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Northern Elementary: Students learn dance, culture using web technology

What if you could instantly bring in someone from Africa to teach you an African dance, or a professional hip-hop artist to teach you the latest break dancing moves?

Students at Northern Elementary School did just that from Nov. 10-20.

Using Distance Learning classes, or ITV, professional music artists from Minneapolis were projected onto a wall in the gymnasium via videoconferencing technology.

The classes are through the Minnesota Shubert Center, a nonprofit performing arts center located in downtown Minneapolis. When its construction is finally completed, the center will focus specifically on providing support to Minnesota artists and arts organizations.

Using Internet-protocol videoconferencing and Web technologies, the MSC brings artists into school classrooms, creating two-way interactive, real-time teaching. Students and artists living miles apart can see and talk to one another as if they were in the same room.

"It's neat because even though the instructor is on a big white screen, he can say to the kids, 'Hey, you, in front wearing purple," said physical education instructor Sherry Holloway.

Holloway learned of the MSC ITV classes when she took a class taught by B-Boy Jason "J-Sun" Noer at an education conference last summer.

"Dance is a lifelong fitness activity," Holloway said. "Not only is it important to stay active, but the dance instructors talk about what they've gone through to get where they are today," Holloway said.

The dance lessons integrate dance, music, physical education, geography and social studies. At the end, each grade puts on a lengthy dance performance using the skills they learned.

Instructor Christian Adeti, founder of Titambe Dance Company, had the fourth-grade students dancing and drumming to the beats of Ghana, New Guinea and South Africa in his class. The students learn drumming techniques and the symbolism of the ancient beats from the African continent.

"I like having fun and dancing with my friends. Some moves are really tiring," said fourth-grader Gunnar Aas.

Noer, Minnesota's premiere break dancing choreographer and teacher, had the fifth-graders spinning on the ground, kicking their legs in the air and even top-rocking on the floor. After the dance is learned and tried, Noer includes a lesson in the history of this American dance genre.

"The spinning arm moves are hard," said fourth-grader Kitara Quick. "I like (Adeti's) accent. And it's a lot of fun to watch all my friends learn the dance."

The MSC education programs are delivered over IP Videoconferencing technology. Minnesota schools that do not have this equipment can borrow it from the MSC free of charge. MSC education programs are free to schools in Minnesota.