Slam Dancing in Spain

Posted by Kirsten Smits on Aug 24, 2017 4:25:44 PM

Kirsten dances with adult recreational dancers at the finale of the "Aladdin" production


This summer, I had the opportunity to intern through Performing Arts Abroad at a dance school in Barcelona Spain, Slam Dancing Studio. Over the course of six weeks, the internship involved many different roles and responsibilities. A role that impacted me most was the job of being a featured instructor at the school’s annual performing arts camp, which was taught in English. This camp was three weeks in length, Monday through Friday from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m., for ages 4-16.

The camp focused on triple-threat performance: dancing, acting and singing. The structure of the camp and the show was created by Susan Kellerman, owner of Slam Dancing Studio and my supervisor during my internship. Ms. Kellerman is a graduate of the University of Michigan with degrees in dance and psychology. She has had quite a life journey that brought her to Barcelona, where she has been living and teaching for 12 years. She created an experience for local kids that incorporated the triple-threat training as well as the opportunity to perform in a show. This year’s production was “Aladdin.” The show follows the original Disney storyline, but is done through an adaptation created by Ms. Kellerman. The story was told through more modern music, which involved choreography ranging from jazz to lyrical and from commercial to hip hop, in addition to singing and acting scenes. This is an approach I had never seen or experienced before, so I was eager to see how the whole experience would play out.


Slam Dancing studio located in the Gracía neighborhood of Barcelona, Spain.


Going into the camp, I was confident in my teaching skills since I have been a dance instructor since I was 17, and before that, I had been assisting in classrooms. However, I was still quite nervous to be teaching in an environment that was completely new to me, to children that mostly spoke a different language and that live in a culture far different from my own. Yet on the first day, I quickly learned that these Spanish children would teach me more about myself and my experiences than I ever would have imagined.

When I arrived on the first day, I was greeted with warmth and kindness from the other instructors and the attendees. Luckily, the other instructors spoke English well and were helpful as I started my experience teaching alongside them, as well as teaching on my own. Speaking for myself, singing and acting are very scary. These are things I am not anywhere near perfect at, and as a perfectionist, I would rather hide than sing or act in front of a crowd. In fact, while assisting during their “song and dance” classes, I would nervously lip sync to the music so none of the teachers (or the kids) could hear me (how lame is that?). However, as I watched the kids’ rehearse throughout the day, the first thing I noticed was their complete fearlessness. I saw 5-year-olds singing on the top of their lungs to “Prince Ali” when they could barely even pronounce the words and dancing along as hard as they could. At the same moment, I saw 16-year-olds doing the same thing with no fear or reservations, even in their vulnerable stage of life (puberty is no joke). Sure, it wasn’t perfect, but I saw the complete joy that just being able to express themselves gave this group of kids. 


Students and teachers pose for a celebratory photo after their performance


One of my favorite students at this camp was a 4-year-old, Claudia, who completely emulated this openness that stuck with me from the Spanish culture. This was a student that spoke little to no English, many of the children were more bilingual. I noticed that for her, learning the songs in English and following my directions was very difficult. However, she did so with a smile on her face, even if she had no clue what was going on around her. She would belt out the tunes at the top of her lungs and remembered choreography that most 4-year-olds I teach at home couldn’t remember after a whole season’s worth of rehearsals. She didn’t care if she didn’t sound perfect or if she messed up the choreography. Claudia was completely immersed in the happiness that performing gave her. This little girl has inspired me to be more vulnerable to new experiences and hopefully allow me give to my current students a confidence to be open to new things. By the end of the camp, I was singing along to the music and letting go of my reservations of perfection, little by little, knowing that the students practicing behind me were doing the same.


Kirsten teaches a student how to take "a proper selfie" during break time.


The final production came and went with a blink of an eye. Those three weeks were a bit chaotic and quite exhausting, but I was very sad to say goodbye to the students knowing I would probably never see them again. They taught me to let go of my preconceptions and to appreciate the process, not just the end result.

I am extraordinarily grateful for my experience, and I am excited to begin my last year of undergraduate studies with these new lessons under my belt. I am grateful for dance and for all arts, for giving people around the globe a way to express themselves no matter their background, culture and skill level. I am grateful to have the knowledge to teach these arts and to plant the seed of curiosity in the minds of the next generation, here and elsewhere. Overall, this trip has left an impact that will last a lifetime.


Faculty and guest artists at the end of the production.


This post is part of the College of Fine Art's Summer 2017 blog series, Going Places. Enjoy more summertime student blog posts by subscribing to the Fine Print or clicking the image below: 


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Topics: Study Abroad, Department of Dance, Dance, The Student Experience, CFA Students in Summer, Going places - Summer 2017

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