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Kanaval at Short School

Parade with Fofo

Parading with Florencia “Fofo” Pierre


Short School parents and students celebrated the culmination of their Haitian Music & Dance program with a schoolwide performance, parade and dance party on Tuesday, March 18th. For sixteen weeks, students in grades K-2 have been working with Mentor Artists Djenane St. Juste, Florencia “Fofo” Pierre and Jeff Pierre to learn music and dances associated with the celebration of Kanaval or Carnaval, a major midwinter celebration in the Caribbean. Students have also learned words and expressions in both French and Haitian Kreyòl languages. On this beautiful Tuesday morning, the students were able to share music and dances they had learned with over 70 parents, teachers and siblings!

Jeff Pierre leads drum students

Jeff Pierre with Short School drummers


Djenane introduced a dance game the children had learned in which they dance without touching a line that represents danger or “sobo”. As the children danced down the line faster and faster without touching it, parents in the audience helped with a call and response from the song Ti Gason (Little Boy) in which the dancers are told piga’w pile sobo, male va rive’w (roughly: “don’t step on danger or you will have trouble”).

Kids dance on the line

Don’t step on the line!


A few parents and siblings even came up to try the dance on their own!

Parents try the line dance

Parents, teachers and siblings try to dance “safely”


Next came a grand parade led by Fofo Pierre with students performing steps they have learned in their classes and teachers and some parents following behind as the “back line”. The grand finish was a circle dance with each class taking a turn dancing in the middle, followed by dancing parents and all the teachers!

Short Teachers Dance!

Short School teachers dance in the circle


It was a fun event with a great parent turn-out. Thanks to all the students, staff and families of Short School, to Djenane, Fofo and Jeff for their terrific work with the students and to the California Arts Council’s Artists in Schools program for its support of this project.images

Djenane Pepe and Fofo

Djenane St. Juste, Principal Pepe Gonzalez and Fofo Pierre


Fandango Fun!

Fandango at YIALast Art Walk Downtown Youth in Arts hosted our first Fandango Jarocho. It was fun! We had a bevy of wonderful dancers of all ages led in the traditional rhythms of son jarocho from Veracruz, Mexico. Led by Maestra Nydia Algazzali Gonzalez, a group of 30 students and adults played instruments, danced and sang verses in Spanish.  The celebration was also a cross-cultural exchange as we were joined by the Haitian group Afoutayi with YIA Mentor Artists Jeff Pierre, Djenane Saint Juste and Mama Fofo.

Amiel and Ian dancing La Iguana.

Amiel and Ian dancing La Iguana.

After the community workshops, we were joined by local soneros Catherine John Hudson on violin and Joel Ramirez on the Jarana and Guitarra de Son.  We played a selection of traditonal sones accompanied by children and adults who danced and played along.  If you stuck around until the end, you would have caught a glimpse of Ian Daly and Amiel Gonzalez debuting their performance of the Iguana!

We look forward to the next Art Walk Downtown on December 13, when we will be making artist trading cards to accompany the new gallery exhibit “Imaginary Voyages–Using Art to Understand Science.” See you then!


Brain Dance

YIA Mentor Artist Hannah Dworkin

Brain Dance at Marindale Early Intervention

“I FEEL my brain getting smarter!  I feel my head getting bigger!” “B” from Meriam Granger’s pre-K language immersion class after her third session with “Brain Dance.”

Brain Dance was developed by   Anne Green Gilbert,  and it is comprised of eight types of movements based on the developmental stages of a baby goes through during the first year of life. The steps are: Breath, Tactile, Core-Distal, head-tail, upper-lower, body side, cross lateral and vestibular. There has been quite a few encouraging studies  about the use of Brain Dance with students of all ages.  I have been using it in variations in my VSA classes this year. Each of my classes have very different ability levels, and I found myself adjusting it to fit each scenario. Below are ways in which I found it most effective.

Class of autistic students age 3-5:

This group thrives on routine, so the key to having brain dance work with this class was to introduce it early in the 10 week residency and practicing it daily.  I gave the steps to the teacher, and she made sure to reinforce the movement.

