One of the reasons why I was first attracted to international dancing, and have so enjoyed teaching, performing, and participating in this field, besides that I love the world’s music, is that I am interested in the cultures and languages of our planet’s peoples.
So I was excited when invited a few months ago to be the artist-in-residence in the music classes for two elementary schools in a school district that is known to have the most languages spoken in our area.
The first day (of the two I got with each class), I looked at the variety and array of faces sitting on the floor in front of me, introduced myself and asked their names; this gave me a clue to their cultures. Then “Who speaks Arabic?” As hands went up, the Syrian and Iraqi students smiled with pleasure that I, the guest teacher, knew about their language.
Then I asked, “Who speaks Tagalog?” And a couple of Filipino boys waved at me. “Who speaks Urdu?” and several Pakistani girls, one wearing the hijab, put hands up. “Anyone speak Albanian?” Two girls, looking at each other in astonishment, reached high. “How about Mandarin?” A couple of smiling faces nodded at me. “Spanish?” Many hands went up.
I remembered to ask, “Whose language did I miss?” And one after another I would hear “Gujarati,” “Punjabi,” “Hindi,” “Yoruba,” “Cantonese,” “Assyrian,” even Russian and Hebrew from a few third-generation children.
And, finally, “Who speaks English?” There was lots of giggling as one, sometimes two, hands apiece were waved high in the air from every child.
Now all the faces were looking at me as I gathered their attention with, “Here’s a language we can all speak together—American Sign Language,” and signed to them, “Hi, how are you?” Then we practiced how they could show me “fine,” “so-so,” “not good,” and—both palms pushing toward the ceiling—“awesome!” All with appropriate facial expressions.
After a moment to decide how they were feeling at that moment, I signed again, “Hi, how are you?” There was a nice variety of signed responses.
I managed to get them through four or five ethnic music games and communal folk dances before it was time to line up at the door. I knew it all went well in each class that week when, as they were just about to leave, I signed once more, “Hi, how are you?” And every student gave me a big smile and showed me “Awesome!”
April 4, 2018
Happy New Year 2017
Here it is, the end of January 2017, and there’s a lot I could be writing. However, I just want to offer these thoughts:
If you are reading this now, then you must be an educator–someone connected to music and/or dance and/or cultures, and surely involved in communal types of activities with schools, children, families, and community organizations.
Please remember and believe that in spite of or because of whatever happens in our society, you are doing vital and desperately needed work. I appreciate and admire you, and am here to help you continue doing it.
Here are some thoughts that I didn’t write, but also appreciate and admire:
— Look for John Pavlovitz’s “Let the Record Show”:
— Two signs from the January 21 marches:
“We Shall Overcomb” and “We’ve Seen Better Cabinets at IKEA”
— (from Bettina Gruber’s Facebook page):
“IF YOU STUMBLE, MAKE IT PART OF THE DANCE”
I wish for you a year of health, enjoyment, and love.
As many of you know, my life changed shockingly and devastatingly when I suddenly and unexpectedly lost Mars, my dear husband and partner (in dance, business, and life) on October 4, 2014.
What has gotten me through each long day is the loving and supportive community of family and friends that I am so lucky to have around me. Two of them are Chris and Iris Derfler, whom I would like to introduce here as my new partners in FolkStyle Productions (FSP), the company Mars and I created in 1990 to develop and sell CDs and DVDs to support my world dance workshops for teachers and students. (In the early ‘90s, we were producing audio cassettes and videotapes!)
Chris and Iris are not only close, longtime friends, but it is Chris who has been at schools and dance events with me to tape, and then produce, every FolkStyle video/DVD, except the first one. He has also continued to work with us, recording and taping most of the products, so it is natural and comfortable that he should carry on our business.
Also, during the past decade, Susan Bencomo assisted Mars in much of the day-to-day work of FolkStyle Productions, while I traveled to teach. I am grateful that Susan has been with us this past difficult year to continue her loyal and intelligent support, and still comes part-time to help us carry on.
“Us” is me and my wonderful son, Mick Hans, who lives in Chicago and to whom I am profoundly grateful for managing my life in so many ways. My wonderful daughter, Jessica Lawless, who lives in Oakland, California, has also given me important and sensitive long-distance support.
And many, many thanks to Dusan Vukosinovic of Virtus Group, who designed and managed our former FolkStyle Productions website and brought us into the e-commerce era. It has been a pleasure to work all these years with this smart, kind man who appreciates ethnic dance.
Now Mick and Susan are working with Chris and Iris to make a smooth transition for FSP, and helping me in other vital ways. We look forward to answering your questions, hearing your comments, and sending you our FolkStyle Productions CDs and DVDs.