Celebrate the Beat gets local kids hopping | VailDaily.com

Celebrate the Beat gets local kids hopping

Caramie SchnellVail CO, Colorado
AE celebrate the beat 2 KA 8-7-07

Tracy Straus is joyful and her enthusiasm is catching. With her dark hair pulled back in double braids, Straus bounces around the Barry Creek Middle School gym in colorful Adidas tennis shoes. Fifteen kids watch her intensely, straining to mimic every movement including her wide grin.

Straus is the artistic director of Celebrate the Beat, the Colorado affiliate of the National Dance Institute in New York. Seven years ago, Straus created the program with the belief that arts have a power to engage and motivate children. This week the children have spent nearly three hours each day learning and practicing a rigorous jazz-inspired dance. In the mornings, before they begin dancing, they exercise their fingers, painting a large backdrop for their performance with bright flowers and smiling faces. The week-long camp, which is free, will culminate this weekend with two performances at the Childrens Fountain in Vail Village.

A keyboardist and drummer set up on the side of the gym pound out a beat while the children take turns leaping in front of the volleyball net dividing the gymnasium. One girl, breathing hard, hesitates and breaks the groups rhythm. Straus stops the group and tells the little girl, gently, not to stop running, then scans the room, meeting each childs eyes. You can do it, you guys are awesome. Who knows what awesome means?A blonde-haired, red-cheeked girl pipes up quickly Great.Exactly, Straus said. Awesome is overused, but I use it because I see every person in this room focusing, trying hard and getting better and better.Later, over the phone, Straus explains that she views each class as a performance for both the children and herself.I really feel like its all about building teamwork, respect and trust. Im very, very honest with the childrenm and I think that builds honesty and trust she said.Taking the time to stop a child thats falling behind lets that child know that Straus cares enough to take the time to really work with the child, she said.Tracy truly works magic with these children, said Heather Watts, chairwoman of Celebrate the Beat board of directors.The learning curve from day to day is extremely high, which Straus attributes to high expectations and clear methodology.In one day theyve learned how to learn. Theyre focused, theyre trying their hardest and they are taken seriously and they take it seriously.

Bright posters featuring New York artist Keith Harings work decorate the gymnasium walls. The colorful, pop art dancers in some of his pieces served as inspiration for the choreography, Straus said, and the name Pop Hop.Keith Harings art to me is all about hope. Theres a beautiful quote of his saying that hes in the arts because he feels like its the land of hope. I feel like his art is so right for the kind of movement I feel excites children, Straus said.Damian Woetzel, artistic director for the Vail International Dance Festival, and his wife Heather Watts paired with the Vail Valley Foundation to make the Celebrate the Beat program part of this years dance festival. Watts was a friend of Harings when he was still alive, she said. Haring died in 1990 of an HIV related disease.Keith was very generous and he loved children … His aim was not fame or money but peace and love. I think Keith would lose his mind if he knew, Watts said, gesturing toward the practicing children. Scanning the jumping, running, smiling group of kids, Woetzel said that the program is much more than fun, though its obviously that.Their math skills will go up. Theyre learning to count and theyre learning rhythm and position, but later on in school, theyve discovered that musical training helps math scores. Music and math and boom, there are quantifiable results, Woetzel said. When practice ends, Daniel Lopez walks over to the table to grab his water bottle. He grins before taking a big drink.Its fun but its kind of hard. Its getting easier though, he said.Arts & Entertainment Editor Caramie Schnell can be reached at 748-2984 or cschnell@vaildaily.com.

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