Julia Chigamba and the Chinyakare Ensemble, a family of musicians, dancers and teachers committed to preserving and sharing traditional Zimbabwean culture and promoting community building and education through art, put on an incredible performance at Dance Palace Community & Cultural Center. Sharing an electrifying display of the traditional dance, music, and culture of Zimbabwe and Southern Africa, ensemble members Kanukai Chigamba, Julia Chigamba, and Augusten Basa performed three traditional dances for students from across West Marin. The first dance was a welcome dance called Mauya in the Shona language.
Next, Julia wowed audience members with a dance that is a celebration of the vital source of water. Students gasped and cheered as Julia danced with a full ceramic jug of water balanced on her head. Occasionally, the water would jump over the edges of the container – “the water is excited and wants to dance too!” Julia shares with students after the conclusion fo the song.
In a performance meant to rejoice in harvest, Julia and Kanukai performed with baskets containing various seeds and beans. As many of the dances are about weaving a colorful story of everyday life while teaching important life lessons such as goal-setting, perseverance, and thankfulness, students were encouraged to think about the celebratory and community aspects of music and dance for cultures around the world.
The Chinyakare Ensemble then encouraged everyone in the room to stand up and learn the narrative movements of a warrior’s dance while Augusten and Kanukai played marimbas and sang. When asked what the dance was about, one young students raised her hand and shared “I think it’s a dance about planting and growing things, and telling the story of our every day lives”. Together, we celebrated while Julia encouraged students to engage with items that the ensemble had brought with them from Zimbabwe, including mbiras and other instruments, as well as sculptures and wearable accessories. Students handled everything with care and respect, and we left the shared space of the performance feeling the joy of new connections being made!
Youth in Arts extends a special thank you to the California Arts Council, who’s support makes this program possible.
Youth in Arts is thrilled to announce the hiring of Kristen Jacobson as its new executive director. Jacobson, who has a wealth of experience and a background in the performing arts, is expected to start in early November.
Jacobson is an arts leader, educator, and program designer dedicated to the accessibility of arts education for diverse populations. She comes to Youth in Arts from Alonzo King LINES Ballet, where as managing director of education, she has led initiatives to expand LINES’ programs that promote individuality, creativity and communication through dance and movement learning. Under her leadership, LINES education programs experienced significant expansion, growth, success and impact.
She also serves on the board of the Arts Education Alliance of the Bay Area as well as San Francisco Unified School District’s Arts Education Master Plan advisory committee.
“We are excited to have Kristen join us,” said Youth in Arts Board President Naomi Tamura. “Her leadership style, and dynamic personality is well-suited to build off of the great strides Youth in Arts has made in arts education and advocacy. We are eager to have her lead us to even higher levels in developing young artists of all abilities.”
Prior to her time at LINES and in the Bay Area, Kristen served as the youth & community programs manager for Hubbard Street Dance Chicago, where she was responsible for developing and implementing Hubbard Street’s Youth Dance Program from its inception. She was also instrumental in developing the Adaptive Dance Program, leading the Parkinson’s Project, managing school partnerships and residency program, teaching artist development, family programming as well as community partnerships with the Art Institute of Chicago, Chicago Symphony Orchestra, Chicago Botanic Garden, Museum of Contemporary Art and cultural institutions across Chicago.
With a long history as an arts educator, Kristen’s experience prior to Hubbard Street includes work for Metropolis Performing Arts Centre, Free Street Theater, Chicago Human Rhythm Project and LABCO Dance Company in Pittsburgh. She also worked as a dancer and choreographer for a number of companies and organizations in Chicago, Cleveland and Pittsburgh.
She holds a bachelor’s degree in Musical Theater and Dance from Point Park University’s Conservatory of Performing Arts and a master’s degree in arts in Youth and Community Development from Columbia College Chicago.
