On May Day in Canterbury Elementary School’s gymnasium, half of its fourth grade class danced in front of their parents and peers instead of around a maypole and the rest of the fourth grade class rapped, creating a festive new twist to the centuries old tradition. Canterbury fourth graders amazed their audience with their rapping and break dancing performances, which they had been perfecting for five weeks with Progressive Arts Alliance artist-educators Sister Salima, who taught rapping, and Julian Mendez, who taught break dancing. Canterbury’s rap and break dance performances were a part of a PAA arts-in-education residency program in Cleveland Heights schools that the Ohio Arts Council helped fund with state tax dollars to encourage economic growth, educational excellence and cultural enrichment for all Ohioans. Some of the children could not wait to get in front of their classmates to show them what the PAA artist-educators had taught them.
According to Nancy Thorne, her daughter had been “excited” about being able to perform. “My daughter had been showing me her dance moves weeks before her performance,” she said. Mendez, who is also a dancer with the Cleveland Cavaliers Scream Team, said he enjoyed teaching Canterbury fourth graders about break dancing. Mendez said he not only taught break dancing moves to the children, but break dancing history and terminology as well. He said it is important for children to get the right information about how hip-hop can be positive. “I like to instill a positive influence in the kids,” Mendez said after a student asked him for his autograph.Mendez said break dancing teaches focus, which is crucial to success in life. Salima said rapping also teaches focus and other crucial skills such as memorization and summarization.
Selima taught students how to turn a children’s story and their school’s code into rap songs. According to Selima, rap allowed her to have the students’ attention while she taught them language arts. “A lot of kids listen to hip-hop so this program meets them on their level,” said Canterbury teacher Lisa Stewart.When the Canterbury fourth graders rapped their school’s code as part of their performance, they spelled out its acronym. Through rapping about the children’s story they had learned, the students displayed how they understood its composition. Selima said she had gone over the story’s elements, such as its characters and plot, with the children for their rap performance. When the fourth graders’ performances ended, parents and students cheered. “I think the program is wonderful,” Thorne said, noting her daughter started a dance group outside of school because of the PAA program. “It’s nice to have something the kids can get into and that is relevant.”