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More From The Express-Times

Teaching through dance

Barbara Pearson choreographs students' lessons.

Tuesday, December 03, 2002

The Express-Times

For years Barbara Pearson and her husband were work partners as well as soul mates.

"Choreography, costuming, I did stage hand; I did stage managing; I did directing " says Barbara Pearson, as she rattles off a litany of duties she performed while helping her husband, John, at theaters in several states.

Their collaboration continued when they moved to Bethlehem, and John Pearson became director of Lehigh's drama department.

That was in 1972; four years later, John Pearson died suddenly of an aortic aneurysm -- a defect or swelling of an aorta.

His death left Barbara Pearson a 29-year-old widow with two children and a third on the way. At the time, the family was living on a farm in Bushkill Township.

"It was the hardest thing I could ever imagine," Pearson says, sitting in a dining room of her Federal-style home in Bethlehem. "This was surely a test of strength."

Later she adds how the tragedy taught her to be more empathetic toward people.

"This really forced me to grow up and to become my own person, and I do say forced," she says.

Part of that maturity was becoming a businesswoman, which she has done for the better part of 20 years.

A dancer and choreographer, Pearson runs a business called Learning through Movement and the Arts.

The 56-year-old Pearson does workshops at schools in the Lehigh Valley and elsewhere teaching the students creative, ethnic and historic dance.

Besides trying to capture students' interest in dancing, Pearson works with school teachers and administrators in mixing together the dancing with the school lessons.

Think of it as learning by being footloose.

One example: Pearson enlisted the help of Bethlehem Steel Corp. in teaching students at Kernsville Elementary School in the Parkland School District about steel making.

Company spokeswoman Bette Kovach says the company sent Pearson a videotape on how steel is made. Then Pearson sent Kovach a copy of another tape in which the students performed a dance of steel.

The video shows the students acting out a coke oven, a rolling mill and a blast furnace, according to Kovach.

One of Pearson's photographs shows the students waving bright red pieces of cloth symbolizing the smoke, fire and heat coming from the plant.

"We were enthralled," recalls Kovach. "Being familiar with the steelmaking process, we could certainly tell which phases of the process the kids were depicting."

A native of Fort Wayne, Ind., Pearson started dancing at age 4, but she also always wanted to be a teacher.

The combination of movement and the classroom came through her studies -- specifically in learning about the "theory of multiple intelligences" at Harvard University.

She says the theory touches on how young people learn beyond typical class work -- through such factors as spatial, musical and interpersonal dealings and movement.

Carrying the theory further, she believes teaching children about the arts helps create a more well-rounded student beyond the basic mathematics, science and history courses.

"The whole line of thinking is the arts process does involve a critical-thinking and problem-solving element and this idea that the arts are something you do after school or on a Saturday night is just not right," Pearson says.

For about 10 years, Pearson owned a dance studio that was run out of a church basement. But years before that -- about the early 1980s -- she had become more interested in the dance education program.

"I'm really not as interested in training dancers as I am in teaching children through dance," says Pearson, who has three children, Vince, 30, Arthur, 28, and Mary, 26.

Pearson offers school administrators and teachers a variety of ideas to incorporate dance in the classroom -- and Pearson says she welcomes their ideas as well, on ways to instruct children via dance about weather or cultures or other subjects.

She also has taught movement and rhythm to disabled students.

During the 2000-01 school year, Pearson conducted a 10-session program that integrated dance and writing for third-graders at Holland Township School.

Teacher Barbara Penyak at the Hunterdon County school came away impressed from watching Pearson help students use dance to interpret parts of a book about winter -- from skating to playing other games in the cold.

They also put their experiences into words, Penyak says:

"She's very talented; she worked very hard with the children."

Pearson says the artists like her who visit classrooms make their money from various sources, whether it's through school budgets, PTAs or grants.

"I write a lot of grants, and writing a grant is really formulating a project and selling it," says Pearson.

Children, Pearson adds, are natural at dance. They just need more educators who are willing to expose students to the moving course work.

"Like anything else, you have to create an interest. Just like I'm speaking to you many people don't know what this is. 'Weather through dance?'" she says.

"Once they see it, they go, 'Oh, yeah.'" Anthony Salamone can be reached at 610-258-7171, Ext. 3603, or by e-mail at tsalamone@express-times.com.

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Copyright 2002 The Express-Times. Used with permission.

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