her 20-year dance career, her 9-year-old son Shane, her after-school work, her dance classes, her freelance word processing job, and her upcoming graduation from Jersey City University’s pre-kindergarten through third grade teaching program, it’s hard to imagine Epstein-Barile has time to do absolutely nothing.

The professional years

After Epstein-Barile graduated from Brooklyn College with a bachelor’s degree in dance, she was immediately invited to apprentice at the Dance June Lewis and Company in New York City – a prestigious performance and teaching group based on the modern contemporary dancing styles of Martha Graham, Neichi Nimura, Edward Caton, and Erik Hawkins.

“Kids are restless. They need movement. It’s who they are.” – Ivy Epstein-Barile
She spent 20 years with the company, performing and teaching all levels of classes to students of all ages until she had her son when she turned 42. Soon after, she resumed teaching company classes until she decided to move to Weehawken and focus on parenting.
But Epstein-Barile became nostalgic for her dancing and teaching days. When she felt Shane was old enough, she got a job assistant teaching in Hoboken, then in Weehawken. She also began working for Webster Extended Care, an after-school program available to Webster School students that runs from 2:50 to 6 p.m.
She discovered that when she incorporated her love of dance and movement into her classes, her students responded positively.
“I always incorporate movement into my classes,” she said. “And it is incredible how it helps the children to learn, no matter how old they are.”
But how does one integrate movement into, say, a math class?
Epstein-Barile gave an example: “I wrote a math problem on the board, handed out note cards, and had [the students] hold up their answers in the air.” She went on to explain that this seemingly simple action helped to motivate and focus her class. Whereas normally they would sit still, or more likely fidget, nose to their desks, the act of holding up an index card gave them something physical to do and ended up involving even the shyest among them.
“Kids are restless,” she went on. “They need movement. It’s who they are.”

Parents and children’s dance at Park Performing Arts

When Epstein-Barile was picking up a child at Park Arts School at the Park Performing Arts Center (a youth program that provides a wide variety of art, dance, music, and theatre classes to Hudson County children), she began chatting with Administrator Claudia Beruben about her idea for a mother-child modern dance class.
“A lot of moms don’t have time to spend with their kids on weekends if they want to work out,” Epstein-Barile explained. “I want to have a class where moms are face-to-face with their kids, holding hands, moving together, and bonding.”
Beruben was intrigued, and so gave the class – “Parents’ and Children’s Dance” – a Saturday spot in the fall roster. It became an instant hit with the mother-daughter student pairs.
Unfortunately, Epstein-Barile reported, there are no sons yet.
“Shane will give a full 15 minute modern dance performance in our living room, but I haven’t convinced him to come to my class.”
Weehawken resident Amber Salvatore and her daughter Anabelle are two of the class’s biggest fans. Salvatore described how each class is taught around an emotion that Epstein-Barile chooses. She then asks her students to show her a gesture that describes that emotion, and creates a unique modern dance out of the mothers’ and children’s movements.
“We absolutely love the class,” Salvatore said. “It’s such a unique way to bond with your kid.”
Salvatore’s daughter Anabelle attends school with Shane, and when Epstein-Barile first approached her about joining the class, she was hesitant.
“When you try something new, you’re embarrassed to look silly or make a wrong move,” Salvatore said. “But [the class] is not pretentious. It teaches Anabelle how to express herself through her body, I’m really conscious of my posture now, and I really love learning with my daughter.”
Anabelle agrees. “It’s a lot of fun,” she said. “And I love taking classes with my mom.”
Epstein-Barile hopes to continue teaching the class in the spring.

The next move

Epstein-Barile is in the student teaching stage of her degree and hopes to become a full-fledged teacher in late Sept. of 2012. Of course, she will include movement and dance in her pedagogy.
“Most people look at kids like they’re a separate race,” she said. “To me, they’re people in a different stage of life; but we all move, and we all learn, so we may as well do it all together.”
Epstein-Barile hopes one day to work with local school administrations to offer dance classes as an alternative to traditional gym classes, just as she experienced when she was a child.
For more information on the Park Performing Arts Center, visit their website at www.parkpac.org.

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