Posts Tagged 'Fernadina Chan'

Celebration of Fernadina Chan

On Saturday, June 23, we celebrated a remarkable woman and educator as she retired from BAA: Fernadina Chan. I have the privilege of working with some of the most amazing teachers at Boston Arts Academy, and it was an honor to celebrate Fern at The Boston Conservatory with both a reception and surprise dance performances and a video.

Below is an excerpt from my remarks to Fern on that evening, as well as some photographs of the dance faculty and past and present dance students.

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It is hard to stand before you—Ms. Chan’s family, friends, colleagues and students—and talk about a friend from whom I have learned so much. There just aren’t enough words. I had to write a book and put Ms. Chan in chapter 3 in order to really do her justice—and even then the editors pared it way down. But with Ms. Chan there is no paring down.

BAA students dance in the window of The Boston Conservatory to welcome guests to the reception

Fernadina, or Fern, to so many of us, is a force of nature. She is the founding teacher of the Boston Arts Academy. She fought for years to make this school a reality. She has succeeded. As our founding artistic dean, she has set the standards for excellence in the arts and in academics… As the founding chair and now co-chair of our dance department, she has helped create a dance program that is now known nationally and internationally. Her many “children,” as she affectionately calls her students, are off in the world continuing her legacy as dancers, both professionally on renowned stages and vocationally in studios around town and beyond. Even those who are no longer actively dancing all remember their time with Master Chan!

Fern on stage with alumni dancers performing her pieces

More than anyone I know, Ms. Chan figures out how to help students connect to their core, to their heart, to their imaginations and to their emotions. How she does this is a secret I have wanted to learn because if we could just bottle her ability to bring her students to the truth they need to tell we would change the educational landscape in this country, if not the world.

Me, Fern (Founding Artistic Dean), and Anne Clark (Founding Academic Dean and now BAA Interim Headmaster)

Her secret may be the way she screams and chastises kids until they get in line and do as she insists; her secret may be the way she giggles and then laughs with her students as they work through choreographic problems; her secret may be her determination to introduce the great dancers and choreographers of the world to her students and the school through residencies and master classes; her secret may be the fact that she assembled the most fantastic dance faculty ever; her secret may be in the way she produces a concert that uses technology in ways never thought of before; her secret may be her incredible dedication to her students and their transformation; or her secret may be in how she approaches her own creative work with students.

BAA dance faculty: Tatiana Obeso, Billy McLaughlin, Fernadina Chan, Chris Alloways-Ramsey, and Sheryl Pollard-Thomas

I think it is all of that and then something more. Fern understands that teaching is fun! Sure, it is hard and enormously stressful, but each day is new and the transgressions of yesterday are not part of the studio or classroom today. Each day with Ms. Chan, class begins again- vibrant, inventive and fresh. Ms. Chan is a master teacher and we are all lucky to have been part of her journey.

So thank you, Ms. Chan, for the legacy you leave us—as our Artistic Dean, our teacher, our colleague and friend… You will be part of BAA forever. We thank you for so many years of hard work and vision [and]… we look forward to your new creations.

Fern on stage being honored by her dancers



What School Can Be

An important milestone in the life of a Boston Arts Academy dancer unfolded last week as 17 seniors presented their 2011 Senior Dance Concert (SDC). How significantly this embodies RICO, our habits of the graduate. Students work for months on invention and revision.  Dancers from professional and pre-professional worlds provide a rigorous process of critique, including one of our own alumni! Seniors cast their pieces, work with lighting and costume designers and write a thoughtful description of their piece. Their writing briefly explains the process and the connections they have made to other dancers and choreographers. Most important, each senior must own the entire process throughout an often tumultuous rehearsal period until the opening night. These are skills that most adults never get to develop.

One of my students used his piece to explore the feelings of not having a father present as he grew up. He wrote in his program notes, “Entering a world where the term “Dad” or “Father” slowly drifted from my vocabulary… I go through life with just the satisfaction of my mother’s presence.” The piece was poignant, passionate and reflective and left me wondering how this young choreographer was only a senior in high school. Other students investigated themes of loss of loved ones, or the power of falling in love.  Some played with abstract ideas about shape and movement. Each piece was technically beautiful and allowed me, as an audience member, to enter into the worlds of my students and learn more about what makes them tick. What a gift.

Besides the obvious enjoyment of sitting in the audience, I loved listening and surreptitiously watching the reactions of other audience members. The 9th grade dance majors must write about each piece as part of their homework assignments in dance. They sat rapt and whispered to one another in between pieces about what they liked or didn’t understand. They know that, all too soon, they will be choreographing and casting, but for now they enjoy these moments of awe and even adoration as they watch their older peers perform. The sound effects of the young children of my faculty gave me such pleasure. Somehow two-year-olds manage to sigh or ooh and ahh in the loudest and most appropriate punctuations. I loved seeing aunts, uncles, cousins, former teachers from middle schools all clapping loudly as these young people performed. The dance teachers were all dressed up, too. Gone was the frustration and even anger at students who were late with their music or who missed rehearsals. All could be forgotten, at least for the performance. Later, they would talk again about deadlines and responsibility. Today we all celebrate.

This concert came at the end of a week filled with Math exhibitions, Sophomore music recitals, 11th grade Visual Arts exhibition, Spanish, Arabic and American Sign Language final exams, preparation for science fair and final due dates for Humanities 3 papers. Every student at BAA had major projects due—snow storms and cancelled school days or not. The overarching message from everywhere was: school matters, your work matters, what you are showing, writing, singing, presenting, computing, explaining is important to this entire community. That is what school should be.

-Linda Nathan
January 2011

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