The new school year at Silk Hope School has kicked off with a burst of creativity and infectious energy as fifth- and seventh-grade students embarked on an unforgettable dance journey. Thanks to the spirited and diverse dance company, Gaspard&Dancers, young learners had the unique opportunity to engage in a dance residency that culminated in a breathtaking professional performance right on school grounds.
Gaspard&Dancers, led by former Pilobolus dancer Gaspard Louis, are all about modern dance. They’ve been strutting their stuff since 2009 and are based in Durham, North Carolina. Their mission? To create, perform, and teach dance that’s innovative, expressive, and inspiring–no matter your age or background.
Silk Hope Workshops :: Whew! My Heart is Beating!
During this exciting residency, kids got to team up with the artists for all sorts of warm-ups–and to learn new choreography. Laughter, smiles, and a good dose of effort were all around. One student couldn’t help but exclaim, “Whew! My heart is beating!” To which a dancer replied, “But it feels good, doesn’t it?”
The artists cleverly infused beloved games like Simon Says with dance elements, challenging students to follow choreography and strike specific poses, often with only certain body parts touching the floor.
The kids loved getting creative and making group depictions of all kinds, from pizza to cheerleading to Thanksgiving dinner.
And once they learned that this dance concept is called “tableaus,” they couldn’t stop using the term with fondness and ease.
Dancer Connor Freeman summed it up beautifully when explaining to students how impactful dance can be: “Music is ideas made audible, and dance is ideas made visible.”
These students soaked up choreography like sponges. Teachers couldn’t resist the allure of dance either, jumping in to help and to showcase their own moves.
The Performance :: Big Joy, Big Lifts, No Backflips
The grand finale was a performance by the entire Gaspard&Dancers company.
They treated the students to three professional dances from their current repertoire. G&D Artistic Director Gaspard Louis shared the stories and inspiration behind the dances, adding a touch of Haitian culture to the mix.
At the end of the professional performance, Gaspard&Dancers invited fifth- and seventh-graders to join them on stage and perform the dance routine they’d learned during the workshops. Hands went up in a flash when the dancers asked for volunteers.
Silk Hope music teacher Zach Wills was pleasantly surprised: “Students I wouldn’t have imagined would get into dance were the first to raise their hands and perform!”
After the show, the dancers took questions from the students. Kids wanted to know how long the dancers had been practicing–and asked whether any of them could do a fancy backflip. (The answer: Yes, but not on this cement floor!)
Upon Reflection :: Learning “How to Be More Me“
Anyone watching dancer AJ Guevara, a seasoned pro with G&D, could see that the kids’ energy fed him during the performance. Afterward, he reflected on the happiness he felt when the students laughed or called out, recognizing when the professional dancers were doing bits of choreography they’d taught in the workshops.
Dancer Marsha Guirlande Pierre nodded in agreement, sharing that working with the Silk Hope kids felt like a gift she was receiving–rather than something she was giving.
And dancer Evan Lee Wilkins, who grew up in rural North Carolina, said he wished he had gotten to experience something like an arts residency when he was young. “It would have been a huge deal for me. Something like this can help a kid feel seen.”
In the span of just a few transformative days, Silk Hope School kids got to experience the joy of dance–and they cracked the door open a bit wider to their creative potential, expressing themselves in new ways. One fifth-grader summarized the experience: [I learned] “how to be more me.“
That’s a sense of belonging right there. That’s the arts changing lives.
This residency was sponsored by the Lily McCoy Voller Stargazer Fund and is part of the Chatham Arts Council’s Artists-in-Schools Initiative, in partnership with Chatham County Schools.
Arts for Resilient Kids programming is made possible by partnerships with Chatham County Schools, Chatham County, the North Carolina Arts Council, and many individual, foundation, and business donors. If you feel inspired to help continue this mission of education kids through the arts, click here to donate.