Celebrate the beat in Eagle Co | VailDaily.com

Celebrate the beat in Eagle Co

Caramie Schnell
Vail CO, Colorado
Dominique Taylor/Vail DailyTracy Straus, center right, founder and artistic director of Celebrate the Beat dance workshop, shows third graders how to move and groove in time to Tony Kieraldo's, far right, musical beat during one of their sessions at Avon Elementary School in Avon. The three week workshop teaches students not just how to move to music but also teamwork, respect and focus.

EAGLE COUNTY, Colorado ” Bright posters featuring New York artist Keith Haring’s work, coupled with dance teacher Tracy Straus’ enthusiasm, will inspire a group of tweeners in early August.

The program is Celebrate the Beat, part of the Vail International Dance Festival’s lineup. In an effort to expand the festival’s reach within the community, Festival Director Damian Woetzel introduced the program, themed “Pop Hop,” for the first time last summer.

“The Vail International Dance Festival is about so much more than the lineup of world-class artists performing on stage,” Woetzel said. “This festival is truly a community event for everyone ” locals and visitors alike.”

Led by the enthusiastic, exuberant Straus, Celebrate the Beat is an affiliate of the National Dance Institute in New York. She created the program seven years ago with the belief that arts have a power to engage and motivate children.

“I really feel like it’s all about building teamwork, respect and trust. I’m very, very honest with the children, and I think that builds honesty and trust,” Straus said.

Learning to excel

In May, Straus and two team members spent a month in residency at Avon Elementary School. With jazzy piano music and the beat of a bass drum providing the soundtrack, the trio taught six classrooms full of children to dance each day. The result was similar to last summer: Children with no prior dance experience, many who don’t speak English, counting to themselves to keep time, mouths moving silently as they polished their twists, turns and leaps.

“Celebrate the Beat brings something to the lives of children that they might not otherwise be exposed to. They learn creative skills, they learn teamwork, they learn how to deliver a performance. Tracy teaches them skills, really important skills, on how to excel,” Woetzel said.

Each day during this summer’s program the children will learn and practice a rigorous jazz-inspired dance. They’ll also exercise their fingers, which is where Haring’s energetic art comes into play. Numerous Haring paintings will inspire the kids to create their own art on a large-scale canvas. The piece will serve as the backdrop for the children’s final performance, set for tonight outside the Gerald R. Ford Amphitheater in Vail.

“Keith Haring’s art to me is all about hope. There’s a beautiful quote of his saying that he’s in the arts because he feels like it’s the land of hope. I feel like his art is so right for the kind of movement I feel excites children,” Straus said.

Scanning the jumping, running, smiling group of kids at a practice last summer, Woetzel said that the program is much more than fun, though it’s obviously that.

“Their math skills will go up. They’re learning to count and they’re learning rhythm and position, but later on in school, they’ve discovered that musical training helps math scores. Music and math and boom, there are quantifiable results,” Woetzel said.

There are other results as well, though not nearly as quantifiable.

“Exposing young people to the arts creates a more discerning audience in the long run, which applies pressure on the artist to do more creative work,” Woetzel said.

That, in turn, will raise the quality and caliber of the Vail International Dance Festival in years to come. Call it the circle of dance.

High Life editor Caramie Schnell can be reached at 970-748-2984 or cschnell@vaildaily.com.

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