St. Olaf students share poetry, dance with Northfield community
This spring, St. Olaf College students ventured out of the classroom to give back to the local Northfield community.
In the Community Dance course, students partnered with FiftyNorth to offer Northfield residents a chance to dance and build community. FiftyNorth is a local nonprofit that empowers people ages 50 and over to remain active in mind, body, and spirit. In the Poetry and Pop Culture course, students teamed up with Northfield’s Middle School Youth Center to write and read poetry with local middle school students.
In both courses, students applied what they learned in the classroom to the real world, gaining valuable skills through experiential learning.
St. Olaf Assistant Professor of Dance Anne von Bibra teaches Community Dance. “My focus in dance is about getting everyone to enjoy dance and participate,” she says.
Her course focuses on the concept of community dance, a social movement where professional dancers share their knowledge to bring the art of dance to ordinary people. After learning from readings and discussions, her students lead members of the community in dance.
In Community Dance this spring, students held open dance sessions for members of FiftyNorth to gather while learning and practicing dance. Beyond teaching dance, “It’s about social interaction, not just dancing,” says von Bibra.
In addition to dancing with members of FiftyNorth, von Bibra’s students hosted a St. Patrick’s Day dance for members of the St. Olaf community. “It was heartwarming to see people of different ages and backgrounds coming together to celebrate the occasion,” says one student in von Bibra’s class. “Everyone connected with each other while dancing to the music, sharing and laughing on the same dance floor.”
Visiting Assistant Professor of English Becca Klaver teaches Poetry and Pop Culture. Her class examines how popular culture like TV shows and pop songs actually have a great deal in common with poetry.
This modern twist on a poetry class brings in students from all over St. Olaf, not just English majors. “It’s awesome to see students from all different corners of campus and to have everyone be so game to read poetry together,” she says.
In Poetry and Pop Culture, students read and write poetry with local middle school students . The middle schoolers engage poetry in ways they might not have in class, like by translating poems into “emoji haikus,” which are exactly what they sound like.
Klaver, and her students, hope to inspire a new generation of poets.
“I hope that they take away the sense that poetry is not separate from everyday life and not something that needs to be put on a pedestal,” Klaver says. “Poetry is all around us.”
Both Community Dance and Poetry in Pop Culture have an Academic Civic Engagement (ACE) component, which means that community engagement and innovative teaching are baked into the course. While students in a typical St. Olaf class may have three lectures or discussions a week, students taking an ACE course may hear just one lecture and spend the rest of their week using that knowledge to go teach someone how to dance.
The ACE program is supported by the Smith Center for Global Engagement. ACE courses are a vital part of the OLE Core Curriculum, and they help ensure that every St. Olaf applies classroom theory to a practical experience.