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Ephesus Elementary Celebrates Black History Month through Dance

By Stuart Phillips, CHCCS Communications Specialist

EES Dance BHM During the month of February, a walk down the halls of Ephesus Elementary School (EES) has offered the sounds of jazz, hip hop, classical and African music, as teachers have shared videos of Black dance and dancers across five genres. On Friday, February 17, Empower Dance performed two assemblies for all students, and the sounds of Stevie Wonder and “Dream Girls” filled the gym as students watched, almost motionless in their attention and delight. Welcome to Black History Month at EES, when a theme related to Black culture is explored in depth. This year, the theme is Black Dance, and a celebration of the CHCCS Core Values Wellness and Joy is in full swing!

The nine members of the EES Black History Month committee* have been meeting and planning since last fall to develop instruction that blends arts education, social studies and literacy. To supplement the existing EES collection of dance books, the Public School Foundation (PSF) provided $1,000 for books about Black Dance in every classroom, and those books have provided the anchor for each week’s exploration, from “When Langston Dances” and “Knockin’ on Wood”. 

On Monday morning of the fourth week, Kindergarten Teacher, Rachel Etheridge, shared the slides from the unit on hip hop, noting the dance form is one where you can make up your own rules. “Remember we talked about ballet and how they have positions for the feet,” Etheridge said. “Do you remember when we practiced first and second ballet positions?” She explained hip hop uses moves like “breaking” and “popping” and the dancing can happen anywhere, indoors or outdoors. When the students watched the first hip hop video, several students giggled and said, “I can do that”, and they all laughed. In the read-aloud book, “Hip Hop Lollipop,” they learned words like “exultation” and “jubilation”, and when their bodies couldn’t sit still any longer, Etheridge said, “Would you like to try a few hip hop moves?” Soon they were breaking and popping across the circle rug, jubilant indeed! Rachel EES hip hop

All of the kindergarten students are learning a brief, simple hip hop dance choreographed by Teacher Carly McCracken – one or two new steps each day, and they will “showcase” their dance on Friday, February 24.

Throughout the month, every Roadrunner has the opportunity to visit the media center during lunch period, to perform a dance for librarian Bailey Normann to video. Each Friday, the week’s recordings appear in the school’s Weekly News, and on March 2, the entire school is  invited to watch the full compilation of students dancing solo, in pairs, in formations and freestyle, and as they’ve learned about more dance genres, their own moves have become more varied and vibrant!

The instructional slides developed by the BHM committee include these words, “The accomplishments of Black Americans are often left out of history books. These stories matter a lot to us here at Ephesus. We know their stories deserve to be told! Each year, we pick a topic to study during Black History Month.”

During the first week of the unit, students learned about traditional dances found across the African continent, including griots, Zaouli and Indlamu, and they watched videos of various ceremonial dances. They learned how the West African Djembe drum is fundamental to many patterns of African dance, and they read “Drumbeat in our Feet,” which highlights the history and rich diversity of dance in different African cultures.

For the second week, students learned about the journey and challenges faced by Black dancers who aspired to perform in ballet companies, despite the widespread discrimination directed toward them. Early Black ballerinas were only allowed to perform in whiteface, but students also read about Misty Copeland, the first Black principal dancer in the American Ballet Theater.

During the week devoted to Modern Dance, students learned about early pioneers in the genre, like Pearl Primus and Alvin Ailey, and they watched a clip from the iconic Ailey dance, “The River.”

On to hip hop this week, and the final week will explore the many styles of American tap dance, based on African step dancing and clogging from the British Isles, but, like jazz music, considered one of the first true American forms of art. Students will read “Rap a Tap Tap,” and view clips of Savion Glover tapping alongside Elmo in Sesame Street.

Students have reflected their excitement and appreciation for the month of Black Dance in their classroom comments: First Grade Teacher, Danielle Rafetto asked her students what they’ve liked so far and their responses included, “I like celebrating BHM because I like seeing everyone else's dance moves” (Louise), “I like BHM so much because I like learning about different cultures and different dances around the world” (August) and “I like BHM because of all the dance videos we have seen and the performances we saw in real life” (Brianna).

EES thank you card

Second Grade Teacher, Kara O’Dor’s students wrote thank you notes to the Empower Dance company, One student wrote, "Thank you for danceing at Ephesus. To be honest I could whach for ever," and another, “Thank you for the awesome dance. I like the one with the flag. It was so beautiful I forgot I was at school.”  Transported by JOY!

See additional compilations of student dances here and here.

*Rachel Etheridge- Kindergarten Teacher
Jan Alston- Third Grade Teacher
Teia McCall- Kindergarten TA
Courtney Sears- EC Resource Teacher
Bruce Manning- After School Site Director
Tracy Anders- Pre-K Teacher
Caroline Nisbet- Fourth Grade Teacher
Jasmine Gray- EC TA
Candace Spinks- Assistant Principal

CHCCS District Headlines stories are written on a regular basis by the CHCCS Division of Communications, with assistance from a network of school-based “storytellers” who share tips and ideas throughout the school year. The goal is to share real-world examples of the CHCCS Strategic Plan in action. Know about a story worth telling from your school? Contact the CHCCS Communications team at