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Elk Meadows annual dance festival showcases traditional folk dances

Aug 30, 2017 10:20AM ● Published by Jana Klopsch

Elk Meadows students celebrate others’ customs through their traditional folk dance festival. (Aaron Ichimura/Elk Meadows)

By Julie Slama | julie@mycityjournals.com    


Marlene Kay knows not every child learns the same.

“There’s different kinds of learning, and sitting at a desk is not ideal,” said the Elk Meadows dance teacher. “A baby learns by crawling and touching. Students are the same way: they want to learn through doing things hands-on, especially in the arts with music and dance.”

That is why Kay spent months teaching students traditional folk dances that they performed in the school’s second annual dance festival.

“The kids are enjoying it,” she said. “They’re moving, creating and are becoming more comfortable dancing, which will give them more options in social settings. They also may want to participate on the dance team when they go to junior high.”

Principal Aaron Ichimura said that the students are learning dance as well as expression and unity.

“Our dance festival provides a way for students to express themselves through the art form they have been studying,” he said. “The festival brings all the students together, which unifies our school, to celebrate everything that they have learned this year.”

Kay, who is the dance specialist through the Beverly Taylor Sorenson ARTS Learning Program, focused on a traditional folk dance for each grade level, beginning with first grade.

“We used skills students needed to learn in their dance,” she said. “So first-graders learned a dance from Denmark that emphasized balance, rhythm, skipping and jumping.” 

For second-grade, they learned Native American dances from six tribes, such as the bear dance and circle dance. Third-graders learned about Mexico and farmers harvesting sugarcane when they did a traditional dance using mock machetes.

“I got 250 paint sticks donated from Walmart and Home Depot and painted them for the students to use as props,” she said. “The kids loved it.”

Fourth-graders tied their dance to learning Utah history as part of the state core curriculum. They performed the Virginia Reel. Fifth-graders danced colonial dances such as the heel-and-toe polka and Cotton-Eyed Joe partner dance.

Sixth-graders got a chance to perform a Filipino dance with elastic bands. While it’s similar to Chinese jump rope, it’s more demanding, as students actually perform dance steps while jumping in between the bands, Kay said.

“It challenges them physically as well as their coordination,” she said. “We put it to hip-hop music, so it was a lot of fun for the students.”

Then, Kay had the fourth-graders through sixth-graders perform a Waltz mixer interchanging partners as they encircled the other grades in the middle.

“It was fun and just wild to do it with so many students at once,” she said.

Kay started researching folk dances almost one year before their performance. Some dances she tweaked for the students, but she matched their curriculum to the dance. Students started learning their dances in February. Kay worked with them twice each month for about 40 minutes per session. 

“We wanted to give them plenty of time to learn the steps,” she said. “They looked forward to coming to class, to learning their dance. The festival gives them a bigger scale to perform and to celebrate their hard work and have a sense of accomplishment.” 

Now with this performance over, Kay already has been researching this summer, thinking of creative dances, curriculum and a theme for the third annual dance festival.

“The students are enjoying it, and they’re being exposed to different music and culture, which helps break barriers,” she said. “They’re being challenged and having the opportunity to move and express themselves, and at the same time, it ties into what they’re learning in the classroom. It’s a wonderful learning opportunity for them.”

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