STUDENTS MAKE POET'S WORDS DANCE
February 13, 2007
Author: Karina Bland, The Arizona Republic Estimated printed pages: 3
'BORDERS' PERFORMANCE UNITES THEM
The words of poet Alberto Rios have moved students at Herrera School for the
Fine Arts in central Phoenix to their feet. On Monday, they invited Rios to
watch his words dance.
The seventh- and eighth-graders gathered for their afternoon dance class and sat
on the hardwood floors to talk to the poet whose works they have been studying.
Rios, who is a professor at Arizona State University, told the students about
growing up in the 1950s in Nogales when children were swatted for speaking
Spanish at school. The son of a Mexican father and English mother, Rios said he
knows he doesn't look like his name, more European than Mexican. But it is that
diversity, he explained, that taught him to look at things from many different
Rios read aloud his poem Border Lines, and eighth-grader Pedro Mendez, who
carries a folded and refolded copy of the piece in the back pocket of his jeans,
finished the last two lines for him: "The border is what joins us, not separates
These are words that many children at the inner-city school can understand.
The students are planning a dance performance using Rios' work called Borders on
March 7 and 8. The idea of borders represents not only geographic and political
divides but gaps among races, gender, age, said Susan Bendix, who started the
dance program at Herrera and is directing the show.
The performance stems from a partnership between Herrera School and the Dance
Arizona Repertory Theatre at ASU, linking young dancers with their college
"Would you like to see them dance?" Bendix asked Rios.
"I would love to see them dance," he said, clasping his hands together.
Eighth-grader Danielle Almanza read aloud Rios' poem In the Strong Hold of Her
Thin Arms, describing his grandmother's long wave of hair.
"When I like a poem or words that much, it's really easy for me to express
myself and act it out," Danielle said later.
As she read, eighth-grader Eyra Rodriguez danced along, her long hair swirling.
Other girls joined her, their hair pulled free of hair bands, swaying back and
forth and whipping forward and back, as they danced.
At the end, Rios clapped his hands, delighted: "Excellent."
The students performed a second dance, this one to his poem The Cities Inside
Us. Students moved around plastic chairs to a techno beat, like the many moving
parts of a city.
"I love this piece," Rios said.
The students grinned at each other or at the floor. Danielle said she was
pleased that Rios liked what they had done with his works.
"It was very exciting for me to see," Rios told them.
Through their dance, he said, he saw even more in his own words.
He marveled that the children could understand the nuances of complex poetry.
Bendix did the choreography.
Rios promised to come to their performance.
He told them, "I think you're going to have a great show, and I'm honored that
you are doing my pieces."
What: Borders, by dancers from Herrera School for the Fine Arts and Arizona
When: 7 p.m. March 6 and 7.
Where: Herberger Theater Center, 222 E. Monroe St., Phoenix.
Details: (602) 254-7399 or www.herbergertheater.org.
This poem by Alberto Rios is one of many put to dance in Borders:
We live in secret cities
And we travel unmapped roads.
We speak words between us that we recognize
But which cannot be looked up.
They are our words.
They come from very far inside our mouths.
You and I, we are the secret citizens of the city
Inside us, and inside us
There go all the cars we have driven
And seen, there are all the people
We know and have known, there
Are all the places that are
But which used to be as well. This is where
They went. They did not disappear.
We each take a piece
Through the eye and through the ear.
It's loud inside us, in there, and when we speak
In the outside world
We have to hope that some of that sound
Does not come out, that an arm
Not reach out
In place of the tongue.
CAPTION: At Herrera School in Phoenix, Mayra Pena dances to a poem by
Edition: Final Chaser
Section: VALLEY & State