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Students are taught Spanish through movement at camp
Pedro Szalay (right), artistic director of the Southwest Virginia Ballet, leads children through dance moves at Dance Español on Thursday at Albert Harris Elementary School. (Bulletin photos by Paul Collins)
“This guy’s got so much energy, he’ll be going for three hours,” pianist Robert Chapman told an observer.
Thursday was the third day of Dance Español, and Chapman was watching Pedro Szalay lead 17 children on the stage of Albert Harris Elementary School. Szalay is artistic director of the Southwest Virginia Ballet.
Chapman, organist at Broad Street Christian Church, was playing music improvisationally to go with the dozens of dance moves Szalay is teaching at the camp that incorporates Spanish language through dance movements.
Thirty-two rising fifth- through eight-graders signed up for the camp, said Heidi Pinkston, education coordinator for Piedmont Arts. The children are from Albert Harris, Patrick Henry, Sanville and Mount Olivet elementary schools, and Martinsville, Fieldale-Collinsville and Laurel Park middle schools.
Szalay was the instructor with Minds and Motion in Martinsville for several years when he was employed by the Richmond Ballet, Pinkston has said. Piedmont Arts announced in April that the Richmond Ballet was discontinuing Minds in Motion locally after 13 years due to budgetary and staffing constraints on the ballet. The program taught discipline, dedication and self-awareness through dance and incorporated information about a theme.
Piedmont Arts subsequently reached out to the Southwest Virginia Ballet to offer Dance Español as a two-week camp for students who had been invited to audition for Minds in Motion’s advanced performance teams XL and XXL, Piedmont Arts officials have said. The camp was offered in the mornings on Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday last week and this week. There will be a demonstration for the public at 11:30 a.m. Thursday in the Albert Harris auditorium.
Dancers from the Southwest Virginia Ballet (Southwest Virginia Ballet - USA) — one of three groups from the United States — recently competed in the New Prague Dance Festival in Prague, the Czech Republic, Szalay said. Fourteen countries were represented.
Dancers from Southwest Virginia Ballet-USA won four awards, first place in classical dance; the Grishko Award, the second highest prize, 1000 euros; “dance flower-bud,” or best young talent (Molly Cook of Lord Botetourt High School); and Szalay received a third-place award in the pedagogy of dance (or best teacher) category, according to Szalay and the dance festival website.
Szalay was born to Hungarian parents and is a native of La Guaira, Venezuela, according to the website of the Southwest Virginia Ballet.
On Thursday at Albert Harris, after leading students through warm-ups and stretches, Szalay had them do many dance moves as he spoke a mixture of Spanish and English.
At one point, students, after dividing into columns, moved forward in successive lines as they moved their feet left over right, forward, backward and in a series of forward steps.
They played an elimination game while doing dance moves.
They did a series of freeze frames, creating motionless scenes depicting action.
Throughout the morning, they did a variety of dance moves involving hand, feet and torsos.
Immediately before a break, they put all the moves together that they had learned and did a high-energy routine to lively recorded Latino music.
During a break, Enrique Penn and Caroline Cook, rising fifth-graders at Sanville Elementary; Isaleik Schoefield, a rising fifth-grader at Albert Harris Elementary; Faith Wilson, Marjorie Hankins, Kamari Thwaites and Isabelle Divers, rising fifth-graders at Patrick Henry Elementary; and Journey Sunkins, a rising sixth-grader at Patrick Henry, praised the camp, saying they were learning and enjoying it.
“It’s really fun,” Marjorie said. “Getting to learn the dances is a big part of it, but learning the Spanish is what makes it fun.”
However, Faith said, through dance “you get to express yourself through body movements.” She likes learning Spanish too, she said.
“I made some new friends,” Isabelle said.
“I love it,” Enrique and some others said of the camp.
“It’s amazing,” Journey said.
“It’s awesome,” Kamari added.
Szalay is “great with the kids. He shows respect and they show respect back,” Pinkston said,
“I’m just so pleased with the diverse group of kids,” said Kathy Rogers, executive director of Piedmont Arts. She added it is Piedmont Arts’ mission to provide opportunities for people to explore various forms of art.
Rogers said the camp cost about $2,500 to put on. The Harvest Foundation provided $1,000; Patrick Henry Community College, $500; and a private donor who supports Piedmont Arts gave a generous donation, Rogers said.
Pinkston also said she was grateful to Albert Harris Principal Felicia Preston for being accommodating. Pinkston said the camp was free to children.
Rogers said she hopes in a few years Dance Español, or something similar, could be expanded into a year-long residency in a collaboration between Piedmont Arts and Southwest Virginia Ballet.