While watching a group of enthralled four year olds as they mimicked the movement of frogs, cats, and monsters, using brightly colored dots on the floor as imaginary lily pads and swirling obstacles, I knew I was in the presence of a highly skilled teacher. Tina Banchero gently guided her young students using vivid words and a full range of body motion. The result was an impeccably crafted lesson, encompassing opportunities for each student to further her range of physical expression.
Tracy Wu: How long have you been teaching for Performing Arts Workshop?
Tina Banchero: This is the beginning of my 3rd year, and it’s been a great experience. I love working with the Workshop! I’ve been a teaching artist for the last two years. In the fall, I became an Artist Mentor. That means that I coach and help train younger staff, and also learn from them and their skill sets. We introduce them to our methodology and how we work in the classrooms.
TW: How has working with the Workshop augmented, supplemented, or contributed to your experience as an artist in the Bay Area?
TB: I would say that the model for the Workshop is very based on critical thinking, art making, and revision. Just being in that head space has kept me...more contemplative in my teaching and in my other work. I also do studio teaching where I’m teaching more technique, but at the Workshop...my lens and my focus has been shifted more to reflection, revision, going deeper, how I can pull more out of my students instead of laying more on my students. So that’s been the main focus.
"This is the beginning of my 3rd year, and it’s been a great experience. I love working with the Workshop!"
TW: I observed you with a wonderful class of preschoolers today. How would you define success for a preschool-aged group in terms of the Workshop goals?
TB: Success for the preschool-aged student is about getting to enjoy and explore lots of different ways of moving. I teach them how to create their own movement, shapes, and basic patterns.
It’s also about getting them to understand and use some of the dance vocabulary such as space, tempo, shape, line.
TW: Is there a favorite shape that preschoolers tend to make?
TB: They love going upside down. The downward dog shape that we see in yoga is a favorite. They plop right into that one!
TW: How did you find yourself becoming involved with dance?
TB: I started dancing when I was five and danced all the way through high school. I was a competitive dancer who trained very vigorously. I danced with a youth ballet company, did pointe work, and competed in dance. It was my whole life.
I was a good student in high school, and all of a sudden college time came around and I was kind of lost. I thought to myself, “What am I going to do? Dance is what I love doing.” My dance teacher was associated with a network of professors in dance as well, and she encouraged me to audition for a college program. I hadn’t really thought previously about going to college for dance, but I auditioned for a few schools, got a small scholarship, and started on a path of looking at dance in all of its forms—as a performer, as a choreographer, and as a teacher, in the different types of pedagogy and the ways we teach dance.
After I graduated from college I started in on a dance career, and focused more on performance. Teaching has always been in my life and now, especially with the Workshop, learning different modalities of teaching and different pedagogical forms, just growing in the practice of it, has been really exciting.
TW: Can you tell me about your favorite first day of class activity for preschool-aged children?
TB: I love using props and I feel that the kids really respond to props. It helps them divide space and so I love using scarves. They’re very lyrical. I have this bag of juggling scarves, bright colored fabric, and there are so many different things you can do to explore lots of different concepts with scarves; over and under, and high and low. It’s magical getting to see them exploring moving slow, moving fast, catching the scarf with a different body part, and there’s just something very visual about that image that is always very heartwarming to me. They become very focused on their prop, and I see their intention get a little more solidified.
TW: What place do you think arts education has in America’s public schools?
TB: Personally I feel like it would amazing if we had arts education every day. I feel that the kids in our country are lacking arts education in comparison to other countries. It’s such an important form of expression and it uses multiple modes of intelligence.
Some of the students who struggle in a traditional classroom environment, or at the desk, or in the circle, flourish in the dance room, because they’re able to move their bodies in a bigger, more expressive way. Even the students that might not enjoy dance as much are getting a physical break.
Through our methodology, students are constantly problem-solving with their bodies. For those who might not be kinesthetic learners it’s just getting them to use different skill sets, which is awesome. For those students who are kinesthetic learners, they’re physically getting that time to really be in their strength, their mode of learning that is their strong suit, which may not happen during the day in the classroom.
“They love going upside down. The downward dog shape that we see in yoga is a favorite shape—they plop right into that one!”
I just personally feel like it’s so important for the youth. Many of our public schools don’t even have P.E. anymore. If they do, sometimes it’s very limited, or they have giant classes, so just even the mode of physicality that they get in their physical education class can be very limited, just based on funding and class size.
I think it creates a more well-rounded person and it creates a more well-rounded culture when we teach an appreciation for the arts and we give them the opportunity to explore their different modes of intelligence through the arts.
TW: Tell me about a time when one of your students, someone who was struggling in the more academic arenas of preschool, whom you feel has kinesthetic learning as his/her strength, really excelled in your class.
TB: In almost every class I hear a teacher say, “Wow, look at him/her! He’s amazing!” They notice that there is a greater range of movement in the child.
A story that comes to mind is a set of identical twin boys. They were really struggling with attention and focus. They were like two Tasmanian devils who would tear the room apart. But they were phenomenal in my movement classes.
At the beginning of my class, they struggled with focus, coming to circle, and following directions, but their range of motion was so vibrant and big. Eventually they realized that this was something they were good at. In fact, they were leaps and bounds above the physical range of their classmates. They got a lot of praise for their movement. This type of positive reinforcement empowered them. By the end of the residency, they were focusing and following directions more.
TW: Where do you see the Workshop going in the next few years? Where would you like to see it go?
TB: We have an organizational plan to develop more consistent and long-lasting partnerships with different sites. I’ve been teaching at Chibi Chan Preschool for two years, and it is amazing to have a solid relationship with the staff and administration. The children I taught this morning I’ve had for 3 semesters. We know each other, we know each other well, they understand my structure, and I’m able to challenge them deeper and deeper. This is a site where I have a 30 week residency which is ideal.
From all of the studies done in education, we know that teachers have the biggest impact when they have long-lasting experiences with the students. A year or more helps the students develop a deeper connection with the class. I have personally seen that happen here with my 30-week residences at Chibi Chan.
It’s been a joy to come back to this site and go deeper with the students, faculty, and staff. I can walk in and the preschool teacher can say, “By the way, we’re focusing on Martin Luther King this week,” and then in dance class, I’ll talk about marching, working together, making work formations, or sitting in a meditative state. I can help the teacher by tying in the themes that she’s teaching in the classroom on the fly because I have that comfort level with the site.
Tina Banchero has been a Bay Area performer, director, choreographer, and teacher for the last nine years. She has taught at the Alvin Ailey Summer Dance Camps in Oakland and New York City, Dance Mission Theater, Performing Arts Workshop and the Bay School SF. As a director and choreographer, Tina’s work has been showcased at Dance Mission Theater Youth Program, the Grrrl Brigade, Planned Parenthood’s Teen Reality Theater WNY and the opening ceremonies for Michigan Womyn's Music Festival. Tina is also a certified Yoga Instructor and holds a B.A. in Dance and Women’s Studies from SUNY Buffalo.