Kids and pros to show off dance skills |

Kids and pros to show off dance skills

Stewart Oksenhorn
Aspen Times Staff Writer

Celebrate the Beat! a local dance education program, is a grand undertaking.

For the past three weeks, the program has provided dance instruction each day to all of the students and teachers at the Aspen Community School, and to entire grades of the Carbondale Community School, the Aspen Middle School and the Crystal River Elementary School.

In addition to dance, the students, ranging from kindergartners to eighth-graders, have learned about early jazz-dance music, by such composers as Fats Waller, Louis Armstrong and Duke Ellington.

Celebrate the Beat! concludes today in equally ambitious fashion, with performances featuring all 300 students who participated in the program. The hour-long shows will be held at the Aspen District Theatre at 10 a.m. and 1 p.m. and 6 p.m. No tickets are required for the two earlier performances; tickets for the 6 p.m. performance are available at the Wheeler Opera House box office for $10.

In addition to the student dancers, the performances will feature five alumni of the New York-based National Dance Institute (NDI), with which Celebrate the Beat! is affiliated.

The presentation ” titled “The Harlem Renaissance Visits Aspen” ” will include a nine-piece band, costumes created by a two-person team, and mural backdrop by the Aspen Middle School fifth grade, based on painter Jacob Lawrence’s “Brownstones” and connected to the overall Harlem theme.

The performers will dance in a style that Celebrate the Beat! called “street jazz,” created by NDI founder Jacques d’Amboise. “It’s very nontechnical, based on pedestrian movements,” said Tracy Strauss, artistic director of Celebrate the Beat! “But when 100 children are moving in the same way, it’s very powerful.”

The purpose of the program goes beyond dance. We use dance to teach life lessons ” the merits of hard work, how good it feels to give 100 percent, and to be excellent ” to reach your own excellence,” said Strauss, whose team includes a co-teacher, two assistants, a music director, two local coordinators and many volunteers. “It’s really about teamwork. It gives them an experience that translates to other parts of their lives.”

Strauss, 37, was a performer in New York in the early ’90s when a former high school English teacher told her about an NDI performance she had seen in Brooklyn. “She said, you’ve got to see this. This is what you’ve got to do,” said Strauss. “And I flipped over it. I was acting and dancing, but I wanted to do more.”

Strauss began a summer apprenticeship with NDI. She is now an associate artistic director with NDI, which conducts year-round dance programs in New York schools.

NDI was founded 27 years ago by d’Amboise “with the belief that arts have the unique ability to transform kids’ lives,” said Strauss.

The current program is the fourth time Strauss has brought Celebrate the Beat! into the Aspen schools.

[Stewart Oksenhorn’s e-mail address is]

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