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Learning Through Dance

St. Leo students enjoy creative presentation.

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From left, Alicia Curtis, Tom Evert, Alison Crosby and Dustin Kimball are fluid motion while they dance.

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Alison Crosby and Tom Evert during the ‘Dia de Los Muertos’ number.

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Alicia Curtis and Dustin Kimball as skeletons.

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From left, spirited skeletons Alicia Curtis, Alison Crosby, Dustin Kimball and Tom Evert stride across the floor.

Knowledge can be conveyed in a variety of ways and, last week at St. Leo the Great Catholic School, it came in the form of dance. Courtesy of Bowen McCauley Dance and Dancevert, students in kindergarten through eighth grade watched professionals perform four dances in their gym.

“All of you dance in your everyday lives, in some way,” said BMD Artistic Director Lucy Bowen McCauley. “You also do dance moves as you move and stretch.”

The dancers performed original, contemporary dances. Three of them, choreographed by McCauley, fused modern and classical dance techniques against a backdrop of varying, musical styles. The fourth, choreographed by Dancevert founder Tom Evert, illustrated the Mexican tradition of Dia de los Muertos (Day of the Dead).

It’s celebrated at the end of harvest time, around Halloween, and this year it’s Nov. 1-2. “We remember those who’ve died by giving them food and a gift,” said Evert. “And they come back in spirit, as they were in life, such as a ballerina; and they’re the way we loved them, so they’re not scary. But they visit as skeletons.”

The dance he and the others performed was in four parts. The first was about corn, an important part of the Latin American diet. The second showed an offering for the dead. The next two parts, in which the dancers cavorted in skeleton costumes, showed the spirits happy about visiting their family and friends.

So this dance fit in with the students’ social and cultural studies, as well as music, fine arts, Spanish language and P.E. curriculum. In art class, the children made masks in preparation for the celebration.

The Dia de los Muertos dance was the program’s finale. First, though, came three other dances in different styles. “We use lots of different dance styles – ballet, modern and jazz,” said McCauley.

“Sweet Home Chicago,” a duet by Dustin Kimball and Alison Crosby, was a blues and 1930s jazz composition, coordinating with American history studies. Next, “Second Chance,” performed by Kimball with Alicia Curtis, showcased contemporary and jazz dancing in a musical-theater context.

Afterward, with prompting from McCauley, the children explained the ways in which the two dances differed. They said the second dance was more romantic, the people were happier, the music and costumes were different, and the tempo was faster.

“The dancers make it look easy, but they practice and train really hard, every day,” said McCauley. “Dancing brings us joy, but dancers work really hard.”

Then Curtis, Amanda Moone and Crosby performed “Lucy’s Playlist,” using more contemporary movements as they danced to songs from McCauley’s iPod, including the 1980s tune, “Connection,” by Elastica. After that, each performer talked about how they got into dance.

Kimball said the football players at school initially made fun of him, until they all had to take a dance class, for improved movement, and Kimball was way ahead of them. Crosby told the students how music is counted in eighths, and she and Curtis said they liked ballet first, but now enjoy other dance styles, too. Moone told the children not to be afraid to switch dance teachers, if they wanted to, because “it many open up your eyes.”

All in all, the program promoted imagination, creativity, self-awareness and expression. All these dances exemplified creative interpretation, expression through body language, choreography, memory skills and sequencing. Students learned the importance of math to dance in the area of rhythm, patterns and counting, while seeing how dance interacts with other arts, cultures and everyday life.

For more information about Bowen McCauley Dance, see www.bmdc.org. To learn more about Dancevert, go to www.dancevert.org.