Photo credit L to R: Stephen Texeira, Quinn Wharton, LINES Ballet
Catherine Layton is a Marketing Manager by day, but her true passion is dance, specifically Tango. She has spent years honing her skill and performing in New York and throughout the Bay Area. Her deep appreciation for the arts, culled with her marketing superpower, and being the mother of two school-aged children, make her an ideal fit for the board.
Catherine is a recent graduate of the San Rafael Leadership Institute. Executive Director Miko Lee spoke at their Diversity, the Arts & Media session and Catherine was inspired, “Miko’s general energy, personal story, passion for the transformative nature of the arts in general, and for the work of YIA in particular, really struck a chord with me and inspired me to become involved. Plus, I’ve always been pro-arts and a supporter of arts in schools, and have two school-aged children, so I already had a passion for the cause – it felt like a natural fit.”
Born in England and raised by two classical musicians, Catherine was exposed to the performing arts at an early age. Her arts education growing up in England and then Ohio was rather limited. “I spent half of my K-12 education in England, and only remember music class in school there. I only vaguely remember music and art in K-12 in Ohio,” she explains. “Most of my arts education occurred outside the classroom, and exposure to the arts in general came from my parents. It really wasn’t until I was in college that I had good access to arts education in all forms, and was able to choose from many classes in the arts.” She wishes educational leaders would have had a better understanding of the importance of arts education, “as a critical part of a “well-rounded” curriculum, and really understood the profound benefits of arts in schools. That artistic expression and talent were nurtured in all schools (not just creative and performing arts schools), and that there were options for dance!”
Catherine looks forward to utilizing her skills in, “problem solving, collaboration, strategic thinking, marketing, project management and operational experience” to further the mission of Youth in Arts. We are so thankful to have her passion and expertise on our board. Thank you Catherine!
Youth in Arts was excited to offer two assemblies supported by funding from the California Arts Council to Davidson Middle School this Spring, tying into core learning goals for 6th – 8th grade Social Studies with arts integration techniques. For this program the Shahrzad Dance Ensemble, Director Shahrzad Khorsandi and four members of the ensemble, performed a special series of dances for the Persian New Year that had been choreographed and designed by Shahrzad over the last several years. Norouz (“New Day”), the Persian New Year, represents new beginnings, rebirth, and renewal. Shahrzad Dance Company’s Norouz program for 2019, Symbols of Love, brought into focus the true meaning behind this celebrated event and gave students the opportunity to learn about the music, traditions, and cultural relevance of the Iranian holiday today. The performance began with students learning several Persian Dance movements, such as Shokufeh (Blossom), where the dancer starts out with their arms at their sides, and then brings them up over head and back out to side palms up (like a blossom).
Students were also invited to participate in a modified rendition of the fire jumping tradition which is part of the Norouz celebration. Shahrzad explained that traditionally we will jump over fires, saying in Persian ” I give my yellow to you, you give your red to me”. This indicates a throwing away of sorrow, pain , suffering, anger and illnesses into the fire (yellow), in order to burn it and receive positive energy (red) from the fire.
Throughout the performance, dancers portrayed dynamic characteristics associated with the symbols of: Sabzeh (“Sprout”) which is symbolic for rebirth, Seeb (“Apple”) which is a symbol of health, Samanu (“Wheat Pudding”) which is a symbol of sweetness, Sekkeh (“Coins”) which is a symbol of wealth and prosperity, and Norouz (“New Day”).
These assemblies followed a three day cultural immersion series led by Shahrzad with participating classrooms in Fall 2018. During these workshops, Sharhzad sharing the geographical significance of the many regions in Iran/Persia, and how where each region is located within the country and what they are bordered by has affected the music and dance which can be found there. Students also learned about other types of Persian culture, such as the food, holidays, and traditions that are important to people across the country.
Youth in Arts would like to provide a special thank you to the California Arts Council for their support of this program!