Class of students with limited mobility:

This class was challenging because they were not able to move their bodies enough to participate in brain dance, so we all, classroom teacher and aides included,  were very hands on.  We helped them manipulate their limbs and as needed, and listened to gleeful shouts when we spun their wheel chairs at the final stage of the dance.

Class of language delayed preschoolers:

There were two important things to keep in mind with this group. First, they were very young, so keeping the pace up was essential.  I also used high energy, fun music to keep them engaged.  I also needed to be very clear with the language I used.  I needed to keep in mind that they needed me to use simple vocabulary to describe and demonstrate each movement.

YIA Mentor Artist Hannah Dworkin

Thank you to the Marin Community Foundation for their generous support of this and all of our programs serving students of different abilites!

Four Classes, Five Teachers and a Huge Range of Abilities

This was my sixth year teaching Music and Movement in Youth in Arts’ VSA program, and I was lucky enough to be assigned to work with four amazing teachers, Rockne Beeman, Laura Becker, Meriam Grainer Cox and Jessica Leaper.  We had a wonderful time singing, dancing, playing and learning.

Rockne Beeman’s class of upper elementary students were a challenging  joy to teach. He has a class of students with a variety of behaviors and levels of engagement.  Some students would fully participate and sit in the circle and others would listen from different parts of the room.  What was most facinating this year was that the students who had worked with me previously would suddenly focus and fully participate when they heard specific familiar songs.  One such song was A Rig-a-Jig, a song that requires students to dance with a teacher and/or myself.  Their favorite song by far was “Goin on a Bear Hunt,” where we would practice phonemes that are difficult for the students while we marched around and dance.

Another discovery was that certain students who had previously been non-verbal are now speaking and even singing.  The photo below shows one of these students singing his favorite “penny game” song.

"Penny Game"

Laura Becker and Carla Victoria’s elementary special day classes were combined for a wonderfully large group every week.  They accomplished a great deal over the course of ten weeks. The biggest challenge with these two groups was the fact that their abilities were so vastly different.  Laura’s students need a great deal of assistance physically.  All were in wheel chairs or other supportive devises and were not able to move on their own.  Carla’s class was very active and needed to be constantly stimulated or they would lose focus.  The best strategy I found for working with these two classes was to pair Carla’s most active students with Laura’s most inactive.  They became “helpers” and danced and sang to the students who did not have the ability to participate in that way.

Meriam Grainge-Cox’s students were the most high functioning of my groups this year and they were able to perform quite complicated musical phrases despite the fact that they were 3 and 4 year olds.  My focus with this group was to create a class where they could learn to be autonomous and run as much of the class as possible. This was very successful, and the last day of class was almost completely run by the young students

Jessica Leaper’s class was incredibly fun.  They absolutely loved singing train songs and their favorite activity was dancing to Greg and Steve’s Choo Choo. There are a number of autistic students in this class, so I focused primarily on creating a clear routine over the course of the first couple weeks. As they grew more comfortable with the progression of the class. I was able to add more complex music and movement problems for them to solve.  By the end of the 10 weeks the class was at a point of running most of the activities themselves.

All in all it was a fantastic school year, and each of these classes and their teachers made it an exciting experience.


YIA Mentor Artist Hannah Dworkin

Haitian and Caribbean Dance

Mentor Artist Djenane Saint Juste worked with children from kindergarten through grade 8 this year:

Dance is a powerful art form that allows the true self to shine and be happy. It is a way of communication that transcends any kind of barriers that our ancestors have used for many generations.  It is a way to bring the community together.

After each residency at a school I discover new artists aware of their body and learning to translate their emotion through movements. I saw happy children and teachers who feel safe and confident to share their new dance moves.  I saw respectful middle school students who learned to enjoy partner dancing with their classmates.  And I spent a year working with the Cascade Canyon community who enjoyed traveling and learning about Haiti and other remarkable Caribbean cultures.

I am very thankful that I had the chance to grow up with a mother who is an amazing artist who taught me the passion for dance. And I am so happy to bring my family with me to each residency. My mother Fofo is a singer and dancer, my brother Jeff is a percussionist and my son Hassen is a dancer.  I think it is very important for children to see four generations of family working together as artists, and to understand that dance is for everyone and is the true language of love.

