Ana Nery Fragoso’s guiding philosophy is collaboration. Whether she’s teaching elementary school children, leading professional-development workshops for educators, or mentoring future teachers as director of the Arnhold Graduate Dance Education Program at Hunter College in New York City “building community and cooperation is a constant in my pedagogy,” she says.
Fragoso’s passion for education was ignited in 1995, when she participated in the inaugural Dance Education Laboratory at the 92nd Street Y. A native of the Canary Islands, Spain, Fragoso was in NYC studying composition and improvisation at the Nikolais/Louis Dance Lab when she encountered the teacher-training course, created by Jody Arnhold, Joan Finkelstein and Ann Biddle. Fragoso’s DEL experience led her to enroll at Hunter to get her BA in dance with a minor in education—the first step toward becoming certified to teach in public schools. She went on to get her MFA in choreography from Sarah Lawrence College before landing at P.S. 315, a performing arts elementary school in Midwood, Brooklyn.
Teaching dance in an urban public school (even one with an emphasis on the performing arts) was “a trial by fire,” she says. “I had to learn as I went, reach out to my mentors and ask questions.” In fact, she returned to DEL and retook the entire course, finding support in both the faculty and her fellow participants as she acclimated to the classroom.
She taught PreK–5th grade at P.S. 315 for 11 years. A choreographer at heart, Fragoso put composition at the center of her curriculum. She asked students to work together to create their own dances, often related to their academic studies. She also established a residency program giving each grade the opportunity to learn from a local dance organization, such as New York City Ballet and the New York Chinese Cultural Center. “By the time students graduated,” she explains, “they had a sense of how rich and expansive the larger dance world can be.”
As her experience grew, Fragoso began to lead professional developments for the NYC Department of Education (DOE) as part of the Dance Education Leadership Training Alliance (DELTA). She was on the team that wrote NYC’s Blueprint for Teaching and Learning in Dance, which offers standards and benchmarks for dance educators in PreK–12. She taught at DEL. She was a coach/facilitator for Artful Learning Communities, a project that brought together groups of teachers to discuss the issue of authentic assessment in dance and the other arts. In her last year at P.S. 315, Fragoso was also featured in the documentary PS DANCE!
When Finkelstein was ready to leave her role as director of dance for the DOE, she strongly encouraged Fragoso to apply. “Ana is empathetic, intuitive, compassionate and appreciates others. So when I learned that she had been hired, I was thrilled!” Finkelstein says. “She brings people together by establishing an atmosphere of mutual respect. She’s brilliant, but she’s always open to other people’s views. I knew she could take the work I’d been doing even further—and she did!”
As NYC DOE director of dance from 2014–21, Fragoso updated the Blueprint; expanded professional-development offerings; oversaw a new program to mentor and support first- and second-year teachers; and created an annual showcase (the Annual Dance Educators Collective Concert) that lets DOE teachers rehearse and perform a master work and/or present their own choreography. She also launched the Dance Unit Project, allowing teachers to submit lesson plans to be published in a series of booklets (Dance Units Inspired by Science, Dance Units Inspired by Literary Works, etc.) that are now available as resources to all DOE dance educators.
“So many of Ana’s innovations were ways to knit the community together,” Finkelstein says. “She brought her collaborative point of view to the citywide level—and she kept momentum through the pandemic and remote learning, which is extraordinary.”
Fragoso came full circle when she replaced Kathleen Isaac as director of the Arnhold Graduate Dance Education Program at Hunter in 2021. “I was excited to return to my alma mater with the expertise I’d developed over the past 20 years,” she says, “but I also wanted to learn. Who are these new dance teachers? What are they bringing to our field? How can I help them to become the most effective and inspiring dance educators they can be?”
Fragoso acts as advisor for the program’s approximately 40 graduate students. She works with faculty to assess and revise curriculum. She teaches a pedagogy course and leads a student-teaching seminar. She’s also been working to strengthen interdepartmental bonds between the MA in dance education and Hunter College’s BA and MFA dance departments.
It all comes back to community-building. “In the field, your peers are your best resource,” Fragoso says. “You might be the only dance teacher at a school, but you’re part of this larger network. You can have conversations, ask for ideas, share lessons, and give and receive feedback. I want to create communities that are generous, so we can all learn from each other.”
Editor’s note: Tickets for the 2022 Dance Teacher Awards are available for the ceremony only or for the ceremony with cocktail reception (please reach out to [email protected] to inquire about group ticket pricing). Proceeds from the cocktail party fund the Dance Teacher Scholarship at MOVE|NYC|. Don’t miss the chance to join in community with and be inspired by this network of dance teachers. Get your tickets now! We can’t wait to see you there!