Dancer, mathematician, educator, arts integrator, and BYU ARTS Partnership leadership team member Heather Francis is passionate about advocating for the arts for children. When Heather hears the stories of individuals who were transformed by their arts experiences at any stage of life, she is buoyed up and reminded why she works so hard to turn the wheel that many before her have been turning for so long.
“The arts are essential to making meaning in our lives, for connecting with others and developing empathy. But maybe more important to me, is the ability of the arts to teach me about myself, to develop confidence in my abilities, and to discover my own mission in life.”
After graduating from Brigham Young University with a degree in Dance Education and a minor in Mathematics Education, Heather became a dance educator at a Title I middle school in Granite School District. There, she directed a full-time dance program until ninth graders were moved to the high school.
“When this happened, I agreed to take on eighth-grade math classes if I could teach the students in my dance studio. I ended up getting a relocatable classroom outside my dance studio and had a wonderful time designing and implementing my own dance-integrated eighth- grade mathematics curriculum,” she said. During this time, she continued to create choreography professionally and in secondary schools, present in festivals, perform in professional projects, and teach creative dance classes in community programs and studios.
Currently, Heather is helping a group of teachers in the Arts Integration Endorsement practice teach dance-integrated lessons in their classrooms. Over the course of the last few weeks, they worked with managing space and developing strategies for helping students practice spatial awareness. She is also helping teachers use a drum to manage behavior and cue instructions for movement and brainstorming verbiage to use to push students’ creativity and personal expression through movement.
Heather said that teachers sometimes try to explain to her why they aren’t dancers and say, ‘I can’t do that!’
“When I hear teachers express their insecurity and discomfort with movement, I am simultaneously saddened by the lack of confidence they have being in their bodies, and I am inspired by their courage and empathize with their fears. I’ve felt those fears too,” Heather said. “Teachers have incredibly resilient bodies which is demonstrated through tight hugs, amazing immune systems and the best facial expressions. They are a special specimen of humankind. This semester I am working with the teachers in the Arts Integration Endorsement group who want to provide dance in their classrooms, despite any fear. They are inspiring!” Heather said. “I love working with teachers.”
Heather said that dance is a craft and art form developed over years of repeated practice. “But dance, or movement if that makes you feel better, is also our first language, the language that all bodies speak,” she said. “There is value in the pedestrian movement of standing, stillness, sitting, walking, and gesturing hello and goodbye to one another. The posture we choose to hold our spine, the weight we allow to be carried in our hips or feet, the way we clap, cheer, comfort, and even eat all express our individual way of being in the world.”
Heather would like those who she mentors to know that the dance technique skills that she has honed for almost 30 years are not the most valuable or artistic parts of dance for her. They play only a small role in her personal aesthetic. “I value the expression of movement, the opportunity to apply creativity to the development of interesting patterns, to connect with others through art and touch, to process my emotions and to understand various perspectives on the human experience through movement,” she said. “I love that I can see a dance in everything: in getting out of bed in the morning, swaying with my infant, brushing my teeth with my husband, hugging my dad, giggling with my mom, shopping with my sister. It’s all comprised of the body moving through space at varying degrees of time and energy.”
Heather has been involved with the daCi (dance and the Child International) USA organization and local daCi Utah chapter since 2010. “Our annual daCi Utah Day of Dance every fall is almost better than Christmas day for me,” she said. “It’s the event where my family and friends come and enjoy cultural, creative, and intergenerational dance with me.”
Heather joined the BYU ARTS Partnership in 2017. She continues to develop her skills as an artist and arts administrator, has completed her master’s degree and has started a second master’s in Instructional Psychology and Technology at BYU.
Laura Giles is a lover of all things art, a first-grade teacher in Alpine School District, a writer for The Daily Herald newspaper, an Arts Leadership Academy graduate and has earned the Arts Integration Endorsement from Brigham Young University. She can be reached at LauraCGiles@gmail.com.