Name: Courtney Liu
Where are you from, originally? Cincinnati, OH
How did you find out about ASTEP?
I found them online and reached out before having a wonderful first conversation with Lizzy on the phone. We immediately connected in a magical “this was meant to be” way.
Which programs have you been a part of?
Do you have a background in teaching, when you started?
Yes! I actually started teaching dance in the 5th grade during one summer that I held a toddler dance camp in my parent’s basement… I’m pretty sure my Mom helped a LOT with that one. Prior to joining ASTEP, the teaching experiences dear to my heart included assisting the Dance in Schools Program at the San Francisco Ballet School, teaching for an arts integration program in China, and founding a dance program for children seeking services at the domestic violence shelter in Durham, NC.
What is your arts background?
I trained and performed with the Cincinnati Ballet and San Francisco Ballet before leaving the professional dance track to pursue a degree in Psychology at Duke. During college I fell in love with jazz and salsa and one year post-graduation decided I was tired of sitting at a desk all day and it was time to dance! I started auditioning and have been dancing professionally and teaching since then!
What challenges did you overcome while on site?
The work itself is honestly so exhausting… much harder than performing. Some days when you start class the energy starts rolling and the hours fly by. Some days drag and the students are tired or have decided they are too cool for dance class. By the end of the day I was either completely exhilarated from a breakthrough of expression the students had made… or completely exhausted from trying to motivate thirty students. On the worst days it helps to write down small victories… one student who tried something new or another student who smiled in dance class for the first time. They are ALWAYS something there but hard to see as a teacher who is putting out one fire after the next on rough days. If we shine a light on the small victories they energize us to get up, day after day, and try again.
What victories did you achieve, while on site?
One day I spotted a new kid in the middle school class who clearly wanted to do the Rihanna dance but was hanging in the back to figure out if it was cool and if he would be good at it. He had missed the day we taught the combination so I can imagine it was scary. When we did African dance day the following week he was doing an awesome job so we had him demonstrate for the class. It built up his confidence and gave him the motivation to practice the Rihanna dance outside of class. He soon caught up to the rest of the class and performed confidently in the final showcase. What a special moment to see talent bloom out of insecurity and into a beautiful performance for all to see!
Speaking of… the final performance was such a special day. Each class chose their favorite dance style and created a piece using the material we gave them over the course of the program. Class 1 performed a African dance and Ballet mashup, Class 2 performed Bachata with a class chant they created, and Class 3 performed a Jazz routine that ended in a breakdance circle. Then they performed their individual spoken word and movement pieces about their dreams for their future in America and all three classes performed a hip-hop dance as the finale. What a feat! They performed ALL of this without their teachers!!! We were so proud :):):)
What did working with ASTEP teach you about yourself?
I found the role of Assistant Teacher to be quite challenging! As an Assistant I had trouble deciding the best way to provide support in the classroom. Was it best to help teach? Was I supposed to lead the next combination… oh yes! Was it most useful to demonstrate in the back? Or to walk around and give individual corrections? I realized that I was very comfortable making lesson plans and teaching in the front of the room… but other important pieces of teaching had been lost from constantly managing classrooms from the front. I am thankful for the experience and to work with such a talented co-teacher (shoutout to Marissa) that summer!
What program is next for you?
Hopefully another year at RYSA and Choices! One summer soon I hope to teach for the Teach for India program.