Youth in Arts Mentor Artist Shahrzad Khorsandi worked with 2nd grade students at Cornell Elementary School in Albany for the 3rd year in a row through Youth in Arts’ Artists in Schools program, introducing students to Persian culture through the music and dance of regions across Iran.
We began with a discussion on the geography of the Middle East and Iran, introducing students to each area with a sample of different folk dances from the various regions of the country. The first class ended with everyone learning how to do the two-handed Persian snap (always a favorite and a challenge both for the students and teachers), which we could use throughout the residency to cheer for our peers.
Throughout the eight-week residency, each of the 4 classes learned a dance specific to a region of Iran. In the process, we learned about rhythm and patterns of movement, linking our sessions to and shape-making and understanding lines through our bodies. We then turned these shapes and lines into spatial patterns on the dance floor. Each class also worked in small groups to create their own movement patterns that they would do in a section of the choreography. This process gave the kids the opportunity to do problem solving and work on social skills, and allowed for the development of their own creative expression.
The residency ended in a culminating student performance with costumes/accessories. The parents were invited and all four classes got a chance to see each other perform, with almost 200 family members and supporters of all ages participating as audience members. During the culminating student performance, Shahrzad shares: “We worked for weeks on traditional dance moves from across Persia. Today you will see mix of some of those traditional moves and also some contemporary moves that the students created all on their own. This mix of old and new is part of the show today. In traditional Persian dance all the females would be in long skirts, in today’s show everybody dresses in any way they want and everyone is celebrated. They learned to dance in groups and to collaborate.”
Shahrzad describes working with kids as a job that is rewarding and fulfilling. She remembers one particularly special moment at the end of this residency when a student who had been crying and frustrated the day before the performance because he thought the performance was going to be a “failure”, ran to her after the show and hugged her, smiling, saying, “We did a great job!” Later, as Shahrzad was reading the colorful Thank-you notes/drawings from the kids, she saw the drawing from that same student and cried. Below is the drawing.
Youth in Arts’ Mentor Artist Eddie Madril taught counter narratives to a group of Marin County teachers by sharing his experience as a member of the Native American community.
Madril is part of the Pascua Yaqui tribe of southern Arizona and northern Sonora Mexico and represents his culture as a dancer, singer, teacher, playwright and filmmaker. During his presentation, teachers experienced history differently and learned how to make a corn husk figure (not a doll). Madrid talked about how important it is to understand multiple perspectives, including how tribes historically cared for and respected the land where they lived and did not consider it something that could be bought and sold. He also explained that if there is only one student in a class who is Native, for example, that student should not be singled out or made to represent all Native American people. Teachers ended the day with a hoop dance.
“It’s critical for teachers to be able to hear counter-narratives to expand their teaching to reach all learners,” said Youth in Arts’ Executive Director Miko Lee. “It’s through these culturally responsive teaching practices that our students can learn about the world that we live in with a more balanced perspective.”
Madril has taught American Indian music at San Francisco State University and was a three-year recipient of the California Arts Council Artist-In-Residence grant. As a dancer and educator, he has performed throughout the western United States, including the San Francisco Ethnic Dance Festival and World Arts West’s arts education program People Like Me. He works with students to encourage the appreciation of and respect for American Indian dance, music, culture, history, art and sign language.
To review the hands-outs and suggested readings, go here.
Youth in Arts worked with the Marin County Office of Education to provide professional development courses like these. We are proud to announce a generous grant from the California Arts Council to provide for Eddie Madrill’s Assembly Performance and Workshops for Title 1 schools whose teachers attended the counter narrative training. Thanks also to Marin Community Foundation for supporting our work.
Mentor Artist and Kumu Hula Shawna Alapa’i recently concluded a successful residency at Ross School K-8, sharing: “Hula found its way to Ross School and it was a smooth, flowing journey. Chanting, percussion and melodic tunes could be heard down the halls every Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday mornings and it brought smiles to many faces. It was the first time for Hula to be taught in Ross School and the students grew right into it!” Through dance and music, Shawna and her students journeyed to ancient sites throughout the island of Hawai’i, retraced the navigational routes from Tahiti, Hawaii, and New Zealand, where they learned the cultural protocols of a Maori Haka and gained a cultural perspective and understanding of the stories of Maui, one of Hawaii’s legendary icons.
