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Music and movement: Pine Pals preschoolers give mini dance performance for GoldPine 'grandfriends'

Two preschool classes at the Pine Pals Intergenerational Learning Child Care and Preschool in Bemidji spent about 30 minutes entertaining the older residents at GoldPine — fondly referred to as “grandfriends” — with music and dancing as part of Pine Pals second anniversary celebration this week.

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Instructor Gwen LaVine leads Pine Pals preschoolers in “Hey, Mister Sunshine” during a mini dance performance on Thursday, Dec. 1, 2022, for residents at GoldPine Home in Bemidji.
Annalise Braught / Bemidji Pioneer
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BEMIDJI — Thirty-four little feet pattered down the long hallways of the GoldPine Home on Thursday morning as 17 Pine Pals preschoolers made their way to visit their “grandfriends.”

Two preschool classes at the Pine Pals Intergenerational Learning Child Care and Preschool in Bemidji spent about 30 minutes entertaining the older residents at GoldPine — fondly referred to as “grandfriends” — with music and dancing as part of Pine Pals second anniversary celebration this week.

Leading the charge and entirety of the dance program was Gwen LaVine, who has been a fixture at Pine Pals since it began in 2020, thanks to her personal connection with its founders Lydia Pietruszewski and her sister Olive Smith.

“Lydia was one of my dance students in high school and then she brought her kids to my dance class and we’ve just stayed connected (over the years),” LaVine detailed. “Then she and her sister (Olive) invited me to come and be part of their Pine Pals. I just love it.”

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Instructor Gwen LaVine leads Pine Pals preschoolers in the “butterfly dance” during a mini dance performance on Thursday, Dec. 1, 2022, for residents at GoldPine Home in Bemidji.
Annalise Braught / Bemidji Pioneer

LaVine has worked in various roles as a fitness, wellness and dance instructor for 40 years in Bagley where she was also an award-winning dance team coach for years with the Bagley School District, Pietruszewski explained.

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“My own children, nieces and nephews attended her dance classes when they were young,” Pietruszewski said, “and we all fell in love with Gwen's zest for life and her knowledge and practice of igniting the powerful brain and body connections that happen with rhythmic movement.”

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Pine Pals preschoolers play musical instruments during a mini dance performance on Thursday, Dec. 1, 2022, for residents at GoldPine Home in Bemidji.
Annalise Braught / Bemidji Pioneer

During that time, LaVine also instructed rhythm classes that brought children and residents together at Cornerstone Nursing Home in Bagley, while Pietruszewski was in the process of planning their programming at Pine Pals.

“It was always my hope to get Gwen involved somehow with our intergenerational program at Pine Pals and GoldPine,” Pietruszewski said. “As health cautions have lifted more after the pandemic, we were able to invite our GoldPine grandfriends over to participate in our Tuesday ‘Music and Movement’ classes with Gwen.”

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Lydia Pietruszewski, Pine Pals co-founder and director, watches as preschoolers participated in a mini dance performance on Thursday, Dec. 1, 2022, for residents at GoldPine Home in Bemidji.
Annalise Braught / Bemidji Pioneer

Any GoldPine resident who wanted to watch on Thursday was welcome to come and enjoy the short dance and music program, which included favorites such as “Wheels on the Bus,” "Hey, Mister Sun" and “If You're Happy and You Know It.”

“Stand up and wave at your grandfriends,” LaVine told the children as they took their places and were ready to begin.

After a few songs that involved dancing, running and jumping to the music, a soft instrumental song was played for the "butterfly dance." Each of the children were able to choose their favorite color of chiffon scarf to use for the dance, then curled up on the floor for their performance.

“We’ve been practicing being a cocoon and then coming awake and turning into butterflies,” LaVine explained to the residents.

As the song progressed, LaVine led the children in coming awake and spreading their scarves as if they were wings as they danced to the music.

