Pistor finds the beat
Arizona Daily Star
Jan. 16, 2009


Dance class makes bilingual video for students in Ecuador

By Rhonda Bodfield


Tucson, Arizona | Published: http://www.azstarnet.com/allheadlines/276151

If all goes as planned, children all over Ecuador will be locking and popping.

Not doors and gum, but limbs and muscles in variations of street dance.

It's all courtesy of the advanced dance class at Pistor Middle School, 5455 S. Cardinal Ave., which is creating a bilingual video that will walk South American children step-by-step through several styles of dance, including hip-hop, salsa, samba and break dancing.

Eighth-grader Briana Valencia started the hip-hop lesson after school Tuesday by explaining that "locking" comes from a dance style popularized in the funk era of the 1960s.

Classmate Gardenia Tapia repeated Valencia's instructions in Spanish.

The students as a group performed a series of moves, including "sam points," which plays with the old Uncle-Sam-Wants-You advertisements. The student teachers explained the move isn't just about pointing and freezing in place. It's all in the expression, they noted which promptly led to a familiar dance move known more universally as hamming it up.

The program was approved as an O Ambassador Club, which began when talk-show mogul Oprah Winfrey and the non-profit Free the Children joined forces to encourage students to become active and compassionate global citizens in an attempt to address problems such as hunger, poverty and poor access to education.

In addition to the video, the students plan to hold a dance-off in May, with proceeds to benefit their sister community.

Jonah Kanter, an O Ambassador youth coordinator, said there are nearly 2,000 schools participating in the program nationwide, but Pistor has the only dance program. "The dance element was very attractive for us. It was very original and we thought it would be a really unique approach," he said.

Kanter said schools don't receive financial support, but they get resources that help students focus on international development issues and learn about the region they're assisting.

"The main point is the experience that students get and the empowerment they receive," Kanter said. "They believe they can change the world."

The Pistor class originally requested Mexico because so many students can trace their heritage back there, but they feel an affinity with the area they received.

"The kids there are really poor, so we wanted to do something to help," said Tapia, 14, who said she wants to one day be a psychologist and help people. "You can't say there's a right way or a wrong way to dance. It's something that just comes from inside you."

Valencia, also 14, said she wants to go to South America some day to provide more direct assistance. She was particularly excited about the program, she added, because her mother is a big Oprah fan.

Dance teacher Renee Blakeley, 26, said the program appealed to her because she believes dance should be accessible to everyone and she knows that she was privileged to have parents who could afford to send her to dance classes as a child.

She also knows how powerful dance can be, noting she literally has to kick students out at 6 p.m. because they'd stay all night practicing if she let them.

Her own students have surprised her. "At first, I was afraid this was going to be another project that I would be in charge of, but when I told the students that they would become teachers, the next thing I knew, they were preparing at home so they'd come in ready to teach. They've been great."

Great, but not perfect. Which is why a gaggle of them after class lobbied to include that most enjoyable of documentary features bloopers.

Contact reporter Rhonda Bodfield at 806-7754 or at rbodfield@azstarnet.com