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Children. Dance. Music. Joy. Technology.

August 27, 2013

Kathy Landau   

Executive Director, National Dance Institute

You may be tempted to start humming the old Sesame Street song, “One of These Things is Not Like the Others” but… At National Dance Institute (NDI), we know that technology can and will change the future of arts education, cultural engagement and international collaboration.

Jacques d’Amboise founded NDI in the belief that the arts have a unique power to engage children—regardless of background, ability or socio-economic status—and motivate them toward excellence.  Jacques well understood the power of the arts, and how they, and a good teacher, can transform a child’s life.  They transformed his own.


This past year, NDI Master Teaching Artists and Musicians taught 5200 children each week in 35 public schools throughout Manhattan, Brooklyn, Queens, and the Bronx; and reached another 40,000 family and community members through school assemblies and public performances.  Our associate programs around the country reached an additional 27,000 students.  But, so much more is possible…

Thanks to a first-of-its-kind collaboration with Tata Communications and Cisco, we now have the unique capability to broaden the reach of our programs—locally, nationally and internationally—through state-of-the-art Telepresence technology.  This collaboration brings to life the impact technology can have on the arts and education, and constitutes a major advancement in the way the arts are shared, practiced, delivered and consumed.

Through the real-time and fully immersive interaction that Telepresence provides, we can now conduct highly synchronised virtual global arts education programs straight from the National Dance Institute Center for Learning & the Arts in Harlem.  We will reach more children, train more teachers and nurture more artists.

With an eye toward growth, but also on the bottom line, we will utilise this technology to expand our national and international outreach while reducing the need for and expenses of travel, minimising depletion of staff resources and maximising our impact by delivering programs and training in multiple cities simultaneously.

We realised the power of the collaboration between the arts and technology during a cultural exchange in the summer of 2010 when the Shanghai World Expo became home to the very first NDI virtual dance rehearsal:

In Shanghai, Ellen Weinstein, our Artistic Director, rehearsed both a new piece of choreography, The Red Thread, and NDI’s repertory piece, Other Side of My World, with the young dancers from the China Welfare Institute’s Children’s Palace.  Jacques and our New York dancers watched from a Cisco conference room here in New York City.  Jacques gave notes, demonstrated movement, and engaged with the dancers as if there were no time or distance separating him from his protégés in Shanghai.  There we stood, literally on the other side of the world, watching a New York City child dance in perfect harmony with a Shanghai child, and it was as if they were in the same room.  Everyone was amazed, moved and inspired by not only what was taking place that morning, but by the potential of what would take place in the future through this technology.

In this small moment, art became the common language between people for whom conversation and collaboration might otherwise have been impossible.

By harnessing the power of technology, New York City children, artists and educators will have the opportunity to experience, discover, explore and be inspired by the art, culture and history of places as far and diverse as China, India, Africa and Europe without ever leaving New York.  This connection—literal and figurative—will foster true global citizenship for generations to come.

We believe that this represents cultural diplomacy at its best.

Photography credit: Eduardo Pantino

About National Dance Institute (NDI):
National Dance Institute (NDI) is a not-for-profit organization founded by the legendary New York City Ballet principal dancer Jacques d’Amboise in the belief that the arts have a unique power to engage children and motivate them toward excellence.  Under the artistic direction of Ellen Weinstein, NDI strives to reach all children — regardless of background or ability — through its multidisciplinary programs, transcending barriers of language, culture, and physical and cognitive challenges. NDI’s professional teaching artists foster in students a love of learning and a curiosity about the world, and help its young dancers develop personal standards of excellence and confidence that support their success in school and in life.  Since its founding in 1976, NDI has impacted the lives of over 2 million children…free of charge.