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Pine Pals preschoolers, from left, Charlotte Aakhus, Grayson Gramke, Taylor Waterman, Noah Voss participate in the “butterfly dance” during a mini dance performance on Thursday, Dec. 1, 2022, for residents at GoldPine Home in Bemidji.
Annalise Braught / Bemidji Pioneer
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Instructor Gwen LaVine leads Pine Pals preschoolers in “Going on a Bear Hunt” during a mini dance performance on Thursday, Dec. 1, 2022, for residents at GoldPine Home in Bemidji.
Annalise Braught / Bemidji Pioneer

To round out the dancing portion of the program, the children’s special request of “Going on a Bear Hunt” was played, as they stomped around and used their imaginations to bring the song to life.

Before wrapping things up, a few musical instruments, including some drums, maracas, tambourines and shakers, were brought out for the children and grandfriends to all play together.

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GoldPine residents play musical instruments along with Pine Pals preschoolers during a mini dance performance on Thursday, Dec. 1, 2022, at GoldPine Home in Bemidji.
Annalise Braught / Bemidji Pioneer
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Pine Pals preschoolers, from left, Quinnton Leckner, Tyler Sollund and Noah Voss play musical instruments during a mini dance performance on Thursday, Dec. 1, 2022, for residents at GoldPine Home in Bemidji.
Annalise Braught / Bemidji Pioneer

As the program concluded, LaVine had all the children take one final bow and wave to their audience.

“Maybe we can play music again together another day,” LaVine said to them all.

With that, the children made their way back to the Pine Pals portion of the building.

Meaningful interactions

LaVine was pleased with the children’s efforts and cooperation, though it was a little hectic at times trying to instruct so many youngsters at once.

“Today there were kids that hadn’t come out (for Music and Movement) the whole time, that’s why it felt like chaos at times but we’re living and learning,” LaVine said with a laugh. “I could have just brought the group that was used to each other and they would have done all the dances but then the other children would have missed out on seeing what it looks like when you have a performance.”

She added that the performance aspect of art is one of the most important pieces of the process.

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“You create stuff and you want to show somebody or share your work,” LaVine added. “So this has been fun, this is our first time doing this and they did so good.”

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GoldPine residents watch as Pine Pals preschoolers participate in a mini dance performance on Thursday, Dec. 1, 2022, at GoldPine Home in Bemidji.
Annalise Braught / Bemidji Pioneer

Pietruszewski added that this was also the first time they had a group this large in GoldPine.

“It was beautiful and uplifting for every one of us,” she said. “We see a bright future of more meaningful interactions between our (Pine Pals and GoldPine) groups.”

Sarah Sundeen, life enrichment coordinator at GoldPine, shared similar sentiments.

“Oh my goodness, their faces,” Sundeen said of the residents watching. “It was so wonderful and I’m so thankful that we can do this. This is what the dream was in the beginning, that we could have the combination of the young kids with the older folks. We’re just thankful to be able to provide such joy.”

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Pine Pals preschoolers, from left, Tyler Sollund and Lillian "Kodi" Binger participate in a mini dance performance on Thursday, Dec. 1, 2022, for residents at GoldPine Home in Bemidji.
Annalise Braught / Bemidji Pioneer
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Instructor Gwen LaVine leads Pine Pals preschoolers in a song during a mini dance performance on Thursday, Dec. 1, 2022, for residents at GoldPine Home in Bemidji.
Annalise Braught / Bemidji Pioneer
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GoldPine residents clap as Pine Pals preschoolers take a bow during a mini dance performance on Thursday, Dec. 1, 2022, at GoldPine Home in Bemidji.
Annalise Braught / Bemidji Pioneer

Related Topics: MUSIC
Annalise is the editor and a photographer at the Bemidji Pioneer. She is a Mass Communication graduate from Bemidji State University. Her favorite pastime is exploring the great outdoors and capturing its natural beauty on camera. Contact Annalise at (218) 333-9796, (218) 358-1990 or abraught@bemidjipioneer.com.
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