Youth in Arts Mentor Artist Shahrzad Khorsandi worked with 2nd grade students at Cornell Elementary School in Albany for the 3rd year in a row through Youth in Arts’ Artists in Schools program, introducing students to Persian culture through the music and dance of regions across Iran.
We began with a discussion on the geography of the Middle East and Iran, introducing students to each area with a sample of different folk dances from the various regions of the country. The first class ended with everyone learning how to do the two-handed Persian snap (always a favorite and a challenge both for the students and teachers), which we could use throughout the residency to cheer for our peers.
Throughout the eight-week residency, each of the 4 classes learned a dance specific to a region of Iran. In the process, we learned about rhythm and patterns of movement, linking our sessions to and shape-making and understanding lines through our bodies. We then turned these shapes and lines into spatial patterns on the dance floor. Each class also worked in small groups to create their own movement patterns that they would do in a section of the choreography. This process gave the kids the opportunity to do problem solving and work on social skills, and allowed for the development of their own creative expression.
The residency ended in a culminating student performance with costumes/accessories. The parents were invited and all four classes got a chance to see each other perform, with almost 200 family members and supporters of all ages participating as audience members. During the culminating student performance, Shahrzad shares: “We worked for weeks on traditional dance moves from across Persia. Today you will see mix of some of those traditional moves and also some contemporary moves that the students created all on their own. This mix of old and new is part of the show today. In traditional Persian dance all the females would be in long skirts, in today’s show everybody dresses in any way they want and everyone is celebrated. They learned to dance in groups and to collaborate.”
Shahrzad describes working with kids as a job that is rewarding and fulfilling. She remembers one particularly special moment at the end of this residency when a student who had been crying and frustrated the day before the performance because he thought the performance was going to be a “failure”, ran to her after the show and hugged her, smiling, saying, “We did a great job!” Later, as Shahrzad was reading the colorful Thank-you notes/drawings from the kids, she saw the drawing from that same student and cried. Below is the drawing.