Arizona ArtBeat takes a look at the Mesa Arts Center’s Culture Connect program featuring the Los Angeles-based Latin dance company, Contra Tiempo. The Company taught Salsa workshops to students in elementary schools and coached a select group of students for a performance piece that was included in Contra Tiempo’s public performance at the Center.
Ted Simons: On tonight's Arizona Artbeat, we look at the Mesa Arts Center's culture connect program, featuring the Los Angeles-based Latin dance company, Contra Tiempo. The company recently performed at the center and, while in residence, shared their approach to the art of salsa with students and the local community.
Anna Maria Alvarez: Our work really is about anything ranging from immigration to race resistance, to gender politics. We are really interested in engaging ideas of our society and our culture using the body as a tool for that and a way to really explore these ideas in a way that makes people think and also inspires people into action.
Announcer: Anna Maria Alvarez and her fellow performers are committed to transforming the world through their art. Members of Contra Tiempo, an urban bat lathe tin dance theater company based in Los Angeles, brought their unique style of choreography to the mesa arts center this past spring. They also brought an approach to dance that fuses multiple forms with multiple perspectives.
Anna Maria Alvarez: Contra Tiempo is a philosophy and mission is really to represent voices on the concert stage that aren't traditionally represented in that venue. And what I mean by the concert stage is through concert dance. So through performance really embodying the experiences and ideas and realities of the communities that we are part of and that we are represented by, which is particularly the Latino and African-American communities but really communities of color in general. Try it again. Basic set, inside. And --
Announcer: An important part of Contra Tiempo's mission involves community outreach. Prior to their performance, the company partnered with the Mays arts center to conduct a series of salsa dance workshops.
Anna Maria Alvarez: People in general, the capacity to dance. We are using dance as a way to empower individuals to create community and to teach this idea of compassionate partnership of being a part of a community and being a contribution to the world around. By doing that all through dance. Very nice.
Cindy Ornstein: We have been greatly expanding the roles our artists play in our community when they come here. Rather than just have them come and do a concert and leave, we really think there's tremendous benefit in wherever we can, wherever the artist has the expertise in having them spend more time in the community in the schools, in the community centers so that we can get the biggest benefit out of them being here.
Announcer: During their two-week residency, Contra Tiempo conducted workshops for students at five east valley elementary schools as well as at metro high school and mesa community college. All part of the mesa arts center's culture connect program.
Mandy Buscas: The culture connect program, the real goals of that is that students are coming together through shared arts experiences, and learning about diversity, work together as a team, they are really building these amazing 21st century learning skills that are vital to students being the work force. We actually did something unique with this program in that in order to build basic understanding of salsa, we sent mesa community college students into the classrooms that Contra Tiempo would be visiting ahead of their visit. So students were building basic salsa moves with those mesa community college students. Then Contra Tiempo came into the classrooms, and were really able to provide a deeper learning opportunity in salsa then.
Announcer: At the elementary schools, Contra Tiempo worked with sixth grade boys and girls on what was for most their initial experience with dance.
Anna Maria Alvarez: Our first introduction to each community that we work with is through a class which, it's a Cuban form of salsa that's done in a circle. It's kind of like square dancing with salsa. It's a lot of fun. People love it and it's a great way to introduce a dance form and in a nonthreatening environment where everybody is working together and learning alongside one another. We start with that class as a way to introduce salsa, as a way to introduce partnering, to introduce some of the Spanish vocabulary that comes with the dance and as a way to really have people learn the very quickly work together and get to know a little bit more about each other and about us.
Ruth Michalsccheck: You need to give children new experiences. We jump on it. We are not just interested in academics, we are interested in the culture and arts and interested in physical activities. We want our children exposed to all of those and so this was a wonderful opportunity for them to do something different, completely off the realm they have normally at school.
Antonio Alcala: Life experience, 24 kids walked in to where they normally eat lunch, and they were greeted by a professional choreography. And they were ready for it. But they still looked like maybe not in shock but they -- they were weary of what was going to happen, what they were going to have to do. They knew what the company was about so they walked in and immediately got in a circle and the instructor was very comfortable and kind of sent the message that today we are going to have a very comfortable dance lesson and everyone is going to have a good time. By the end they are. And they are clapping and celebrating and they feel good about themselves and they have done something that they normally wouldn't think that they could do. As well as so that's exciting to see.
Anna Maria Alvarez: Good job! [Applause]
Announcer: Following the school workshops, 22 sixth graders went on to appear with Contra Tiempo as part of their concert performance. While some of those selected to participate were among the more self assured students, others were chosen for a different reason.
Cesar Garfiaz: Usually they are successful at something else in some other aspect of life. Math, science, athletics, whatever, you know. And we are really looking to engage with those that don't have a moment of success, where they might have just too much energy, right, and in the classroom, it just cannot sit down, cannot pay attention. So we want that kid. Children really, they want to learn, you know. They ask for attention. They need it. And they are so willing to give themselves, you know, morning anything.
Yamilex Bajarano: I was a little girl, I used to like dancing a lot. I like moving a lot. I like all the steps to dancing. And it's pretty much about me being happy when I dance.
Announcer: It seemed an impossible task to prepare a group of young students with little training to dance on stage with the professional company after just a few weeks of practice. And yet -- the dancers came together in performance confirming once again the power and possibilities of the arts.
Anna Maria Alvarez: It was amazing. They were blowing our minds with how fast they were learning and how enthusiastic and excited they were and their parents were all sitting around and watching them feeling very proud. So it really is using dance as way to bridge communities and connect communities that maybe sometimes have never had interactions with one another or consider themselves kind of separate parts of town. Hopefully using dance to unite and empower young people