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Exploring Asia through dance styles

By May 11, 2022May 18th, 2022No Comments

Verb visited Onaway Elementary School in Shaker Heights to present Exploring Asia–a visual and interactive performance program full of movement derived from Asian culture. The program was presented to about 60 students in three Kindergarten classes. Verb’s has had a long relationship with Onaway School. Marcie Denton, who asked Verb to return to the school, has remarked that she “has loved having Verb perform at Onaway in the past.”

Led by Education and Outreach Coordinator, Desmond L. Davis, Verb dancers took students and teachers alike on a 50-minute tour of the Asian continent. Students travelled to India where they explored yoga asanas based on animals with Company member, Kate. They posed like cats, cows, dogs, puppies, cobras, and pigeons and focused their minds with quick meditation in a seated lotus position. The company then performed an Indian- inspired dance in the Bollywood tradition that illustrated the process of pollination. Students were introduced to hasta mudras–hand gestures used in Bharata Natyam or Indian Classical dance–and practiced Om, Namaste, Lotus, Bee/Beetle and Butterfly gestures.

Students then visited China and were treated to a simple Chinese Fan dance and learned that fans were not merely decorative but were sometimes used as a weapon in martial arts and warfare. The students even shared their knowledge of Chinese culture with information about ramen, chopsticks and the differences between Chinese dragons and other dragons. Student volunteers were selected to inspect the fans and try their hands at holding the fans and try some of the fan positions they saw in the dance.

Then it was on to The Philippines, a string of over 7,600 islands in the southeast Asian Archipelago to watch a demonstration of Tinikling, the traditional dance of the world’s 5th largest island country by Verb dancers Isaac, Bryan, Kia and Ashley. The dance, done with parallel bamboo poles tapping, beating and sliding between two people with two or more people stepping, hopping and maneuvering between the rhythm of the poles, imitates the indigenous tikling bird with its legendary grace and speed that is often seen walking between grass stems, running over tree branches or dodging bamboo traps set by rice farmers. Students were encouraged to hop between the rhythmic beating of the poles to avoid capture.

The program closed with a modified performance of Verb’s signature work, Bolero. This work was choreographed by Ohio Ballet’s Heinz Poll has been an audience favorite for many years. The work, inspired by Poll’s travels to India and other parts of the world, was the perfect way to close the program. East Indian Bharata Natyam hand gestures are featured heavily in the work as well as a strong emphasis on Spanish Flamenco with sharp angles of the body and arms, rapid turns and percussive foot movements tied in nicely to the students understanding from the start of the program.

Before the students were dismissed, they were treated to short demonstrations of movement from other countries represented by Verb Ballets’ International Cultural Exchange dancers Bryan Andres Salinas of Colombia and Sikhumbuzo Hlahleni of South Africa.

The students were very engaged and clapped enthusiastically for the Verb dancers afterwards. The dancers made great impact with the students. Kia connected with one student who was very shy when she volunteered to try tinikling and some students were impressed with the fan dance and commented on their own connection to Chinese culture. One of the teachers who watched the program was even caught dancing Colombian rhythms after the dancers departed and imparted how much she enjoyed Bolero. It was a great opportunity building community and connection through dance.

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