The gymnasium at Belmont Elementary School in North Babylon was filled with students, but the room was quiet, except for teaching artist Napoleon Revels-Bey. Revels-Bey brought the entire room together, repeating one chant accompanied by a unified clapping of hands.
“I’m a drummer, you’re a drummer, we’re all drummers,” Revels-Bey said Thursday, creating a beat with his hands. The rest of the audience repeated after him, over and over until they were all chanting together -- a school united.
Thursday’s presentation, Exploring World and Community Culture Through Music, Dance and Song, brought Belmont Elementary students together to explore different cultures.
The program is a collaborative effort between the Great Neck Arts Center Artist Residency Program and the North Babylon School District. The arts center is a not-for-profit organization that encourages art education by working with schools to provide funding, programs and workshops for students.
The artist residency program brings teaching artists into schools to run workshops and to aid teachers in bringing the arts into the classroom. GNAC has worked with the North Babylon School District for the last four years.
During the school year, Revels-Bey and fellow teaching artists Mickey Davidson of GNAC and Imani Gonzalez from Washington’s John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts -- which is also partnered with GNAC -- taught a series of workshops at Belmont Elementary. Students learned the native dances and songs of Ghana, Cuba and Zimbabwe while learning about their cultural significance, and got a chance to perform what they learned Thursday.
“I like young people,” said Revels-Bey, who taught a bucket-drum percussion workshop to the students. “The drums help children learn concentration and focus through rhythm --skills that they can use later in life.”
For fourth-grader Natalie Desousa, 10, the experience was an exercise in freedom of expression. “We had a lot of choice in how we wanted to move,” Desousa said about her dance workshop. “It was cool that we could do that.”
The arts center is working with 15 other school districts across Long Island to incorporate similar programs into the curriculum, according to Tracy Arnold Warzer, director of Outreach Arts-in-Education for GNAC.
“These programs inspire learning and self-confidence through performance,” Warzer said. “The arts can provide a way for students to connect to what they’re learning in the ways that they know best.”
Photo: Students at Belmont Elementary School perform a dance that they learned as part of a multicultural program in North Babylon. (June 14, 2012)