Dance instructor Danelle Davies is working to help her students rethink creativity and connection.

By Rachel Shuster | Student Life, Upper School

“The people make Prairie, Prairie.”

It’s one of Dr. Coffman’s favorite sayings. And at a time when pandemics and Stay at Home orders have necessitated lessons and projects from living rooms and kitchen tables, never has this been more apparent.

Even during time apart Prairie has found ways to grow closer together.

This has always been a school focused on building relationships. From mentors impacting mentees, to colleagues learning from one another, to big and little buddies bonding across divisions, ours is a school committed to knowing, valuing, supporting and challenging each other. This spring, as we introduce you to the People of Prairie, we look forward to telling you some of the stories and sharing some of the relationships that help define our community.


Something you might not be thinking much about these days: dancing.

But, as students and their families look for ways to stay active during this Safer-At-Home period, dance has provided one such outlet.

Something you might not know: Prairie offers dance classes in the Middle and Upper School.

And the students enrolled in class with instructor Danelle Davies are getting more than just a chance to move; they’re re-shaping their perception of creativity and connection.

“I think what seems like a disconnect has brought teachers and students together, closer than ever in a new way,” Davies says. “I’m thankful I get to keep dancing with these brilliant kids each day.”

When she’s not leading classes for TPS students, Davies is probably doing so somewhere else — more likely than not, at the Dance Arts Center in Mount Pleasant, where she is the owner and artistic director. An accomplished dancer herself, Davies’ two daughters — Payton (’17) and Larkyn (’29) — have both attended Prairie. That connection brought her to begin teaching here.

Dancing in all of these different venues isn’t such a new thing for Davies. But doing it virtually? That’s another story.

“For me, virtual lesson plans have been a creeping concept since I was able to check out instructional dance VHS tapes at the Public Library in the 80’s. They had everything from classical ballet barre work, Martha Graham modern, breakdancing, and everything in between,” she says. “As the COVID-19 situation progressed and it became clear we were teaching from home, I began reverting back to the structure of how those old VHS dance lessons were presented.”

“There was always an adequate space, a patient instructor, and clear communication,” she explains. “I could start and stop the lesson at any point to review or clarify questions I may have had, or just sit and observe. The thought of going back to a slight variation of something I was so fond of years ago was pretty exciting.”

While she’s had plenty of dancers go on to pursue their craft at a higher level (including (Davies’ oldest daughter Skylar, who currently dances in Cirque Du Soleil’s LOVE in Las Vegas), for most of Davies’ students, dance is an elective that is not usually pursued outside of school. She says she was concerned about balancing these different skill levels in a virtual setting — but she’s found ways to do so, like taking more time with each combination she teaches, or pausing more often to discuss what’s going on, how it should look and feel.

“I want them to be able to talk their way through each step and feel connected to it,” Davies explains. “There’s something to be said about feeding off of each other’s energy in a classroom. It can be difficult to stay engaged without that push, but I cheer them on with each bit of progress they make.”

“The energy of our class has always been upbeat, and if I maintained that for them, they would feel comfortable and supported,” she adds. “Sometimes I observe. Sometimes they observe. We take our time, and just enjoy the process.”

Enjoying the process is something at which Davies and her fellow Prairie educators ordinarily excel — and our community is so grateful for their positive attitudes and “can-do” spirits during this out-of-the-ordinary time.