Swinging with kids – multicultural arts-in-education through traditional jazz dance

by Malin Grahn

The latest Kuohu -newspaper featured my article on the after school dance program I teach with my dance partner Clyde Wilder at the community cultural center Kääntöpaikka. You can read the Finnish version of the article “Swingin sykettä ja tanssillista tarinankerrontaa” (“The Beat of Swing and Stortytelling Through the Dance”) online.

In this program, we have worked with traditional jazz movements and rhythms, and the children have learnt rhythmical and fun dances from the African American tradition like the Shim Sham and the Big Apple. They learnt both choreography and improvisation, vernacular material and to create their own art works through the dance.

The dance also connects to many philosophical themes: coming in terms with one’s own emotions, finding one’s own creativity and self-expression, being able to be creative together and support the creativity in others. In the classes, the children work in groups to  create their own choreographies. Last winter, our fantastic young dancers performed at the charity ball House Rent Party (16.11.2013) and at our end-of-the-season Tea Dance Party in the beautiful cultural and neighborhood house Bokvillan. Many amazed parents and other members of the audience came to talk to me after the performances, and asked: “Were the choreographies really created by the children themselves?” Yes, they were.

Many people also commented the precision and excellence in jazz rhythms that the children mastered. Indeed, it is inspiring to see how much the kids enjoy dancing to the swing songs from the earlier part of the 20th century. They have developed their own taste in jazz, too, and some songs have become really popular in the class and are requested over and over again. One of the favorites is Lionel Hampton’s “Hey! Ba-Ba-Re-Bop”, which the kids sing with their own lyrics: “Hei, mä oon rikas!” (Hey, I’m rich!).

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Kääntöpaikka’s school children’s group performed traditional jazz dances at the House Rent Party (16.11.2013) to a room full of enthused audience. Photographer: Aura Vapaametsä.

During the Spring, it has been clear that our young dancers really enjoy working on their own little dance stories and choreographies. I really look forward our Spring Party and Tea Dances at Kääntöpaikka on May 4th, where the Kääntöpaikka after school program will perform again and present their own creations. Which, I promise, are truly amazing!

A few quotes from the article:

“One of the most wonderful experiences in teaching the after school program is to encounter the children’s unique and individual creativity that stems from a focused and open mind and shared enthusiasm.”

”It makes me happy see how immediately the kids react to the uplifting rhythms of swing. They feel a strong connection to the movements of the African American dance tradition, and the swing music from the early 20th century does not sound as distant to their ears. In the class it is easy to see how dance can help to overcome artificial boundaries. By dancing to jazz and swing the kids can participate into a cultural tradition, that was created on the other side of the world but still feels close to them and connects to many of their familiar everyday experiences.”

“And finally: while dancing one can just be oneself. As a group, we can share the movement of the dance and the pulse of the music, but each of us can dance as the unique individual she or he is. As one of the kids from the group crystallizes it: ‘It is fun that in this class not everybody has the to be the same.’”

Read the entire article (only in Finnish) under this link (1/2014, p. 9):

During the spring, me and Clyde have also been teaching multicultural arts-in-education work shops in traditional jazz dance at the International Cultural Center Caisa, both for school and Kindergarten Groups. It has been an extremely inspiring experience to teach these classes, and I have been happy to see all the enthusiasm, learning experiences and pure joy of dancing in the classes.

I am also very proud that the wonderful class from Kaisaniemi elementary school we worked with in the 5×2 –program at Caisa will perform our choreography “Swing Classics” on the International Day of Dance, April 29th. There will be two performances at the Kaisaniemi school (Kaisaniemen ala-aste), 17:30 and 19:00. Tickets at the door (adults 6 euros, children 4 euros).

I don’t want to reveal too much, but I can assure that they will rock the house with their extremely energetic, rhythmical and uplifting performance! I look forward seeing them on stage!

 

Koululaisten tanssiryhmien esitykset / Performance times for our school children’s groups:

Tanssin juhla @ Kaisaniemen ala-aste ti 29.4. klo 17:30 ja 19

Teetanssit & kevätkauden päättäjäiset Kääntöpaikalla 4.5. klo 17-20

 

Appendix

Happy International Day of Dance!

I am very proud to have the pupils of Kaisaniemi ala-aste perform my and Clyde Wilder’s choreography “Swing Classics” in the International Day of Dance -performances at their school.

During this spring, with this group, we have been working on many classic elements of traditional jazz from the 1930’s and ’40’s. The class has learnt traditional jazz steps and routines, partner dancing (swing) and tap. For example, they have learnt the classic tap routine “The Shim Sham”, which we have practiced without tap shoes. But even in the barefooted version, the young dancers express incredible sense of rhyhtm and syncopation!

The choreography “Swing classics” has elements of all of these different expressions of traditional jazz that we have worked on together. My co-operation with this group started in the multicultural arts-in-education program at the International Cultural Center Caisa, and I am very proud that our work together has produced such a beautiful outcome as this performance.

Here’s a picture from the show. Jazzy rhythm and good feeling – these are fundamental elements of jazz that the group expressed in their performance.

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 Photo: Malin Grahn

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