Education and Outreach “Goes Global”

By Emily Kammerlohr, Academy Intern

Friday, June 27, 2014

Houston Ballet partners with the Evelyn Rubenstein Jewish Community Center (ERJCC) to put on “Jump, Jive, Move and Groove!” now in its second year.  This year, the program is hosted by Ripley House, a local service site of Neighborhood Centers, one of the largest charitable organizations in Texas, located at 4410 Navigation Boulevard.

Houston Ballet Education and Outreach staff partner with teachers from the ERJCC to design a summer camp curriculum which is modeled after the pedagogy created by Jacques d’Amboise at the National Dance Institute.  This year, over 50 children are taking two classes daily creating both dances and crafts. Following the theme “Wonders of the World” the young dancers are hard at work learning choreography for multiple pieces and creating costumes and props inspired by cultures from around the globe!

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Sommers leading the group during warm ups

I was invited to join Outreach Coordinator and Curriculum Specialist, Jennifer Sommers, to observe a Tuesday morning class. We were joined by Michele Kitchen and Sarah Oakley, Education and Outreach staff acting as assistant teachers and the lead teacher for ERJCC, Valerie Handy. Live music was provided by Pedro Huertas and Pelaya Parlade.

On the day I visited, the kids were learning a new dance, an Indian-inspired number to the tune of Jai Ho. I later discovered, along with the students, that it roughly translates to “let there be victory” from Hindi. A fitting mantra for a successful class!

Before the students arrived, Sommers rehearsed the steps she planned to teach and ran through the educational song she created to close the class. It was set to a fun, easy-to-remember rhyme scheme and as she sang about India, we followed her hand motions to learn about its capital, native animals and geographical location.
The students were working to prepare a short showcase of dances to present to friends and family this morning, Friday, June 27th.  Both classes already had a Greek-inspired dance in their repertoire, and while the younger students later immersed themselves in India, the older students took on China.

 

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Students strike a pose during the Greek-inspired number

The Greek dance was electric! It had goddess-inspired poses, an Olympic opening and a triumphant cry of “Opa!” ended the piece.  The energy was hard to resist! Even the slumped shoulders of the older kids weren’t enough to convince me that they weren’t enjoying themselves. The smiles twitching on the edge of their lips gave them away.

As a classics major, it was only right that the students quiz me on their Greek dance.

“Did you recognize the goddess in our dance? What about the god?” They were so proud of themselves– I had to make sure to get it right!

There was an embarrassing pause as I racked my brain for possibilities. I had been so enthralled in the overall feel of the dance that I hadn’t picked up on it. After a quick hint from Sommers, I guessed that their outstretched right arms were arrows, and as their left hand rested on their hip, the curve of their arm represented the bow. They were Artemis and her brother Apollo – the hunting twins!

Between the two classes, I had a chance to visit with the students. They grilled me about the trip to Greece I took through my study abroad program, and I was able to share my love of ancient history with a kindred audience. I mentioned that in college, you can choose to study classics exclusively. I could see the wheels begin to turn in their heads. “You mean…if I go to college, I can talk about this stuff all the time?”

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Discussing history and dance

Moments like this are what make these programs essential. They not only provide a safe space for the kids to spend their summer mornings, all the while learning about cooperation, confidence and coordination, but they also serve to introduce the dancers to the endless possibilities for their futures.

While some of the students discovered a love for Greek culture and history through this dance, others’ preexisting passion was simply nourished through the program. Maybe a few of the students don’t love Greek history – but that of India or China may fascinate them.

Students with a knack for the artistic can hone their skills in arts and craft class and even the simplest notion that this program allows these kids to just dance is significant.

“Jump, Jive, Move and Groove” allows students, many of whom don’t normally have access to dance classes and live music, to discover their passions.

At the end of each class, Sommers leads the students in thanking the live musicians, the assistant teachers, as well as themselves for a job well done.   We said it in Hindi that day: pronounced “Dhan’yavāda” the sentiment flowed off everyone’s tongue as they celebrated a successful class.

 

For more information about Education and Outreach programming please click here.

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