Students in Grant Elementary School’s Dancing and Drumming group spent part of their Saturday afternoon performing African dances for a small crowd at the South Hill Library as part of the library’s Black History Month programs.
Children in the audience were invited to join in on some of the dances and in several African games and many did, some enthusiastically and some more tentatively.
Music teacher Kevin Cope has led the group, which was created by former music teacher Margo Dries, for 21 years.
“It was started in 1974 to help our African American kids be proud of their heritage,” Cope said.
Grant Elementary is unique in that it serves many minority and immigrant students, Cope said. Some of them come from African countries. “Our school has lots of people from other countries,” he said.
The dancing and drumming group has 40 members, 25 of whom are in the traveling group that does various public performances. Everyone is welcome to be a member, no matter what their ethnicity, Cope said. Previous members have hailed from countries like Cambodia, Vietnam, Uganda, Sudan and Ethiopia.
“We have somebody from Iraq in our group,” he said. “It’s anybody who’s willing to come and work hard and dance.”
Students can join in the third grade, though a couple second graders are in the group right now. They practice after school every Monday, learning dances from Zimbabwe, Ghana, Nigeria and other countries.
The students who are members not only learn about African drumming and dances, they also learn how to work together toward a common goal, Cope said. Then they can teach what they’ve learned to others, which is why they agreed to perform at the library’s Black History Month event.
“Our goal is to teach some African culture,” Cope said. “Hopefully they’ll learn something a little different, a little new.”
Saturday’s performance included a Nigerian welcome dance, a harvest dance from Ghana, a South African freedom dance and several more. Each time Cope would explain the significance of the dance and how it was used in its culture. He invited people to get up and join in if they wanted to.
“In Africa it is not normal for people to sit and watch people drumming and dancing, so if the spirit moves you….” he said.
Fifth grader Junior Veynde has been a part of the group since the third grade.
“One day they were performing at school,” he said. “I thought it would be cool to join.”
He was born in Uganda, though his family has lived in the United States for the last seven years. He said he enjoys the drumming and dancing.
“It makes me feel like myself, because I’m from Africa,” he said.
Fifth grader Daniel Fakasiieiki usually plays one of the drums.
“Most of my family has been in drummers and dancers,” he said. “I just wanted to continue the tradition. I like drummers and dancers because of the people that are part of it and the places we get to go.”
Fifth-grader Clara Hansen also enjoys being in the group because of the people in it and how understanding they are.
“Even if you make a mistake, kids aren’t yelling at you or mad at you,” she said.
She has also been a member of the group since the third grade.
“I’ve wanted to join since the second grade,” she said. “It just seemed really fun and Mr. Cope is my favorite teacher at my school.”
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