Tupelo Middle School students learning about dance

By Chris Kieffer/NEMS Daily Journal

Listening to a Black Eyed Peas song, students in Danielle Frerer’s class at Tupelo Middle School tried to imitate the African dance moves their teacher had just demonstrated.
Since August, 45 seventh- and eighth-graders have learned several different dancing styles. Yet Frerer said her Art in Motion class is about much more than dance.
“They learn more about dance but they also learn more about themselves,” Frerer said. “I would like them to know different styles of dance technique and use their bodies to express themselves and be creative and put emotion into their movement.”
Not long after learning the West African Yole dance, the students divided into two groups, wrapped in fabric cloths that made makeshift African skirts.
One student read an African folk tale from the book “The Laughing River” and the other students used their bodies to represent what they heard. The story is about two tribes having to work together.
“We take big themes and use them in our dances, like peace and unity and being positive,” Frerer said.
This is the first year that the Art in Motion class has been taught at TMS. Frerer has two classes and 45 students. One class meets in the morning and the other convenes in the afternoon.
This year all of her students are girls, but she said several male students have expressed interest in joining the class next year.
“I think they see how much fun we’re having, and they want to be a part of it,” Frerer said.
While the students have different levels of experience, many of them are new to dancing.
“I’m really proud to see them growing,” Frerer said. “They’ve really improved.”
Seventh-grader Portoria Birks, 12, said she has been dancing since she was 5 but had never taken lessons.
“I took the class because I like to dance,” Portoria said. “I have friends in here, and I get to learn about different cultures.”
Seventh-grader Molly Homan said the great thing about the class is that everyone starts on the same level and learns the dances together. She said she has enjoyed learning the messages being conveyed by different dances.
During the fall, the students learned ballet and hip-hop dances. This semester, they’ll also learn ballroom dance. The class has even performed at a few school events.
Frerer said she spends several weeks teaching each dance, taking time to explain the fundamentals and even cultural significance. Students also take written tests about vocabulary, styles and fundamentals of dance.
“I love dancing, and I always have,” Molly said. “To be able to do it at school is a fun thing.”

Contact Chris Kieffer at (662) 678-1590 or at chris.kieffer@djournal.com.