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Making Moves: How Play Mountain Place Fosters Self-Empowerment and Expression Through Creative Dance

by Jedamiah Wolf

Play Mountain Place supports its students to explore themselves and the world around them while encouraging them to communicate authentically and seek their own solutions to challenges they face. Paula Perlman embodies the school’s principle values by facilitating collaborative creativity, problem solving and nonverbal communication through her movement classes, which she has lead for nearly 20 years.

Five movement students (Abby, Amara, Anya, Kana and Maya), all of who attended class for at least 6 years, graduated from Mountain Yard this past June. Before commencement, I spoke with them about their experiences in the movement classes.



“I like dancing and I like Paula. It’s really fun,” said Abby, all of her classmates agreed.

Having fun is part of the experience and Paula tries to take the classes to another level by “inspiring the children to express their inner being” through movement.

The dancers shared how the lessons affect the way they communicate.

“Movement class helps me listen to my friends more,” said Maya.

“Dancing kind of feels like talking without talking, you can just express it through dance,” shared Amara.

“I feel like I have grown through movement,” reflected Anya, “I was really shy. I got a lot of confidence from moving with Paula and now feel comfortable getting up on the stage.”

Anya continued, “Other peoples opinions don’t matter, what matters is that you express yourself and you’re being yourself; it doesn’t matter if people think you look silly. What’s important is what you feel inside that you are happy and doing something you like.”


Collaborative Problem-Solving

In addition to providing the students with an alternative way of expressing themselves, the movement classes help them effectively collaborate in groups.

Sometimes alternative points of view arise when the children are creating their dances and they use problem solving to come to a solution, said Paula.

If one of the movers doesn’t like something about a collective dance or a dynamic within the group the students explore other options through verbal and nonverbal means.

“We come to a group compromise for everything. I think it makes our dances more connected when everyone is pitching in instead of just one person taking control,” said Anya.



“I encourage the children to try new things, be original, use their imagination and pay attention to their feelings. Making mistakes is a part of discovery and learning,” shared Paula.

The movement group is different from traditional dance classes in that Paula allows the children to explore their bodies and find their own dance rather than prescribing a specific technique or steps.

“In ballet, the teacher tells us what to do and doesn’t really dance with us,” said Kana who has been taking extracurricular ballet. “The movement class is more free. We can do what we want and we get to choose and then Paula helps us connect.”

Although she doesn’t conduct the class in a predetermined style, the movement teacher provides “structured improvisations” and urges the dancers to enhance themselves and their dances.

“She wants us to go all out,” said Anya, “If we want to be big or really small, she tells us to show her with our movements. She makes sure we are really giving it our all.”

Play Mountain Place students don’t usually have assignments or homework but when the dancers were preparing for performances they dedicated themselves to practicing the piece.

“Paula told us that one of the most important things is to remember the things that you forget,” recounted Anya. “That way you know what to practice, rather than practicing the things you remember or like the best.”

In a group discussion the girls said, “We don’t dance because we have to, we do it because we love to. We’ll miss this class and always remember what we learned.”


Jedamiah Wolf Bio

Jedamiah writes about people, politics, science and businesses that are changing our planet. Through journalism, he works to spread awareness about our climate and environment and hopes to catalyze positive behavioral change.

Jedamiah previously worked for Food Choice Taskforce, an initiative funded by James Cameron and Craig McCaw, where he used his literary expertise to lobby congress to include sustainability in the 2015 U.S. Dietary Guidelines, as well as, communicate science about the connection between animal agriculture and the environment.

Prior to his involvement in Food Choice Taskforce, he worked for the Energy and Resources Institute (TERI) in New Delhi, India, where he conducted research on climate adaptation finance.

Jedamiah holds a B.A. in Environmental and Urban Studies and an M.S. in Climate Science and Policy, both from Bard College. He attended Play Mountain Place from 1993 to 2001 where he learned the art of combining imagination with creative problem solving and wrote some of his first pieces.

You can read his latest work at

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