Musicopia And Dancing Classrooms Philly Prepare Royer-Greaves Students For May 18 Performance
Not all Royer-Greaves School for Blind students and adults can walk, but they can all dance. And dance, sing, and drum they will at a special May 18 public performance, to be held from 2 to 3:30 p.m. in the school auditorium at 118 S. Valley Road in Paoli, PA.
Royer-Greaves serves students and adults who have visual disabilities coupled with additional physical, intellectual, developmental, and/or emotional disabilities. All spring, they have studied with professional musicians and dancers who are teaching artists from two non-profit organizations dedicated to bringing music and dance to students of all abilities across Greater Philadelphia: Dancing Classrooms Philly and Musicopia - in preparation for the May 18 performance, "Dancing and Drumming."
With the teaching and guidance of these artists-in-residence and the assistance of their own teachers and aides this spring, the Royer-Greaves students and adults have played percussion on buckets-turned-drums, belted out tunes made popular by performers from Katy Perry to Bob Marley, and moved their bodies or their wheels to merengue, salsa, fox trot, hip hop and waltz. On May 18, the Royer-Greaves students and adults will be accompanied by the musicians and dancers who taught them and an orchestra of Musicopia musicians.
The programs are free to Royer-Greaves, paid for through grants the organizations received from the Widener Memorial Foundation in Aid of Handicapped Children.
Singing, dancing, and drumming all require focus and following directions, skills that are an important components of Royer-Greaves education programs, said Physical Education Teacher Ryan Mason. The mental and physical rigors of performance leave students and adults relaxed and calm, Royer-Greaves Music Director and Therapist Suzanne Kane noted.
The Magic of Movement
When it's time to dance, Royer-Greaves students or adults are each paired with a staff member or aide - many of whom were also learning some of these dances for the first time. Modifications made for those who use wheelchairs allow everyone to dance together, said Kane. "When we are doing the rumba, for example, the people who use wheelchairs are wheeling backward and forward while others do the two-step around a square, but everyone is moving together around the room."
Dancing is an enjoyable way for students and adults to practice following instructions and work on their coordination and social skills, Mason said."No matter who you are - an outgoing person or a shy one - and regardless of your abilities, people like to move. Music gives our students and adults an outlet to move expressively," he said.
In every school where Dancing Classrooms Philly offers its programming, dancing allows students and teachers to interact with each other in a new way, which can strengthen relationships, said DCP Managing Director Kate Lombardi. Dancing also gives people a new way to shine, and Lombardi has seen that at Royer-Greaves. "There is one dancer in the education program who loves everything about dancing, and she started wanting to dress up for the class."
"I brought her a pink tutu and a tiara," said dancer, choreographer, and Dancing Classrooms Philly instructor Debbie Lynch - known by her students as Miss Debbie. Lynch dances with the students at times, holding the hands of those who use wheelchairs while their aides help with the turns and spins.
Voices and Bucket Drumming
Percussionist and Musicopia Teaching Artist Leon Jordan Sr. has toured and recorded with some of the biggest names in jazz and R&B, from Lou Rawls to Chaka Kahn. He founded and leads Philadelphia's Renaissance Orchestra, and his work with special needs students and brain injured adults has been recognized by the Pennsylvania Council of the Arts and duplicated nationally.
This spring at Royer-Greaves, he began by teaching students and adults to identify which locations on a bucket produce certain sounds. He supported and encouraged them to the point where they can experience the magic of performing as an ensemble. "Matching synchronization is a way they can communicate with each other even if they are non-verbal," he said. "I can see it happening. I can identify by their reactions that they know when a rhythm is starting to line up. And it is motivating for them when they can hear that other members of the ensemble are starting to get it."
It's motivating for Jordan, too. "We start in the beginning, where most have had no experience at all with ensemble participation. And where we end up is pretty rewarding," he said.
Singer Songwriter and Musicopia Teaching Artist Alexandra Day performs with Renaissance Orchestra, plays other gigs around the region, and teaches private voice and piano students through her studio, The Music Dispatch. Because Royer students and adults have vision impairment, Day cannot teach from the front of the room using visual signals like smiles of approval. She must move throughout the class and speak to them one-on-one.
When working with a group that has some non-verbal members, Day chooses songs that have vocalizations that aren't words, such as Katy Perry's "Roar." That song, performed at another school she worked with, taught Day how important it can be to choose songs with components that aren't words. " There was a student there who, during practices, didn't sing or make a whole lot of movements or facial expressions. Then, during the performance, she sang the 'oh-oh-oh-oh-oh-oh-oh-oh-oh' parts at the top of her lungs. It was like she woke up."
At Royer-Greaves, one boy spent most classes this spring moving to the music, but not making any noise. That changed during the last class. "He started singing out!" Day said. "It was the first time I had ever heard him make any noise, and it was so exciting."
In most ways, teaching vocal music to students and adults with disabilities doesn't differ much from teaching those without.
"A lot of kids have been told they can't sing, regardless of what their disabilities or abilities are," she said. "They all need a lot of encouragement."
About the event: "Dancing and Drumming," to be held from 2 to 3:30 p.m. on Saturday, May 18 in the Royer-Greaves gym, is free and open to the public. The school's parent group will be selling 50/50 raffle tickets at the door. Refreshments will be served, so please RSVP by calling the school at 610-644-1810.
Royer-Greaves School for Blind, founded in 1921 and located in Paoli, PA, serves children and adults with a visual impairment/blindess and a co-occurring intellectual and/or physical disability. The Royer-Greaves community focuses on developing the unique abilities of each person served through individual support and attention. For more information, please visit www.royer-greaves.org.
Dancing Classroom Philly was founded in 2007, and since then has served more than 25,000 fifth and eighth grade Greater Philadelphia students in public, charter and parochial schools. DCP's mission is to foster self-esteem, social awareness and joy in children by providing the opportunity to learn and perform ballroom dance. For more information, please visit www.dancingclassroomsphilly.org.
Musicopia provides opportunities for children to experience, learn, perform and appreciate music. Founded in 1974, Musicopia is a recognized leader in rebuilding and revitalizing school music programs, and since then has helped more than 300,000 children experience the benefits of first-hand exposure to the arts. For more information, please visit www.musicopia.net.