Bollywood & Banghara with White Hill 6th Graders

Joti Singh is the Artistic Director and founder of Duniya Dance and Drum Company. She is a choreographer, performer, and instructor of Bhangra dance from Punjab, India.

It was a pleasure to teach Indian Dance to the 6th graders at White Hill Middle School. Two of the classes learned Bhangra (a harvest dance from Punjab, India) while two classes learned Bollywood (a popular mix of dance forms from the mainstream Indian film industry). They were able to compare and contrast traditional and contemporary Indian dance forms, and after a presentation featuring videos and maps, the students were introduced to the huge diversity of dance forms in India.

From the first day, the students were enthusiastic and focused. Even the most reserved dancers were eventually drawn to the upbeat music and movement of Indian dance, and in the end all the students worked together to put on great performances.

Bhangra and Bollywood are very effective forms for teaching youth because both are upbeat and joyous dances. The music is mixed with familiar contemporary beats which young folks recognize, making it easier for them to enter into the world of Indian dance, having established a feeling of comfort with the music. The students all performed for parents, teachers and administrators at the end of the residency.

I applaud schools like White Hill that are taking the initiative to teach their students to be functional and compassionate members of our global society.

Music & Movement for Incredible Kids!

As the school year approaches, we are getting ready to provide amazing arts opportunities for students of varied abilities through our VSA arts program (Vision, Strength, Accessibility!). Once again, as for the past 30 years, Youth in Arts is working with the Marin County Office of Education to provide arts classes in 30 Special Day Classrooms around Marin. Mentor Artist Rachael Bouch-Dimondstein’s work at Vallecito Elementary is an outstanding example of the beauty created in a classroom when arts are incorporated: Read more…

Four Classes, Five Teachers and a Huge Range of Abilities

This was my fifth year teaching Music and Movement in Youth in Arts’ VSA program, and I was lucky enough to be assigned to four classes this year, Linda Breakstone/Stacey Hall, Rockne Beeman, Corrie Johnson and Jessica Leaper.  We had a wonderful time singing, dancing and playing.
Read more…

Photosynthesis at the Marin Center!

The Photosynthesis cast with artist Rebecca Burgess

Youth in Arts new musical Photosynthesis–Living Sunlight debuted today to hundreds of local schoolchildren and their teachers and parents at the Showcase Theatre at the Marin Center. The kids and adults were enthusiastic about the show, which teaches the science behind photosynthesis using lively music, dance and theater.

The musical is based on Living Sunlight, How Plants Bring the Earth to Life by Molly Bang & Penny Chisholm, and we were thrilled to have Molly in the house today!

Also attending was local fiber artist Rebecca Burgess, who contributed to the development of Photosynthesis and also curated Youth in Arts new gallery exhibit, “Farm Fresh Fashion.” The exhibit and the musical are great companion pieces, blending art and science to encourage better stewardship of our earth.

If you’d like to catch Photosynthesis–Living Sunlight, a final performance will be offered Friday, May 4, at 7 pm. Tickets are available in advance from the Marin Center Box Office, or at the door beginning at 6 pm.

Photosynthesis Performers, Composer Miguel Martinez and Author Molly Bang with some young audience members

Middle School Students Dance the Night Away!

As a grand finale for Youth in Arts Mentor Artist Tom Mayock’s dance residency at White Hill Middle School, over 400 students performed a wide range of dances from the Jazz genre, in such styles as Hip Hop, Pop, Body Percussion, and Zumba, to  name a few. Tom led these young adults into a choreographed celebration with contemporary music and dances such as Katy Perry’s “Firework”, Tao Cruz’s “Dynamite”, with a triumphant performance of Jai Ho! in the Bollywood style.

A Special thank go to The Yes Foundation, Youth In Arts, Kathy Thorton, and Chris Strempek for their dedication to their community, to their leadership and collaboration.

And the young adults of White Hill Middle school must be saluted for their fierce wild cat spirit! Their dance is strong!

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