Students from DeMarillac Academy dancing in a HeART with LINES workshop

HeART with LINES Teaching Artist Kyle Limin: Interview on Centering Student Voices

“Centering the student voice is big for me,” says Kyle Limin, a founding HeART with LINES Teaching Artist. “When I reflect on being a teacher in my young twenties,” Kyle shares, “so much of it was, ‘Look at me. Look at the moves I can do and you copy them.’ But now it’s very much, ‘Let’s see what you think about these ideas. What concepts can unlock your creativity?’ I’ve seen a shift in myself as a teacher,” Kyle says, “I dance and say less to let the students do and find more.”

Focusing on the power of discovery, collaboration, and truth, HeART with LINES partnerships are curated for Pre-K through 8th grade classrooms and provide fully funded in-school dance education to local neighborhoods where arts programming is scarce. Kyle has served as a HeART with LINES Teaching Artist since the program started in 2015.

When asked about the typical structure of classes, Kyle explains, “I can’t say that each class looks exactly the same or follows the same flow, but I definitely focus on making sure that the students are taking play seriously… I am obsessed with games. Board games, video games… You’ve got to love playing if you’re going to be in this profession.” And Kyle’s passion is evident. 

“Kyle brought an energy and enthusiasm for dance that was palpable among our students,” says Adam Vincent, Assistant Principal at De Marillac Academy. “I hadn’t seen that previous level of physical engagement among our students until Kyle started working with them.” 

Kyle believes that, to work with the youth, teachers must be strong improvisers. “Any good artist,” says Kyle, “Has to have the structure available but the full confidence and mastery to break it down and use the broken parts. If a joke randomly happens in class and takes us off on a tangent, it’s my job to find out how that tangent can loop us back to what I’m trying to teach for that day.”

Such tangents happen often, especially with young students. “Just yesterday,” Kyle says, trying hard to keep a straight face, “My first grade student let me know that turtles breathe out of their butt holes! Now, when I asked my students to share one fun fact about themselves, I didn’t know that I was going to hear that.”

But Kyle, being a master of meeting kids where they’re at and seizing the teachable moment, ran with it.  “If my student tells me that turtles breathe out of their butt holes,” Kyle explains, “then how can I connect that to a lesson about breath? Teachers do some serious Jedi mind tricks to link their students’ ideas to other concepts that they want them to talk about as well.”

Kyle has also been instrumental in developing culturally responsive lesson plans for HeART with LINES that rely heavily on listening and getting to know one’s students.  “Building and deepening your relationships with the students can change the stress level of your classes,” says Kyle. “It’s about the questions you ask: What is their family makeup? Do they have a family? And if they have a home, what does home look like for them?” 

Students from DeMarillac Academy dancing in a HeART with LINES workshop
Students from De Marillac Academy dancing in a HeART with LINES Workshop

Questions like, “How can I bring my students into the space without them feeling othered?” and “How can I give them just the right amount of attention without making them feel singled out?” are critical as well says Kyle. It’s a great balancing act, to treat students both fairly and as individuals with individual needs; the hope is that teachers’ efforts will inspire their students to do the same. “It’s about how we teach through modeling,” Kyle insists, “how we teach the students to be as invested in their peers as we are.” 

“As a marginalized person,” Kyle shares, “I see a lot of homophobia as well as toxic masculinity coming out of the mouths of these young children who obviously had to learn it from somewhere. These harsh, hurtful words that they’re saying or the ways that they are restricting themselves in movement because it’s ‘gay’… that’s taught.”

Trying to convince students that they’re entering a space where they’re safe, supported, and free to have fun, is just the same kind of dance that I have to do each day as a mixed race, queer, larger than life personality. I think that’s how we can be culturally responsive in our classrooms, by being aware of the space we take up on the school stage and by understanding just how much our performances impact these kids.”

