Students at Homer Middle School were showing off their dance moves Friday to a crowd of parents and teachers. The 7th and 8th graders have been learning different styles of dance for the last several weeks as part of the Artist in Schools program.
Eddie Wood worked with the middle school students. He had eight sessions to teach them how to step in time with the music, lead when you’re supposed to and learn to follow. Wood worked with the students during their PE classes.
“In fact some of my classes were doubles. So I sometimes had as many as 50 dancers at a time, which is a challenge. And it creates a situation where I’m not able to move as quickly with that many people as I am with half that many. However, we persevered,” he said.
What made it a little more challenging is the fact that it’s 7th and 8th graders; height and coordination play a part in dancing. Those are two things kids around that age tend to struggle with. Sometimes, Wood said the partners weren’t ideally matched physically, but that became part of the learning process.
“You have, sometimes, a student that would be a foot-and-a-half taller than their partner. And that would be male-female, or female to male. That’s because, I insist, that we all take turns; everyone dances with everyone. By doing that, you break down walls that are based on being different,” he said.
He said it also brought the two classes together in a close, personal way by deliberately mixing them. Wood said it was a chance for the students to get to know each other in a way they maybe wouldn’t before. He said dancing inspired collaboration and peer mentoring for those who perhaps weren’t catching on quite as quickly.
“Because then the class assumes a feeling of ownership: This is our circle, let’s make it shine. The entire group rises up a notch as they pull each other into doing better,” he said.
Wood said the students were eventually letting the movements become like second nature. Homer Middle School Principal Kari Dendurent said she enjoyed watching the students perform and has been hearing from them the last few weeks about how excited they’ve been to learn the dances. She also liked how this project builds camaraderie among the kids.
“And it’s not like ‘eww, ick, I don’t want to touch him or her.’ There are definitely boundaries that are set. And it just appears that this is something that’s building for our student body.”
Dendurent said she had heard from some of the kids that they were a little scared to perform in front of their parents and teachers. And that’s maybe with good reason because at one point the audience was asked to join the students on the dance floor. Many of the students grabbed their parents and started showing them a few moves. Bunnell Street Arts Center Executive Director Asia Freeman was one of the many pulled onto the floor.
“Well, that student happened to be my son, so it made me very proud. It was wonderful. It was a pretty amazing moment. He’s only an inch shorter than me now,” she said.
Freeman was instrumental in making this project happen. She said the Artist in Schools program is part of the Alaska State Council on the Arts and is funded through the state legislature.
"Every year, each district is eligible to apply through a local arts agency. So, Bunnell applies and then we get additional support from Jazzline and AlaskaUSA to fund about 12 programs in our district,” Freeman said.
She said schools in the Homer area had five programs this fall: metal smithing at Razdolna, improvisation at Homer Flex, storytelling at Fireweed Academy and Latin dance was at both Homer Middle and Homer High.
Wood said he taught some of those high school students in the past, which made it easier to teach a few more advanced moves. But even some of Wood’s novice students Friday morning were giving their basic moves some flair.