When the Student Performance day came, Shawna says, “I could feel the energy of Aloha buzzing all around us! The kids were excited as their parents and guests took their seats. The kids all looked fabulous with their silk flower lei on. Kindergarten classes went first with their Hula, A Hilo Au. They chanted their hearts out and enjoyed being up on the stage (a star is born) … a very hard act to follow!”
She continues, “However, the rest of the classes stepped up to the lu’au plate and all did fantastic! We chanted, danced and delved into the sacred realm of Hula and reached our destination with awareness, grace, power and joy.” Shawna and Youth in Arts had a wonderful time working with Ross School and are looking forward to sharing and learning with these talented students again.
“Hulo to Ross School for such a wonderful opportunity!”
Shahrzad Khorsandi, a seasoned teacher and performer in Persian Dance, stepped out of her comfort zone into a new area this semester! She worked with two special day classes at Terra Linda High School through our Arts Unite Us program, teaching Persian dance and music. Though a bit nervous on the first day, she soon fit right in. With the help of the wonderful teachers at Terra Linda she engaged students, encouraging them to take part in playing percussive instruments and dancing and cheering each other on during the performances.
Shahrzad says of her experience, “Throughout the residency, we researched Persian culture, learning about various Persian instruments by watching videos of professional musicians playing the instruments”. Shahrzad was even able to bring in several instruments for the kids to see, touch, and play with. She adds, “We looked at the map of Iran and talked about the various regions of the country, and learned a sampling of various dance styles from each region. In the following weeks each of the two classes focused on one particular region, learning the choreography. While learning the movement patterns, we were exposed to concepts like making floor patterns with circles and line, and directional cues like facing our partner, or facing back or forward, etc.”
The residency culminated in a student performance. Parents were invited and both classes got to see each other perform. Shahrzad shares, “We had a great time and everyone did a wonderful job. It was interesting to see that some kids who seemed shy at first really hammed it up when faced with an audience. After the performance the audience was asked to join the performers in an improvisational social dance with Persian music. All in all, it was a hit!”
Thank you to VSA Kennedy Center, Marin County Office of Education, and the Marin Community Foundation for making these programs possible for our youth and community!
Kumu Hula Shawna Alapa’i and Halau Hula Na Pua O Ka La’akea performed for students from the Bolinas-Stinson Union School District at the Dance Palace Community & Cultural Center in Point Reyes. Spanning traditional Kahiko (ancient) hula to modern (‘auana) hula, students experienced Hawai’ian story-telling through melody, hand-crafted instruments, dress, and dance traditions.
The assembly concluded with a fun hands-on workshop where students learned parts of a Haka, a traditional warrior’s dance originating with the Maori people and adopted into Hawai’ian culture. Kumu Hula Shawna incorporated aspects of the Haka into a hula danced to the music from Moana as a way to engage students and connect culturally based on common knowledges.
A special thank you to the Dance Palace Community & Cultural Center and the California Arts Council for their support of this program!
Afro-Peruvian music and dance is a unique blend of African, Spanish, and Indigenous elements. During this special assembly organized by mentor artist Carmen Román at Sonoma Mountain Elementary School, master performers Pierre Padilla Vasquez, Pedro Rosales, Amelia Uzategui Bonilla, David Pinto, and Juan Medrano Cotito shared their expertise in Afro-Peruvian song and dance with students of all ages. Continuing with workshops throughout the day, students got hands-on experience learning about traditional Afro-Peruvian history and culture with dances such as the Festejo, Zamacueca, and Son De Los Diablos. Through movement and music led by the artists, students were exposed to the rich traditions of another culture.