Simon Fraser Elementary Students Learn to Dance and Dance to Learn

Bright orange, vibrant blue and rich green shirts flashed throughout the gymnasium at Simon Fraser Elementary on April 18, 2013, as energized students spun and twirled their way through a dance performance in front of their entire school.

Teresa Kerr's Grade 4/5 students had been working on this performance since February with help from an artist-in-residence from the Vancouver Biennale Big Ideas Arts in Action Program.

"It's a cross-curricular learning experience for the students," said Kerr.  "It has aspects of art, dance and we integrated science as well."

The Vancouver Biennale is an organization that brings public art displays to Vancouver and also puts a strong emphasis on community outreach by providing youth with education programs like the Big Ideas Arts in Action Program.

"It's extremely important because the whole program is driven by inquiry-based, cross-curricular learning," said Katherine Tong, Vancouver Biennale Education Program Director.  "With this particular school, we really focused on linking to the curriculum and we landed on the interconnectivity of living things."

The students visited the Walking Figures public art display, created by Magdalena Abacanowicz, near Cambie and Broadway and drew inspiration from the artwork to answer to the question: 'How are things connected to each other?'

"We spoke about how we are all connected, and within that, there are many smaller connections," said artist-in-residence Lorraine White-Wilkinson who worked closely with the students on this project. "We talked about how the environment and food chain depends on these connections and how there is a balance that we need to respect."

The students then worked together on a poem that explained their findings about what they had observed at the Walking Figures display. 

As a class, they drew inspiration from their visit to the art display and from the poem they penned as a class, which would inspire the choreography of their dance routine.

As a result of this project and learning how humans impact a variety of plants and creatures, the students decided to raise money for the Panthera Organization, a charity dedicated to the preservation of endangered wildcats."Classes started with an introducation to dance," said White-Wilkinson.  "Getting the kids used to moving big and expressively while maintaining personal space and respect for each other was also taught as well."

The students performed their dance on April 16, 2013, for the public at the Cambie and Broadway location of the open air art exhibit, the very source of their inspiration.

"It was fabulous," said Kerr.  "The weather was beautiful and while they were performing, people stopped on the street and started watching them."

The students are scheduled for another performance on April 25, 2013 at the Vancouver School Board Afternoon of Dance at Vancouver Technical Secondary School.

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