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Dance to connect with roots

Professional dancer Shola K. Roberts.
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It’s a chance for children to connect with their dance roots.

Two educators are introducing a workshop for Brooklyn middle school students to show kids the dance styles that influenced the cultures they are from. The dance workshop, called “KəˈnekSH­(ə)n: the Workshop Series,” will take place at two schools — Madiba Prep Middle School and School of Integrated Learning — on Dec. 6 and Dec. 13. It will be a chance for children to connect with the origins of Caribbean dances they are familiar with, and an opportunity to explore other avenues of education, said one of the organizers.

“This is a series for students to experience a dance class leading up to their winter concert and we thought ‘Why not give them the opportunity to take a class to learn different dance styles?,’” said Shola Roberts, a dance instructor at the School of Integrated Learning.

“Learning doesn’t only take place in four walls — it goes beyond that and we want to show and tell students how to take and use those resources to make those connections.”

During the two workshops, Roberts and co-organizer of the series, Autumn Scoggan, will teach some 25 students at both schools, various dance styles and prepare them for their school’s annual winter concerts. Scoggan will teach foot dances, and Roberts is teaching the West African origins of most Caribbean dances, which she said many of the students will identify with.

“Autumn will be teaching them floor work and the idea of being connected to the floor and using balance,” said Roberts. “I will be teaching traditional West African dance because most of our students are of African descent and from the Caribbean — we want to allow them to experience dances from different cultures and prepare them for their winter concert.”

After the workshop, a few students will be chosen to participate in the winter concert series at both schools, and will have the chance to talk about the workshop and what they learned, said Roberts.

Roberts has been dancing professionally for 17 years, she teaches in schools because she says it is one of the few places Caribbean children get to explore their creativity and other cultures. Her end goal is to allow her students to make these discoveries.

“I want them to see the connection of the dances to their own cultures and its relationship in the African Diaspora,” said Roberts. “Hence why we call it KƏnekSH(ə)n — everything from the rhythm and drums, in Caribbean some of the music and styles are very similar.”

The series will only be open to students who attend either of the two schools, but Roberts says as the first series, she wants the Caribbean community to be aware of their efforts, and take the dance and arts fields in schools more seriously, she said.

“Growing up and going to school in New York City, arts was always in the curriculum, but when I came back from college I noticed a shift,” said Roberts. “I want people to understand what you can do in arts — I know people who studied at Laguardia and became lawyers. There are skills you can learn as a dancer and apply these skills somewhere else, and we’ve been trying to prove that this can help with the reading and math scores.”

Reach reporter Alexandra Simon at (718) 260–8310 or e-mail her at asimon@cnglocal.com.
Updated 3:05 am, July 10, 2018
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