The last members of the crowd poured into the auditorium of South High School in Minneapolis to the sound of “Drop It Like It’s Hot,” then the beats faded and the stage went black.
Showtime for the school dance program. For two hours there were choreographed steps – some crafted by students, all generating applause. But old-school hip hop is rocking, that’s when the roars came from the kids at the back of the room.
But was this the last dance at South High?
Proposals to cut back on the arts are plaguing Minneapolis public schools, and if approved by the school board this month, students at South High would see the worst of it.
The school’s music, drama/drama and dance programs are all taking a beating, with the hardest hit being inflicted on dance. South has only one dance instructor, and his hours are cut nearly in half, jeopardizing community partnerships, a safe space for students, and talent showcases.
“South Dance probably won’t have performances next year or anything like that,” Clara Conry recently predicted.
Elsewhere, full-time equivalent music positions are being cut at North High, Andersen Middle School and Hmong International Academy Elementary. Olson Middle School will continue without a dance teacher, and three more schools are losing full-time arts positions. Many others take part-time reductions.
Compare that with Saint Paul. There, decisions were made to close schools to give primary school students a “comprehensive education” including subjects like the arts taught by specialists. Dance cuts? None. Three high school music positions are cut, but there are four openings, leaving the district plus one, a spokesperson said.
Minneapolis cites lost enrollment and teacher contract costs among the reasons for cutting 280 teaching positions. There are more vacancies than that, however, according to the district, meaning those who left their jobs could land elsewhere, if it suits them.
But students whose specialists are fired or whose hours are reduced are bound to be disadvantaged, and at South High, the children are not happy. Neither do the parents. A flyer distributed at South High’s dance performance told people which school board members to call in hopes of restoring the music and dance cuts.
Sense of community
Dance studio families know the exercise that comes with year-end shows and costume requirements. Hours spent online or in arts and crafts stores. Then work, using toothpicks and glue to place crystals and sequins in crazy patterns.
It’s not as intense in high schools.
When she was younger, Conry danced tap and ballet in a studio, but as she got older, it was expected that she would have to do it five days a week. It was too much to ask of a teenager who had too many other things to try.
She became one of the top high school debaters in the country, and she stuck to dancing for fun – putting four years into South’s program.
Making the case for protecting the dance therefore comes naturally, but Conry also takes it a step further by coming back into the conversation to highlight how students like her who are feeling depressed or panicked know they will be comforted, safe and supported. in the dance hall.
There they are heard, she said.
Conry also knows what’s going on at work, and she can imagine things like the program’s partnerships with local arts organizations disappearing.
Senior Aaliyah Pollard, once nervous even among friends, found courage in the community created in the dance hall.
“It’s easy to be yourself,” she said. She testified against music and dance cuts at a recent Minneapolis school board meeting.
District officials say cuts have been made in all content areas and at all schools. But a sample of the total number of positions cut reveals that the arts are losing 18.5 full-time equivalent positions, compared to 14.7 in social studies and 12.8 in mathematics. Minneapolis has 5.4 vacancies in music, including a part-time position at North High, but none in theater/theater or dance.
Ramiyah Jackson is North High’s student council president and an aspiring actress, but since there are no acting classes, she has to pursue that dream elsewhere, she said. Now come cuts to existing programs, further reducing creative outlets for children.
“We have to find a way to contribute to the future of students – and the arts are a very big part of that,” she said last week.
South High’s spring concert was more of a block party than a dance recital.
For many dancers, what they wear to school is good enough for the stage, and if a black skirt in a dance can be jazzed up later with a touch of gold, so much the better. Skill levels varied, with slight wobbles after precise turns, but the energy pulsed throughout the night.
There were also some serious moments, including a pandemic-related piece created in partnership with the Cowles Center for Dance & the Performing Arts.
Conry choreographed one number, “Fragmentation”, and danced in several others. Pollard subtly placed her head on another dancer’s shoulder at the end of “Stolen Moments.”
All of this leading up to the finale, “3 Dances from Ghana”, and the most highly synchronized moves of the night. The drummers beat and continued to beat, driving each of the numbers, and they continued as the dancers lined up to salute.
The hands were joined and the arms raised.
With that, teacher Nancy Nair left the side of the stage, moving with the music, barefoot and smiling, wild applause and cheers filling the room. And after inviting everyone to catch their breath, she announced that every senior would receive a rose and she stood in line with a microphone in hand so they could say their names – until at the At the end was Clara Conry, waiting for him with a bouquet of flowers.
It’s a community, and the teacher was among friends.
“I’m so honored to be part of this dance program here at South,” Nair said.