This is the first in our series, “10 Questions With…” which we will be doing throughout 2010….hope you enjoy taking a closer look at Stacey Pepper Schwartz…
Please tell me your name, your position and a little bit about your
Hi. My name is Stacey Pepper Schwartz and I am the Founder and Director of Leaping Legs Creative Movement Programs. The focus of Leaping Legs is to help people regardless of age, experience or ability, become educated about their movement potential, develop kinesthetic awareness, and become more physically fit and healthy together as a family, and community. Leaping Legs promotes its goal through its original Up Down & All Around DVD, teacher training, and school and community workshops.
I started my dance journey studying to be a modern dancer and choreographer. I graduated from Montclair State University with a BFA in dance performance and six months later I was the choreographer’s intern on the Broadway show Titanic. After Titanic, I assisted Lynne Taylor-Corbett on several other projects. One of the highlights was being the assistant choreographer for the Broadway show Jackie: An American Dream. I was also the Dance Captain for the Broadway Workshop Swing! Unfortunately, after the workshop I had to have back surgery. I went back to school and I received my Masters in Art at Teachers College, Columbia University in dance education.
After earning my masters, I choreographed Jacques Brel is Alive and Well and Living in Paris and The Song of Singapore at Capital Repertory Theatre, NY. I also worked in the Education Department of Capital Repertory Theatre as the Program Coordinator for various multi-disciplined arts programs for kids ranging in age from 7-13. I was a teaching artist as part of Capital Repertory Theatre’s Community Partnership, facilitating the integration of the arts into the curriculum as well as addressing the NY State Standards.
1. How did you get the idea for this DVD?
That is a great question. When my daughter was four years old I developed a creative movement program for her preschool. I loved teaching the kids at the school but what I discovered was I loved just as much teaching the teachers how they could incorporate more movement into the children’s school day. I felt that there was a stigma regarding dance. The teachers did not understand the elements of movement or even how to begin making the connections between movement and their curriculum. And further more, the teachers were not comfortable moving and felt they could only move with the kids if they were “good” dancers.
At this time, many of the parents were asking me where else I taught. I looked into teaching at a few of the studios near where I lived but was disappointed that the schools were so heavily focused on performing instead of dancing. I felt that teaching steps without the understanding and delving into the elements of movement was leaving so much out. It’s like teaching a musician to play an instrument by only teaching the notes.
So, I decided that I was going to give teachers and parents the permission, understanding and tools to bring more movement into their lives and their children’s lives. (It also didn’t hurt that one of my dearest friends is a professional videographer that was eager to help!)
2. What motivated you to do all this work?
What motivated me was that I saw a real need for kids and adults to move more and to interact more. I deliberately created the exercises to be interactive and for the program to be accessible for all kids and all movers. When I worked at the preschool, I saw children ages 2-6, with various levels of movement experience and ability. Everyone has the potential to move. You just need a body and willing spirit. I think so many people think of dance and movement as this outward experience (what we are presenting) instead of the inward experience (what we are feeling, understanding, incorporating and processing.) It is so important to me for every child to have a movement experience, no matter the ability, or experience.
When I teach, some kids are shy at first and don’t want to participate. I point out to a child that is shrugging her shoulders that she is already moving! I guess the simplest answer to the question of what motivated me is ownership. Everybody has the right to experience ownership of their bodies. And I was passionate about making a tool to help children and adults achieve this together.
3. How did your background help you to create the DVD?
My background, without my knowledge, really sparked the DVD. After my back surgery I never thought I would dance again. I saw what I was able to do before the injury as an impossibility after, so in my mind I couldn’t dance. Maybe my passion for sharing with other’s all the movement possibilities that are out there came from my own rediscovery. I am a firm believer of teaching the elements of movement: space, time, energy and body. Understanding the tools, unlocks the toolbox.
My professional dance training and performing background of course helped. I had never worked in front of a camera before but I love performing for an audience. So, the camera was my audience, and I loved every minute of it!
Finally, my degree in dance education was priceless. It was like I had all the pieces of the puzzle and I just needed the right medium to put it all together. My friend provided me with the medium.
4. What makes this DVD unique?
I think a few things makes this DVD unique. First, I am the only dancer in the video. I wanted it to be accessible to everyone and wanted kids and adults doing the video to see other regular kids and adults doing it with them. Second, award winning children’s musician Steve Blunt performs all his original music on the DVD, which adds another element of fun, entertainment and user-friendly component. His music is fun for adults as well as kids which was very important to me, because if parents don’t like to listen to something they will not put it on for their kids. And finally, since the DVD was designed specifically to be utilized by educators and parents, a comprehensive movement guide is available to use in conjunction with the DVD. The guide explains how to do each section of the program in depth, what kinesthetic skills are being addressed as well as offers fun variations to the exercises. This is a comprehensive program that will help schools and communities meet the National Physical Education Standards as well as the 5210 program implemented in many schools.
5. How long did the process take from start to finish?
My first unofficial meeting was with my friend, Deb Mendonca Cote, and our kids at a Friendly’s Restaurant in February 2008. I looked at her and asked her if she seriously thought we could pull it together. She said absolutely and took another bite of her french fry. We shot the DVD on April 20, 2008, finished editing at the end of September, sent the DVDs to distribution in October, had my website up in December and sold the first DVD before the New Year. (This is how I work, once I have an idea I go all out.)
6. What advice would you have for anyone who is thinking about doing a DVD for teaching dance?
Do it if you are passionate about it. Do what ever you are passionate about, and listen to yourself. Really listen to what you want to do, not what you are supposed to do or what you can’t do, but what you can. Then do it.
7. What was your favorite part about the process of making the DVD?
Finding out about myself, finding out how much I enjoyed learning about what I didn’t know. Finding out that dance at 34 was more fun and rewarding because I was following my heart. Finding out collaborating with others who share the same vision is so rewarding and finding out that I wasn’t afraid to ask; that 9 times out of 10 people say yes.
8. What was the most difficult part of the process?
Hands down, the hardest part was the day of the shoot. Because of scheduling conflicts we only had one day to shoot the entire DVD. We had four kids to keep occupied and engaged. And my daughter was in the DVD. That was the hardest because she did not want to listen to me. I never will shoot a video in one day ever again.
9. Do you have anything else in the works?
Right now I am really focused on marketing and getting the DVD out there to parents, dance teachers, school teachers, community programs, etc. I am new to marketing and am learning something new everyday. I also started my own dance blog called Letters From Leaping Legs , which I want to be an extension of my website. I want to continue to be a resource for parents and teachers to gain insight, ideas and movement activities that they can do with the kids in their lives. I want to keep everyone moving up down and all around.
10. What is the best feedback you have gotten about the DVD to date?
I have gotten some great reviews. The Up Down & All Around DVD received Dr. Toy’s 100 Best Children’s Products 2009 Award and 10 Best Active Products 2009 Award. The DVD has also been featured in many magazines including Dance Teacher and Dance Retailer News. In its August 2009 issue, Dance Teacher called the DVD “an essential tool for teaching the fundamentals of movement with daily adult-child interactions.” The review I got from 4dancers blew me away. It was like you were sitting with me during the early pre-production meetings. One of my many favorite quotes from the review is “the program does as much to teach adults about how children learn and what they are capable of as it teaches the kids how to move.”
The best feedback has been from the parents and teachers using the DVD. I was at a fair selling my DVD and I heard from across the room a mom yell to her two kids, “Look it’s Leaping Legs!” She ran up to me and told me how much her kids love the DVD. She has a son who is on the autistic spectrum and a daughter. They all do the DVD together. I don’t think the smile left my face for the rest of the day.