Students moved to a beat as they learned the art of rhythm and movement from an experienced choreographer.

Tonya Kilburn, Artistic Director at the Prairie Dance Theatre, set up residence with her creative movement classes at Plato Elementary School March 9-12.

“I began dancing at nine years old in Duncan, Oklahoma. I’ve been dancing ever since. I went on to dance professionally, spending most of my career dancing with Prairie Dance Theatre, Oklahoma’s first professional modern dance company,” Kilburn said. 

Kilburn said: “After performing with PDT, I went on to serve as company manager, then a board member, and for the past 18 years I’ve served as artistic/executive director where I’ve developed in-school, after-school and weekend programming for elementary school-aged children. I am also a roster teaching artist with the Oklahoma Arts Council and a fellow with Oklahoma A+ schools. I hold a BFA in dance from OU.”

Each class she sets up brings different experiences. 

“During this residency, I’ve been pleased to see so many dancers in my classes … This makes me happy,” Kilburn said. “Growing up, I was only one of two students in my entire school (Velma-Alma) who studied dance. And knowing first hand how transforming It can be, I wanted to share dance with children who might not have such opportunity. Which is what I’ve been able to do through PDT— make programming available for underserved students and schools, providing opportunities most students would not have otherwise.” 

Kilburn said the best part about working this program is the children. 

“I love sharing the joy of dance with elementary students because I know how empowering the arts can be,” she said.

Kilburn enjoys how curious young students are and how willing they are to expand their minds and try new things. 

“It’s such a pleasure watching their eyes light up when they accomplish a new step or solve a creative movement problem,” Kilburn said. “Working with children always gives me renewed hope for the future — mine and our collective future as a people. We explore the elements of dance — time, space, energy, and the body.” 

Kilburn said her goals when she teaches are “to teach with love and humor; to model kindness, respect and excellence; to let each child know they’ve been seen; to set high expectations and encourage each child to do their best; to expose children to the arts, especially dance.”

Kilburn said she hopes the kids take “a sense of belonging and understanding, while they may not have a lot of control over things happening in the world, they can control their body, their voice and how they react.”

“Creative activities designed to breakdown and explore each element allows the participant to problem solve and creatively express themselves without using words,” Kilburn said. “They learn a different way to communicate and become more aware of non-verbal communication among their peers and others.” 

Every class taught leaves memories of the students she teaches, “from the kindergarteners who completely surprised me with their ability to watch and the repeat movement so well to the fifth graders who were willing to give me a chance and try something new,” Kilburn said.

Even just a small compliment from her students makes Kilburn’s day by the end of the classes.

Kilburn said, “a fourth grade boy took the time to come tell me after class that he really likes dance class, even if some of his classmates didn’t.”

For more information on booking with Tonya Kilburn, email dancertonya@gmail.com.

Recommended for you