Sunday, March 16, 2014

Cultiviating interest among youths

The reason I have not written on this blog since last August is that I have been busy cultivating folk dance interest among youths in the community.

Between September and December, I have gone to 15 classes at 3 elementary schools in Owen Sound and run folk dance workshops for students from kindergarten to grade 8. I visited each class once, twice or three times depending on the arrangement with the teacher. Most teachers had me in three consecutive weeks, so that the students were able to learn at least 4 dances from different countries. Some teachers even treated these folk dance sessions as part of the class' cultural study. For example, Mrs Stredwick, a grade 5 teacher at Dufferin Elementary School, had her students look up Israel, Romania, Turkey and Armenia in the world map after I had told her ahead of time the dances I was going to teach her class --- Shibolet Bassedeh, Alunelul, Iste Hendek and Ambee Dageets.

These workshops were very well-received by both teachers and students. Dance is in elementary school's syllabus. Unfortunately, a lot of teachers do not feel comfortable teaching it as they themselves have done very little dance or none at all. Often, classes are shown instruction videos and students are asked to follow along. Teachers welcomed my workshops as there is a "real live instructor" present to help the kids --- steps are walked through at the pace of the students; steps are "dissected" and shown to the students so they understand how to do them. Students loves the sessions during which they get to listen to exotic and appealing music they don't hear anywhere else; they learn a lot of basic steps which they can use with music of their choice. Three years ago, a grade 7 boy signed up to do my folk dance elective at Hillcrest Elementary School and was disappointed the first day when he found out that I was not going to teach him break dance. I explained that the steps in all the dances I teach can be adapted to most genres of dance. He did not believe me at first; but by the end of the four weeks, he was incorporating these "simple" steps into his break dance moves!

The second round of elementary school workshops is about to start. In the next five weeks, I will be visiting six classes from grade 3 to grade 6. By the end of spring, about 500 elementary school students in Owen Sound will have experienced the joy of international folk dancing!

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