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Lincoln students experience Mexican music and culture

  • Ximena Violante of “Mexico Beyond Mariachi” teaches some rhythmic movement to third graders at Lincoln Elementary School Wednesday. (Press photo James Grob.)

  • Third-grade students practice their “dancer smiles” at Lincoln Elementary School Wednesday. (Press photo James Grob.)

  • Alda Reuter of “Mexico Beyond Mariachi” introduces third-graders to an eight-stringed ukelele-type musical instrument called the “mosquito” at Lincoln Elementary School Wednesday. (Press photo James Grob.)

  • Alda Reuter of “Mexico Beyond Mariachi” teaches third-graders some dance moves Wednesday at Lincoln Elementary School. (Press photo James Grob.)

  • Ximena Violante of “Mexico Beyond Mariachi” teaches some rhythmic movement to third graders at Lincoln Elementary School Wednesday. (Press photo James Grob.)

  • Alda Reuter of “Mexico Beyond Mariachi” teaches third-graders some dance moves Wednesday at Lincoln Elementary School. (Press photo James Grob.)

By James Grob, jgrob@charlescitypress.com

This has been a week filled with dance, art and culture at Lincoln Elementary School in Charles City — and there’s still a couple of days to go.

“We’re excited to be here,” said Amy Hunzelman, director of education and outreach for the University of Northern Iowa’s Gallagher Bluedorn Performing Arts Center.

“Being in rural Iowa, there aren’t as many experiences for teachers and students, so we wanted to provide additional opportunities for students and teachers to get excited about the arts,” she said.

Lincoln Elementary, in collaboration with Gallagher-Bluedorn, brought in an artist in residence this week to teach specialized lessons connected with a performance the students will be seeing on Thursday.

“Through Amy, we were able to bring the actual performers here to Lincoln today. They’re doing some different workshops with our third graders,” Lincoln Principal Marcia DeVore said Wednesday. “Throughout the rest of the week, on Monday and Tuesday, we have a teacher who provided some background lessons both on dance and on Mexican culture.”

The teacher is Christina Farrell, the founding director of Opera Ignite out of Cedar Rapids, which is arts integration specialists who teach through music, drama and movement.

“We are using a local teaching artist to deliver a little bit more of the lessons, connecting it to what they already know about Mexico, and how it relates to their day-to-day learning here,” Hunzelman said.

Farrell held workshops at Lincoln on Monday and Tuesday, and will return for a final workshop on Friday.

She received her Bachelor of Fine Arts in vocal performance from Carnegie Mellon University and her Master of Arts in educational theater from New York University. As founding director of Opera Ignite, she has conducted classroom residencies, professional development for teachers and audience engagement workshops.

On Thursday, the students will travel to the Gallagher Bluedorn Performing Arts Center to watch a performance of “Sugar Skull! A Día De Los Muertos Musical Adventure,” part of the UNI Performing Arts Center’s Kaleidoscope series for youth.

“Sugar Skull!” delves into the rich, tuneful traditions of Día de los Muertos (the day of the dead). The colorful stage production features a company of gifted musicians and dancers, and some of them were at Lincoln on Wednesday.

“We are here in Charles City at Lincoln to kind of preview for the third graders what they’re going to see on stage,” Hunzelman said.

The production is presented by Mexico Beyond Mariachi, which describes itself as a multi-cultural ensemble of professional musicians, actors, dancers and teaching artists “whose love of Mexican traditions and way of life shines bright in every performance.”

The groups offers extensive arts-in-education residencies, workshops, and lecture demonstrations.

Members of Mexico Beyond Mariachi held two different workshops with the students at Lincoln on Wednesday. Both included participatory activities, discussion and student-centered work to connect them with Thursday’s performance. One workshop had more movement and dancing. The other had more learning about traditional instruments and musical culture.

“It’s really exciting to get them up and out of their desks,” Hunzelman said about the Lincoln students. “They’re going to be experiencing movement, experiencing music, in preparation for the show tomorrow.”

Hunzelman said the week-long residency is unique for Gallagher Bluedorn.

“This is the first time we’ve done it in 10-15 years, that is, being in a community for a week-long engagement,” she said. “A lot of times this model is one day, and one day only. There certainly is a benefit to providing multiple experiences or touch points for students and teachers.”

She said that Charles City has been a big supporter of the Kaleidoscope series at UNI.

“We wanted to kind of pay back their support,” she said. “They’re always coming to us to experience the arts on stage, so we wanted to bring the arts to their classroom and their environment.”

Gallagher Bluedorn’s Kaleidoscope Series is meant to create a deeper understanding of classroom subjects, serving as a supplementary tool in teaching core curriculum. The series strives to provide multiple opportunities for youths to experience a wide range of the performing arts, to serve underserved rural communities.

“Our local parent-teacher organization has been the backbone behind us being able to go to the Kaleidoscope performances,” DeVore said. “They have sponsored a trip to a performance each year for all grade levels for as long as I have been here.”

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