Kansas State University


K-State First

KSBN Faculty Thinks “Outside The Box” to merge First-Year Students with a Dance Performance

Julie L. Pentz

Common reading programs, like the K-State Book Network, are popular in many first-year experience programs and one of the core components of K-State First. The activities used to explore the chosen text provide opportunities for cross-disciplinary learning that promote meaningful interactions and an exchange of ideas. Dance Professor and K-State First instructor, Julie L. Pentz, encouraged this very thing for our 2017-2018 common book, The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time by Mark Haddon. Pentz partnered reading the book with a choreographic dance in her first year K-State Culture seminar course. This was a new opportunity for all involved, as most of her students had little to no dance experiences when they entered into this course.

As a foundation, all participants were required to read and become familiar with The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time. The students in the first-year seminar created a timeline of the important events that occurred in the story. These events served as a timeline for creating the choreography for the dance piece that would be performed on the mainstage concert. Trained dancers/performers were responsible for performing the choreography that was created for them by Pentz and the freshman students.

The first assignment for the seminar students was to construct a one sentence summative statement that reflected the book. Students were asked not to summarize the book, but rather to capture the essences of the book, in one sentence. The variety of ideas created in the one sentence papers was diverse and inspiring. Pentz had no expectations to include spoken word in the dance piece,  however, after reading the students one sentence papers, it was apparent that the developed sentences statements would add great impact to the overall dance performance. The text chosen to be in part of the performance included:

  • If Someone is labeled it doesn’t define them
  • A boy who is discovering himself
  • Innocence of the modern life
  • The truth always comes out
  • Adversity and challenges stand in everyone’s path
  • Sometimes a true gift can be shielded by a label
  • One of the greatest tragedies in life is when the world tries to define you as something you are not

The seminar students continued with a variety of assignments that included creating an outline of the book highlighting the most powerful moments from the story. The choreographer used these outlines as a guide to develop the dance movement. In one instance, the first-year students felt very strongly that the dead dog in the story, Wellington, should be represented. The students envisioned that one dancer would be placed in the lying position with no movement, throughout the entirety of the dance piece. It was engaging and enlightening to hear why the students felt so strongly about this choice. The outcome was not a single dancer lying on the stage motionless, but there was stillness and an unused space that was present throughout the dance piece meant to represent Wellington.  The seminar students attended dance rehearsals to view the choreography, and provided feedback to Pentz.

Through this experience, students shared that they felt like they were actively involved in the creative process. The energy of the first-year seminar classroom shifted after attending dance rehearsals, which was a first-time experience for most of the students. They were happy with the choices that were made in the choreography, based on their assignments and feedback, and further they were surprised that their work was valued by the choreographer and the performers. The outcome of this project was fully realized at the performance of In The Night, that premiered at Kansas State University for WinterDance’17.

This project offered opportunities to connect the reading experience with varied academic disciplines, diverse experiences, shared leadership, expectations for student success, involvement, and the promotion of meaningful learning. For the participating students, who had no prior experience with dance, the learning process was enhanced through a variety of non-traditional assignments and experiences. Pentz’s students shared with her that they never imagined that their college experience would offer the opportunity to assist a professor choreographing a dance performance.

The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night–Time inspired Professor Pentz as an educator. This project opened her mind to new possibilities with future freshman students. “Dance is the hidden language of the soul of the body” (Martha Graham) but dance is also an expression of thoughts and feelings that is communicated through movement of the body and is inspired by the powers of the mind. While reading The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night–Time, it reminded Pentz of Grahams quote and then led her to explore common book assignments that developed into a large choreographic work for a mainstage dance concert. In a course with 20 first year students, with no prior dance training, the common book offered a new and innovative experience that offered diverse experiences in leadership community involvement.

To view the dance piece please follow this link:


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