Afro-Latin Dance ‘Tour of Schools’ Thrills Students
It was 10 a.m. at a school assembly and teen girls screamed his name as he swiveled his hips and winked at the audience. His name is Frankie Martinez, artistic director and founder of the Abakuá Afro-Latin Dance Company.
Tight budgets and an emphasis on test-based results have left little room for the arts, forcing education leaders to be more creative in finding ways to expose their students to artistic performances.
In the 800-seat auditorium of the Frank Sinatra School of the Arts in Queens, students and teachers sat riveted as the Abakuá dancers sashayed, stepped and spun across the stage to the beat of African drums.
“It was a fabulous performance. They danced non-stop for an hour and their energy and skill was amazing,” said Principal Susan Finn. “When they offered us a free performance, we jumped at the opportunity. We were also very interested because it included a Q&A session so our students could learn more about the cultural aspect of the dances.”
As part of its initiative, The Tour of Schools, Abakuá aims to provide free performances and workshops for schools in each of the five boroughs.
"We have long assessed an urgent need for increased performing arts in public school education,” said Emanuel Blackett, director of Development and Education at Abakuá. “With The Tour of Schools Program, we were able to reach students directly…Based on the elated reactions and insightful questions offered by students, we are confident that we are reaching our kids."
The company received an equally energetic response from the International School at Prospect Heights in Brooklyn. Abakuá’s Tour of Schools Program coincided with the opening of the high school’s new Cultural Center & Dance Studio, which was funded by the office of the Brooklyn Borough President Marty Markowitz.
The students’ reactions to the dance group were “priceless,” according to Dariana Castro, coordinator of special programs at the International School at Prospect Heights.
“Our students typically don't have access to performances of such caliber,” she said. “A student in particular who is usually disengaged, stayed for the duration of the program. He returned to school the next day and walked into my office to express how excited he was about having had the opportunity to attend the performance.”
Performing before students provides an experience that is altogether different from performing in other venues, such as Lincoln Center, said Frankie Martinez.
“We should have done this sooner but we’re very happy to be doing it now,” he said. “The kids’ responses have been amazing and we’re looking forward to performing in more schools.” #
For more information, visit www.abakuadancers.org.