About the time her body began whispering its complaints against her, ballet dancer Elizabeth Supan was ready to step off the stage and onto solid ground.
That’s how she found herself at PS 133 in Harlem after earning her master’s degree in dance education with the help of the Lincoln Center Scholars Program.
“I love every minute of it,” says Supan, who became a full-time dance teacher at PS 133 in April 2015. “They built a dance floor and put in a ballet barre in my classroom. It’s a small school so I know and teach all the children.”
Supan is still learning to pace herself. “I get laryngitis a lot,” she says laughing. “Then I show instead of tell, which they prefer anyway.”
That’s an easy problem to solve. Others are thornier, but Supan figures it out as she goes along. “I’ve changed my approach to teaching based on what students need,” she says. “They don’t need positions — plié and relevé — they need to express themselves, they need to expend their energy and use their creativity. So I focus on composition and improvisation.”
PS 133 students don’t get many opportunities to venture far from their school and homes. So Supan has made it her mission to take them on field trips — to Lincoln Center, to dance performances, musicals, and magic and puppet shows.
The kids repay Supan daily by showing her what moves them. “They’ve taught me that one size absolutely does not fit all,” she says. A case in point: Supan was working on swing dance routines with both her 4th- and 5th-graders. She showed each class a video of a classic “I Love Lucy” episode wherein Lucy faces the great Harpo Marx and the two match each other’s movements silently and flawlessly.
“To me, and to the 5th-graders, it was hilariously funny, and they were rapt and then wanted to discuss strategy and movement,” she says. “The 4th-graders couldn’t be bothered to even look at the video. Boring. They just wanted to dance!”
Supan’s class size ranges from four — for students on the autism spectrum — to 32. Their emotional responses to Supan are wide-ranging, as well. “The pre-K kids throw their arms up and attack me with joy when they see me,” she says. “That’s a welcome you don’t get tired of.”
Sometimes joy is subtle, but no less powerful or rewarding. Supan tells of one student who consistently has difficulty controlling himself and doing his work. But she spotted a tremendously kind spirit beneath the chaos of his being.
“He shows up in my room when I’m teaching a younger class,” she explains. “I will ask his teacher if it’s OK if he stays. So he’ll stay and help the little ones. It gives him a sense of confidence and satisfaction, I think, and a sense of being needed. He’s awesome and he loves to dance.”