Tuesday, February 17, 2015

Spring semester and world dance

After introducing dance technique with jazz and historical social dances in the fall, my spring semester in Beginning Dance usually focuses on various world dance forms (along with creative work and choreography, of course). This progression has worked well for me for years, as teens are hungry to learn new dance forms, and it is important to me to validate non-Western dance forms.  I have usually taught some African-Haitian or Congolese, Baile Folklórico, Brazilian Samba, Polynesian (Hawai'ian hula and Tahitian 'ori), and ballet, which I do present as a world dance form (European classical dance). Of course, I am not an expert in all of these forms, but I introduce them as dance forms I have learned and would like to share.

This year, I polled the students on which forms they are most interested in, to prioritize in case we don't have time for everything, and three styles overwhelmingly stood out: Brazilian Samba, Hawai'ian hula, and ballet (that last one actually surprised me a bit... but ballet is still ubiquitous in popular culture as the epitome of concert dance, so perhaps it is natural that students would be curious to learn it). We began with Samba — since Brazilian Carnaval happens mid-February, the beginning of the month is the perfect time to learn it. I explain to my students that there are many styles of Samba, but the style I learned is the traditional folkloric style, with a flat-footed basic step (I learned from Conceição Damasceno of the World Dance Center in Berkeley); I add steps I have learned from colleagues who dance with various Samba companies in the bay area as well.

Naturally we also learn some of the history and culture of Samba, and the responses to the reading handout have been interesting — many students hadn't realized that Samba was an African-diaspora dance form. Our time working on Samba has been joyful, as students have responded to this energetic and exuberant dance (not to mention the intense music)!

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