TELLURIDE – Inside a small dance studio in downtown Telluride, several children ages 3 to 5 are laughing their heads off – dancing, singing, balancing on colorful props, taking turns performing short skits for each other on a small stage. It’s the ultimate in directed play, and their teacher, Jessica Galbo, is having as much fun as her students.
The Little Performing Arts Schoolhouse meets each Tuesday and Thursday at Ames Conservatory, formerly the Telluride Dance Academy. Galbo, a mother of four and president of the parent association at the Telluride Mountain School, began teaching dance classes there about five years ago, not long after her youngest child was born. A dancer herself since age 6, Galbo’s path to Telluride came via New York, Vermont and Boulder, where, in 1993, she graduated with a minor in dance at the University of Colorado and a major in humanities and pre-med. She then moved to San Francisco to pursue medicine, working at a free medical clinic in Haight-Ashbury before going to work for a start-up company that took her around the world.
Then she met musician Mark Galbo, well known in Telluride for his innovative teaching methods at the Rock and Roll Academy. But before reaching Telluride, the couple spent time in both Monticello, Utah, and Norwood, growing their family along the way.
Even while her career was focused elsewhere, “I was always dancing or teaching,” explains Galbo. “While in Norwood I did several artist residencies, and taught ballet at Peak Fitness for kids up to age 9.”
Once in Telluride, “I began subbing for Miss Shirley [Fortenberry] now and then,” says Galbo of her beginnings at TDA. “That was the draw for me, Miss Shirley and Valerie (Madonia) – both incredibly accomplished dancers, teachers and former prima ballerinas, and incredible women that I loved being around.
“Then I started teaching my own classes – kids my kids’ age,” she continues. “I always taught around my kids.”
With her kids now older – Miles, 12; Samson, 10; Arabella, 8; and Joseph, 5 – Galbo found herself in the position to accept an offer from the dance school’s new owner, Stephanie Ames, to direct Ames Conservatory’s spring recital alongside Artistic Director Madonia. And she was also given the opportunity to create a new kids’ class: the Little Performing Arts Schoolhouse.
“Stephanie and I kind of collaborated on the name and I created the curriculum based on what I know about children and what I’ve observed over the years,” says Galbo. One of her influences is Kodaly, a system of teaching kids music that involves traditional singing games, folk songs and hand movements – something she was first introduced to by a teacher in Monticello. “I think movement and singing and play –play-based learning – create physical and musical intelligence… Research shows that that helps with reading and math. It’s setting them up for being whole, well-rounded children.
A typical two-hour class with Galbo begins with the kids sitting in a circle, where they sing songs and play hand games. “We do that for a half hour, then we take a 10-minute snack, restroom and water break,” she says, noting that such breaks are important for kids. Then the class has 25 minutes of dance instruction – hip-hop, ballet or creative movement, and then another short break. Then the children don costumes – everything from superhero to princess to animal costumes – and build an obstacle course, for which they make up a story. The kids might follow the dragon’s path, balancing on round “river stones” and long foam pieces in a rainbow of colors, undulating around the room. The path often ends with a task, such as bowling or a bag toss.
Going back and forth between the school’s large and small studios, the kids typically end the session with some stage time, where they “make up very simple, straightforward plays,” and do some dance moves, says Galbo. Then they end each day back in a circle with more singing.
“I like the singing because it brings us all together. It kind of unifies us as a group at the beginning, gets us on the same frequency. There’s some magic there, where everyone comes into the present moment.” Ending with singing helps to ground the kids before heading back into daily life with their parents, Galbo explains. “You can tell they soften” after being in the circle together.
When she first developed the curriculum for Little Performing Arts Schoolhouse, Galbo fully expected she would ultimately need to make changes, but to her surprise, the format and the formula were spot-on. “I think I’ve hit a bull’s-eye on what works,” she says. “I wanted to create a balance between performing and dance instruction; creativity and play; singing and games… There are no dead zones…” The kids don’t event notice that two hours have gone by. “It’s kind of a flow that follows their natural rhythm,” she says.
Galbo intentionally set a long class length for two reasons. “A 45-minute class isn’t long enough for parents to do anything,” she says. “And I wanted space for the kids to unfold, to bring their personality to the class. This is a safe, nurturing space for that… My boundaries are pretty strong, but you have to have that, to hold the form, hold their heart space. And within strict boundaries, there’s a lot of creativity.
“That’s what’s the joy for me. It’s fun, it’s adorable, and they trust me,” she says.
The success of Galbo’s class, which started in February, has led her to add an extra day to the schedule. Starting next week the class will run Mondays, Tuesdays and Thursdays, culminating in an optional performance at Ames Conservatory’s spring recital, a Cirque de Soleil-inspired Carnivale of Dance, May 22, 3 p.m. at the Sheridan Opera House. “The kids will dress up as bugs,” says Galbo, and they’ll be able to keep their costumes.
Come June, the Little Performing Arts Sound of Music Summer Camp will meet Monday through Friday, 9 a.m.-noon (adding an extra hour for outdoor play), through August.
Drop-ins for either session are welcome, but space is not guaranteed; priority is given to pre-registered students, and classes are limited to 10 kids. The day rate for Galbo’s current class is $27. Come summer, the three-hour camps will run $40 per day.
“My goal is to keep it cost-effective so it’s accessible to parents,” says Galbo. Another draw for parents may be the live-video feed from each classroom, allowing minute-by-minute peeks into the kids’ antics via the Internet. To protect privacy, a new password-protected access code is provided to parents at each class.
“I’m loving my job,” says a visibly elated Galbo, following a Tuesday session with her little performers. “The kids are happy, parents are happy. It’s like a magic formula – we’ve hit it.” Building on the success of the class so far, Galbo says, “We’re going to shoot the moon.”
For more information or to register for Little Performing Arts Schoolhouse, call Ames Conservatory at 728-9065, or visit their soon-to-be re-launched website, www.theamesconservatory.com.