Students ‘battle’ in dance

022417...R DANCE 2...Warren...02-24-17...Dance instructor Lindsay Renea Benton of Youngstown, left, from Lindsay Renea Dance Theatre teaches dance moves to students at Lincoln PK-8 school... 5th grader Aaliyah Cole, 11, right, moves to the music with other R. Michael Semple

EDITOR’S NOTE: Tribune Chronicle entertainment writer Andy Gray serves on the governing council for Any Given Child in Warren and is doing a series of features on the program over the course of the school year as it is implemented in Warren City Schools.

WARREN — Fifth- and sixth-grade children squared off at Lincoln PK-8 school on Friday, prepared to battle.

Arms swung and feet kicked, but there were no casualties. This was a dance battle.

“When we say battle, it just means trying to get better, trying to make the people we’re dancing with better,” Lindsay Renea Benton told the students.

She is the founder of Lindsay Renea Dance Theatre in Youngstown. Dancers from the troupe taught two workshops in the morning — one for fifth and sixth grade students and another for seventh and eighth grade students — and those who wanted to got to perform with the dance company that afternoon when they entertained the younger grades.

At the end of the first workshop, nearly every hand shot up, indicating they wanted to perform.

“I loved working with them,” said Kaylee Abel, 12, a sixth-grade student. “It was a very good idea to get us moving and dancing.”

The dance company was brought to Lincoln with funding provided by Any Given Child and the Ohio Arts Council’s TeachArtsOhio Grant.

Warren was selected by the Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts for its Any Given Child initiative, which uses existing arts programs in schools and area arts organizations to integrate the arts into the curriculum for students in kindergarten through eighth grade. Warren is the smallest of the 23 school districts selected by the Washington, D.C.-based organization and the only one in Ohio.

Judy Babik, a visual arts teacher at the school, recommended the dance company after reading about a Black History Month program it did in Youngstown schools.

“Dance is a weak spot in the performing arts (in school),” Babik said. “We have a good art department. We have good music/choir department. The weak link is dance. Kids aren’t exposed to it in school.”

There are plenty of educational benefits that can come from dance, Benton said.

“One, they’re learning about their own bodies, self-awareness and sharing space, energy and time with other people,” she said. “Being able to really develop their own personal skills builds confidence … A lot of times when we talk, we cut off the connection between mind and body, so dance allows us to put that connection back together. Also from a cultural perspective, being able to identify things in modern-day culture and being able to see where they come from.”

Each workshop opened by showing the students a TEDx Talk by Camille A. Brown on the history of African-American social dance, and the students learned how contemporary moves like dabbing and the chickenhead have their roots in traditional African steps.

“When you make a more well-rounded child, you help create a more well-rounded community and society,” Benton said, adding that the arts are need as a counterbalance to the increasing influence of technology on society.

“That’s what art does. It puts humanity back into society. Being able to have programs like this one from the Kennedy Center allows us to do that.”