Dawn Mann traveled across the world to teach English to Vietnamese students. But it was in a dance studio, not a classroom, where their English began to flow.
During the evenings, Mann taught ballet to locals and found that, as they learned the dance steps, they also picked up conversational English. The discovery led her to use dance as a teaching tool, boosting students’ self-confidence while practicing a foreign language.
“My ballet students weren’t focused on English but in their passion for dance,” Mann said. “They learned conversational English faster in comfortable settings.”
Upon returning to the U.S., Mann founded Dance Another World, a nonprofit organization that uses dance to teach English to children from low socioeconomic status communities. The dance company partners with the After-school Centers on Education (ACE) program held in Austin ISD and NYOS Charter School to provide the classes to students free of charge.
Many of Mann’s students become familiar with English at school, but lack the confidence to speak it in a public setting, like a classroom.
“We get to empower these students to express themselves,” Mann said. “They are so uncomfortable trying to communicate on a daily basis. But here, they’re in an environment where they are proud of themselves and learn to speak confidently.”
Emily Nash, a journalism and sociology junior and public relations correspondent for Dance Another World, said most enrolled students or their parents are immigrants. This status usually causes them to fall behind in school because of language barriers.
“They strengthen their English, and it’s a therapeutic way of getting in touch with their body and emotions,” Nash said. “Sometimes parents cannot afford extra English classes, so this is a great way to address the issues of this community.”
Mann said about one-third of children in Austin live in poverty. Dance Another World focuses on giving them an “upper hand” by teaching communication through creative movement.
One of her students, Angelica, was unwilling to participate in her first semester at the program. Mann said she refused to speak because she only knew Spanish. But after two semesters, Angelica was able to translate her mother’s notes from Spanish to English for Mann.
“They learn to tell stories through dance. They go through song lyrics, so we ask them, ‘What does this mean, what does this mean to you, how can you act it out?’” Nash said. “They get engaged, they get excited, and while they’re doing something they like, they learn English.”
Outside of their district and charter school partnership, the nonprofit also offers programs for the refugee community with organizations such as SafePlace, Caritas of Austin and Refugee Services of Texas.
Mann said she expects the nonprofit to expand to Houston and wants to eventually bring it overseas to students in third-world countries.
Ashley Gutierrez, a seven-year-old NYOS Charter School student, speaks only Spanish at home with her parents. She said she gets to practice her English at Dance Another World classes by using drums, songs and music.
“My brother usually helps me at home with my homework, and I also practice here with music and it can be educational,” Gutierrez said. “We get to do learning, but in a fun way.”
Correction: An earlier version of this article incorrectly identified the school and its members as being a part of the Austin Independent School District. While Dance Another World does partner with Austin ISD, the school mentioned in this article is the NYOS Charter School. This article has been updated throughout.