Written by DAREarts Teachers Geneviève Anthony and Valerie Kostyniuk.
“Dance Day” sounds self explanatory. The name doesn’t keep you guessing about the day’s activities. However, one of our vocabulary phrases for this past Dance Day was “the Jingle Dress”, and our discussion about the Jingle Dress opened the door into a the rich discussion of “What is Power?”, a concept that is far from straight-forward.
A Jingle Dress is a dress worn for First Nations dancing. It is covered in hand-made bells that jingle as the dancer moves. The dress may also be decorated with personal symbols or items that remind the dancer of his/her Seven Generations: him/herself, one’s children, one’s grandchildren, one’s great grandchildren, one’s parent’s, one’s grandparents and one’s great grandparents. Knowing where one comes from and where one is going can be a great source of power.
What is power? The delegates began to ask one another on the bus. By the time we arrived for our circle at Enoch Turner School House, the Grade 4 West group was buzzing with “What is Power?”. As we sat down to morning snack the children began to share their thoughts with Teachers Valerie Kostyniuk and Mackenzy Willis.
“In my opinion you need money and knowledge to really have power,” Jacob shared. “If you don’t have money you can’t have a house or food, but if you don’t have knowledge you can’t do your job to make more money.”
“I think that family and friends give you power,” Kashish said.
“…but they have to be trust-worthy,” Kevin added.
“Health is more important,” asserted Ebony. “If you don’t have health, family and money can’t make you better.”
“But family and friends can help if you are sick, can help you build a house, and can teach you what you need to know,” Maria responded.
“Yeah,” chimed in Essey, “If you don’t have family, who’s going to register you for the free school? Who’s going to a put a band-aid on you if you get hurt at home? I don’t think you’ll do it yourself, not put on a band-aid!”
After snack, delegates learned an Afro-Cuban choreography with guest-artist Melissa Noventa. People enslaved in Cuba created this dance in their barracks after long shifts in sugar-cane fields, basing it on dance moves from the Congo. The Grade 4 delegates danced to tell stories about power just as articulately as they’d spoken about it earlier in circle.
“My body is powerful.” “It’s too hot in the fields and I’m tired.” “I’m going to drink this cane juice and you won’t catch me.” “We all do this dance together. We are a community.”
In the afternoon at Opera Atelier with guest artist Jeannette Zingg, delegates learned a lively dance from the European Renaissance called the Branle (from the french verb branler – to shake)
At the end of the day, again in a circle, delegates shared how Dance Day had been powerful for them.
“Dance is usually my enemy,” smiled Mani, “but today it was my friend.”
“Today I felt free,” shared Connor. “At school when I dance, people make fun of me, but here I’m free to do what I like to do.”
After a day spent with such powerful kids, artists and art-forms as part of such a powerful program, we felt like dancing all the way home.