Poetry Seminar promotes understanding with dance
Published: Monday, October 1, 2012
Updated: Monday, October 1, 2012 22:10
Local high school students, clad in leotards and tights, sat in a circle in Hartshorn Hall Saturday, discussing the Harriet E. Wilson autobiographical novel “Our Nig.” By participating in various seminars and exercises throughout the day, the students were able to translate their understanding of Wilson’s text into their passion for dance.
Lynnette Overby, professor and director of the Office of Undergraduate Research and Experiential Learning, coordinated the event with Gabrielle Foreman, English and Black American Studies professor. Overby said they reached out to local high schools and other performance artists to make the program as enriching for the students as possible.
“It’s exciting to watch the arts become such an important part of these young people’s lives,” Overby said. “This program is a great way to expand the students’ knowledge, and to show them the power of the various arts in helping to tell a single story.”
Wilson’s novel, which conveys the hardships she faced growing up as a biracial orphan during the 1800s, was difficult for many of the children to read on both a textual and emotional level. However, by applying her words to dance and other familiar outlets, the students were able to grasp a firmer understanding of her work.
Alex Gilardi, 13, of Hockessin, Del. is a student at Cab Calloway School for the Arts and said she liked how the book was interpreted through poem and dance.
“When I was reading the book, there were definitely parts that I didn’t understand, so talking about it in a larger group really helped,” Gilardi said. “When you’re reading a book, you can’t really hear tone or voice, but dance brings it all together and makes it one big story, filled with emotion.”
Shaanti Nagaswami, 13, of Newark, said she aspires to be a professional choreographer or dancer.
“The activities in this program have really expanded my mind,” Nagaswami said. “Exercises like these make dance easy to choreograph because you can just pick out important words from Wilson’s novel, and then apply them to dance.”
The program included more than just dance exercises, however. In an effort to further integrate the arts, the students were encouraged to participate in a poetry seminar as well. For this part of the program, Overby brought in her former colleague Glenis Redmond, a performance poet from South Carolina who composed narrative poems after being inspired by Wilson’s text.
Redmond said she was deeply moved by Wilson’s story and hopes the slave narrative was as liberating for the students as it was for her.
“It’s an incredible story, the tale of a young woman progressing from being bound in servitude to finding success as a writer and religious speaker,” Redmond said. “I feel close to her, like she’s a sister. It’s my hope that the students will feel close to her story and relate to it as well, and it will evolve into more than just an assignment for them.”
She also said the collaboration of the event allowed students to see what it’s like to work together as an ensemble through various art forms.