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Dancing to a South African Beat

April 2, 2012

Photo by Audrey June Davidson

By Audrey June Davidson, Corps Member Proudly Serving at Sarah T. Reed Elementary

Last Thursday, students in the after school program at Reed Elementary were surprised with a performance by a troupe of dancers from South Africa. The dancers had originally flown in to march with Zulu during Mardi Gras, but seemed just as eager to share their culture with elementary school students.

I sat with a group of my fifth grade boys who were visibly skeptical about the performance.  When they first heard the African chants, they giggled uncontrollably at the foreign sounds—cracking jokes and grinning about it. However, once the drumming began it was hard for them to hold back their enthusiasm.

The energy of the African dancers was contagious and soon they were grabbing students from the audience to come dance up front with them. While some students jumped at the chance, others—including a rather melodramatic group of sixth-grade girls—ran in terror to the back to hide. The younger students loved it! They jumped out of their seats and started participating even when they weren’t called up. The dancers were highly expressive—using their body, voice, and face to convey great joy and triumph to the audience.

Next the dancers asked for volunteers from the audience and one of my students raised his hand. He was picked along with six others and they went to the front of the cafeteria. The dancers then demonstrated a dance which involved putting their feet high in the air and then falling on their bottoms. All the students attempted the dance, besides the ending. The only student to even try the fall was one of my fifth graders. As he put it, “I felt awesome ‘cause everyone was laughin’ at me. Then when I finally went to dance, I was the first one to do it.”

Toward the end of the performance, the dancers started a long conga line that filled the entire cafeteria. Nearly all of my fifth-graders animatedly joined, shaking their booties and smiling. It was great to see everyone having such a good time. As their finale, one of the dancers belted out “I Will Always Love You” in tribute to Whitney Houston. Afterward they asked if the students wanted to sing and four or five students raised their hands. Two of my students went to sing, but then got too nervous at the last minute. Overall it was a successful performance. I was especially proud of my students who changed their minds about the dancers and ended up enjoying the performance.

Of course there was one student who kept his bad attitude until the very end and was frustrated at me for not taking him out sooner. I simply smiled and told him, “I wanted to see the performance. It’s important for you to see other people’s cultures.”  He just rolled his eyes at me, but secretly I know he enjoyed it.


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