The event, which is the culminating activity for the school's cultural arts program, brought together the 5th and 6th grade students of Roosevelt school, who interpreted a variety of dances from all over the world.
"It's a celebration of various cultures through dance," said Principal Anthony D'Angelo.
According to D'Angelo, the cultural arts program has been going on at Roosevelt School for at least 15 years, and the annual end of the year ceremony is typically held at the beginning of May.
"The kids absolutely love it," said D'Angelo. "They have been working on it all year and they always do well."
The dance program is run through the school's artist in residence from Arts Horizons, Suzi Myers. Arts Horizons has been working with schools in the Weehawken School District for about six years.
"I have been teaching them since October and started working on the dances in January," said Myers, who has worked with Roosevelt School for two years.
Founded in 1978, Arts Horizons is an education organization serving schools in the New York/New Jersey metropolitan area offering innovative arts-in-education programs for grades pre-k through 12th.
During the school year, the students in the 5th and 6th grades have learned many different types of dances from around the world from American square dancing and Caribbean salsa to Scottish Highland fling and West African Dance.
"I was trying to keep as much diversity as possible, and touched upon all the continents," said Myers.
According to Myers, the dancing art component is also tied into the classes' curriculum. As the students learned the dances, they also learned about the history and geography of that country. The discussed cultural social studies, science and even touched upon arithmetic, while learning beats, counts and other elements of dance and music.
"We are trying to show that you can indeed use the arts to drive a point across," said Myers. "Arts are vital to student learning."
Students had the chance to learn and try a variety of dances although each class only had to perform one at the end of the year.
"What I hope they take away from this is an appreciation for other cultures and a sense of being fearless," said Myers. "If you can get up on stage or in front of microphone and speak, you can do anything."
"We learned a really hard dance [in class], we built up our self-esteem, and to believe in ourselves more," said Alexsa Clemente, 12, whose 6th grade class danced the Sevillanas from Spain.
Putting on a show
The dance program was staged as a school day with different groups of kids meeting in a classroom.
"The show is a day in the life of school and each class performs a dance from a different part of the world," said Myers.
As they learned their lessons for the day, a few of the students would recite facts about the region or the dance they were studying such as the meaning behind the Italian dance tarantella, which means tarantula. People would do the dance to get rid of the poison if bitten by the venomous spider.
They also learned that many West African dances were performed barefoot and with knees bent so that they could draw the energy from the earth.
The end of the year show for the dance classes highlights a select number of dances they learned throughout the year. Some of the dances are common favorite selections every year including merengue and salsa.
However, others are interchanged every year in order to represent every culture at least once.
An audience and student favorite from last year was the tinikling dance from the Philippines, which is why Myers added it once again to the end of the year performance.
"I'm just glad it's over and I'm glad we did a great job," said Ejae Arroyo, 13, whose 6th grade class performed the tinikling dance. "It's one of the hardest dances and it took us a lot of time, but after a while we did better."
The tinikling dance is performed with bamboo sticks, which are clicked together as the dancers move and sprint around them.
"My partner and I slipped a lot of times or we would step on it," said Arroyo.
The practice paid off for the classes, however, who turned in an impressive and stellar performance.
"It's a great experience," said Myers. "It's exciting for me to see the 6th graders develop and teaching a whole new crop."
Myers also teaches in many youth programs around New York City and Arts Horizons also works with the New York based World Dance Theater, which is a professional dance company co-founded by Myers.
"[World Dance Theater] is a professional dance company dedicated to promoting cultural appreciation through the arts," said Myers.
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