Toes were tapping and hands were clapping recently at Cahill Elementary School as students wrapped up a week-long artist residency with an international dance performance.
Students in grades two and three spent four days in early January learning and practicing dances from Mexico, China, Italy and Ireland under the guidance of members of the Vanaver Caravan, a New Paltz-based international music and dance company.
The workshop was the second installment of the artist-in-residency program at Cahill. The first was with another dance company, Upriver/Downtown Dance. Funding for the program comes from the PTA and Cahill 5K held in the fall.
On Jan. 13, the students performed for the rest of the student body in the afternoon and for their parents in the evening. Accompanied by live music by Vanaver musicians and wearing colorful costumes that reflected the heritage of each nation, the young dancers performed an Irish step dance, an Italian folk dance, the Mexican hat dance and the Chinese ribbon dance.
“It’s amazing to see how quickly they learned their dance,” said Cahill principal Dawn Scannapieco.
The theme of the Vanaver residency was “America: A World Within a Nation,” and in addition to dance steps, the students learned a few basic words of Spanish, Chinese and Italian, and explored international customs. They also created art projects that included Celtic knot brooches, drawings of Chinese lions and Eye-of-God crafts from Mexico.
Scannapieco said all the multi-cultural learning fits nicely with the grade three curriculum, which explores other nations and their customs.
The students, meanwhile, thought it was just plain fun.
Grade two student Catharine Swonyoung said she enjoyed the residency because learning Irish step dancing gave her a chance to be with her friends. “And I really like Ireland,” she added. Catharine’s fellow grade two student Andres Forrest got a kick out of kicking up his heels, literally. He said his favorite part of the dance was the “thread the needle” segment. Both said their dance was fun and not hard to learn.
The next artist residency event will be held during the first week of February. Through a workshop with the National Circus Project, students will have the opportunity to learn circus skills such as stilt-walking, acrobatics and juggling in their gym classes. Fourth and fifth graders will have extra time with the trainers, and will create and perform in a show that will be open to the public at 6:30 p.m. on Friday, Feb. 6.
Kindergarten teacher Alexandra Gambino said, “The goal was to have the entire student body participate in special programs that for some are a once-in-a-lifetime experience. These are programs that may not [otherwise] be available or affordable to many in our community.”
Gambino said the programs teach students the skills of dance and movement and how to be a good audience member. She said parents and community members have been delighted to see the children perform with such a sense of self-confidence.