Kyle Limin

As students return to classrooms and in-person learning, Kyle insists that there’s still room to grow. “I’m in classes now,” says Kyle, “where there are openly non-binary and queer students, and as much as it warms my heart to see this, it breaks my heart that they still have to defend themselves. I’m working towards a classroom where we don’t have to defend how we express ourselves.”

How does this change happen? Kyle believes it starts with bravery. “Especially when working with students at a really young developmental age, teachers need to take more risks by expressing themselves first. I can think back to teachers who really knew the material and I remember being inspired by them,  but I don’t have quick references to teachers that really took chances and openly made mistakes with their students, showing them how to recover and learn from their mistakes.

I think that’s important, showing the humanity, the mortality, and the clumsiness that there is in learning. Because if students could see just how messy education is, I think we could encourage more daring, openly curious learners.”

Kyle Limin

Kyle also leads HeART with LINES Professional Development Workshops, where LINES Teaching Artists partner with educators to help them gain tools for incorporating concept-based and integrated dance education into their classrooms. “The first thing I do in leading the PDs,” says Kyle, “is make sure that I’m creating a space where we can all have fun, stay engaged, and share. I don’t tell them how to teach, because we’re all going to teach differently. On paper, a lesson plan could look cute but everyone has their own personality. So, instead of telling them what I would do, I try to go in there and make a playful space.”

Kyle Limin participating in a HeART with LINES Professional Development Workshop at LINES Dance Center
Kyle Limin participating in a HeART with LINES Professional Development Workshop at LINES Dance Center. Photography by Victor Talledos.

And Kyle is doing just that. The Professional Development that Kyle taught for working with high school students offered great insights, fresh ideas, and creative problem-solving tools for difficult situations,” says Rebecca Navarrete-Davis, dance teacher at Presidio Middle School and a HeART with LINES residency partner since 2015. “The moment I met Kyle Limin… I was both charmed and electrified by their comfort in being themself, their direct edge, and their effervescence.” 

Reflecting on student growth witnessed in the classroom, Kyle recalls their first year teaching at the Creative Arts Charter School. “I had some students that were very shy and some that had autism,” Kyle explains. “In the first couple of weeks, these students wouldn’t say a thing, they wouldn’t interact, they wouldn’t participate, and I wouldn’t push it. I’d still acknowledge them in the room, but I gave them space. Then, after about five to six weeks, one of the students approached me and said quietly, ‘I’m ready to share something,’ and they danced. I hadn’t seen them move through the rehearsal process at all; they would just sit in the corner. But they had all this vocabulary inside of them. And it reminded me just how patient we need to be, with ourselves and each other. Especially when you have the stress of meeting deadlines and making lesson plans.”

“I can’t tell you how much I broke down the day that student had the courage to share,” says Kyle. “The whole class just needed to stare at me while I cried to a Halsey song. The student’s movement was pretty simple but it was so intentional and uninterrupted; it was a complete idea. Seeing them take that risk at nine or ten years old made me think, ‘WOW, how do we nurture this? How do we keep this safe?’” 

“It reminds me too of something that Alonzo King said at one of our staff meetings,” recalls Kyle. “He drew the comparison between Western cultures, in which people danced for the king, validation, and recognition, and Eastern practices, in which people danced for the self and the ritual of it. That comparison helped me put myself into context as a teenage professional hip hop dancer. Back then, I only knew what was going to get the trophies, what trick was going to outdo my competitor, or who was going to win in the freestyle battle. But shifting into education and seeing students really taking the time to decide if they feel safe enough, ready enough, confident enough to move, that is its own reward.” 

“I think everyone has the power to express themselves in all modalities,” Kyle concludes, “You don’t have to dance if you don’t want to. You don’t have to prove anything. Just knowing what’s inside of you, that dance is available to you…” That can make all the difference.

Written by Erin McKay
Edited by Mary Carbonara

The HeART Curriculm

Our flexible youth and school programming is rooted in our unique HeART curriculum that benefits a child’s physical wellness and imagination. To learn more about kids classes, funded school programs, tuition-based programs, and our teaching artists, visit:
linesballet.org/youth-school-programs