Meet our new artists: Valerie Branch

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During the last two years, our roster has grown in size to encompass new artists, ensembles, and art forms. From slam poets to improvisers to Capoeira masters, these new artists are undeniably unique.

To introduce audiences to our new artists, we’ll be posting interviews with those who recently joined our roster, giving them a chance to share more about themselves and their experiences with Young Audiences so far.

What is your background as an artist?

I graduated from University of Maryland College Park (UMCP) with a Bachelor of Arts degree in Dance. Since graduation, I have been at the forefront and background of different dance organizations and have traveled around the world as a result of my passion for dance.

The first company I danced with was Lesole’s Dance Project, a traditional South African dance company where I was able to hone in on my leadership, creativity, organizational skills, and learn and appreciate a new form of dance. I served as rehearsal director, administrative and fundraising support staff and learned how to make a dance company successful. The Director and I worked together to create and organize an edu-dance program for young students in South Africa, which we were successful in implementing two years in a row.

In 2011, I was invited to Copenhagen, Denmark as a visiting artist to explore the country’s culture and art. As a result, REVISION dance collaborative (a company in which I co-directed its first season) had the opportunity to perform in and be part of the Kids Euro Festival where we performed in locations throughout Washington, DC.

How did you hear about Young Audiences?

I heard about Young Audiences through Laura Schandelmeir, who had partnered with Young Audiences through the Maryland Wolf Trap program as a teaching artist. Laura was one of my professors at UMCP and is a wonderful dance educator, and someone whom I have had the opportunity to be inspired by.

You recently completed the Teaching Artist Institute (TAI) Seminar this spring. What was your favorite part of the program? How has that experience changed your approach to a program or your teaching practices?

Saying that I loved the TAI program is an understatement. Though I have been working with students within and outside of the classroom for years, I felt that this program truly changed the way I think about and approach my lessons, teachers, and students. I really appreciated Karen Bernstein, the dance facilitator on staff. Karen truly guided and provided me with advice so I could grow. I felt that Karen was the true support that I needed. She gave me feedback when I needed it; let me struggle in order to figure out what I needed to do; and was there when I needed encouragement. So often in programs like this, artists just receive a generalization of arts education/arts integration and then have to figure out: “What should I do with my art form and where do I start?” It was helpful to receive a plethora of examples from different artists. I enjoyed that the staff was fun and made the experience fun.

What made you decide to become a YA roster artist?

I initially joined Young Audiences as a Maryland Wolf Trap Teaching Artist serving preschool classrooms. In my first year on the Young Audiences roster, my opportunities have grown tremendously to reach older students and I am appreciative of that. Being part of the Young Audiences organization, I truly feel like I am growing and developing as an artist–where I am right now in my career is exactly where I want to be. Taking this journey has allowed me to focus on my career, taking everything that I have learned and witnessed throughout the early stages in my career, and create something new.

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Have you had any programs through YA yet? If yes, what was the most memorable part? If no, what are you most looking forward to?

I love teaching within the classroom and working with the teacher and the students to explore learning and understanding subject matter through movement. I am really looking forward to assemblies!

Why do you believe art is important for every student to have access to?

Children need to be allowed to think creatively and develop their own opinions. They need to develop their critical thinking skills at an early stage so that they have a clear understanding of why they think the way they do and why they feel a certain way about different situations. They have to develop their own understanding of how to accomplish tasks. The arts provide a creative outlet by allowing them to explore, imagine, and test new ideas. The arts target a different area of their brain, and once students have this experience it opens them to new possibilities. It allows them to take risks in the classroom that they may have been shy to before an arts experience. The arts help to develop self-confidence.

What does your art form in particular teach students?

Self-confidence, patience, respect for self and others, and focus. It also gives them an understanding of their own bodies–they find out new and exciting things that their limbs can explore, plus they learn their own limitations and to appreciate what others can do.

Learn more about Valerie Branch Dance Ensemble’s offerings through Young Audiences.

Keep an eye out for more interviews featuring our newest roster artists! See past new artist interviews here.

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