The Essential Question that guided our projects’ focus was:
How is a dance understood?
The project was designed to afford students a unique opportunity to deepen their understanding of the art of dance by experiencing diverse dance genres (ballet: “Sleeping Beauty” and multi-cultural: Flamenco and African Diaspora,) and diverse dance cultures, (African, Spanish, Gypsy, Brazilian.) Through attending performances/lecture-demonstrations by professional artists, (Youthreach programs,) and taking dance master classes, (Discover Dance,) they learned to look for the universal aspects of dance found in all forms and genres, and the more particular aspects expressed by a particular culture. The interaction of dance and music was illustrated through the Flamenco and African programs presented with live music. Students also learned vocabulary to use in analyzing and discussing dance. Underlying all aspects of the project was our desire to convey the possibilities for enjoyment and excitement offered by life-long participation in the arts. Further enrichment was provided by contact with professional artists whose commitment and joy in their professional was contagious.
At the conclusion of the project, students responded to questions related to the identified Standards:
Standard 7/ Responding: Perceive and analyze artistic work
Standard 8/ Responding: Interpret intent and meaning in artistic work.
In study guide discussion questions and activities, and in the programs, teachers, students and artists were guided to address these standards. Students wrote essays, drew pictures and created dances illustrating how they perceived and interpreted what they had experienced. Eugene Ballet: Students attended a youth version of “Sleeping Beauty” with costumes, sets, narration, demonstrations. Questions: How does ballet convey meaning and emotion without words? How do music, sets and dance come together to tell a story? What did you learn about ballet and what did you most like? Vivo Flamenco: Students experienced instrumental music, song and dance of the flamenco genre. Questions: How do music, song and dance work together in flamenco? How did Arabic, Jewish, Gypsy and Spanish cultures merge into the flamenco art form? What did you find exciting and different about this art form? Shokoto: Students learned about instruments, dance, and cultural changes from Africa to the Diaspora. Questions: What did you learn about the relationship of dancing and drumming in African culture? What did you learn about how dance can express emotions? How does dance move from culture to culture with people learning from each other?
Students from 8 rural schools including 3 of populations less than 1,000, experienced professional artists that they would not otherwise see, including artists from Africa, and Spain. This widened their cultural horizons and enriched their education. Student responses to these programs were extremely enthusiastic, and their written work and teachers’ evaluations document the positive impact of the programs. Discover Dance provided dance classes not otherwise offered in schools, and students learned about and participated in African, Jazz and Hip Hop dance, with discussions about cultural backgrounds, and techniques. Sample student responses: 1) I want to learn from your culture. Did you build all your instruments? 2) What I’ve seen was probably the best performance I have ever seen in my life. 3) My favorite part is the dancing feet and talking drums. The music is so good that my heart felt like the drums. 4) I learned that music is fun, almost anything can make music. Sample teacher response: 1) Most students had never seen a ballet before and may not ever in the future. They loved the costumes, story and the entire experience. 2) Please continue to do parts of full professional performances like today. The experience is priceless for these students. 3) In our discussion all students were able to identify an aspect of this art form to appreciate.
This year’ s Youth Access to Quality Arts was very successful in the quality and diversity of arts presented, the number of students taking part, and the responses to the programs. “Sleeping Beauty” by Eugene Ballet and Shokoto African Dance were the most successful. “Sleeping Beauty” because 3rd and 4th graders loved seeing a familiar story told through dance. The beautiful costumes and sets enhanced the experience. According to the teachers having a narration before each scene helped students better understand the production. Shokoto was greatly successful because the artistic director, Okaidja Afroso, was so charismatic and genuine and good at involving the audience. Students can sense when they are being lectured to and when the artists are truly enjoying and “into” their art. At the conclusion of the program Okaidja taught an African song and all of the 600 students joined in singing and dancing to it, giving them an understanding of how this kind of music and dance unifies and transforms a group of people.
We gather evidence through teacher evaluations, which were 95% positive regarding reaching our education goals, and through written work by the students, and exit video interviews. The interviews are brief because students need to get back to school. We have discussed videotaping a post program class discussion giving more time for detailed questions and answers, and will try to do this next year.
We had scheduled a program for Lapwai, Idaho on the Nez Perce reservation, but at the last minute it was cancelled due to an early release time that day. We are scheduled to do a program there next year.