The Saratoga Performing Arts Center’s (SPAC’s) virtual Learning Library has expanded threefold this month. As of yesterday, the Saratoga arts organization is now offering virtual lessons in Stepping and South African Gumboot dancing with dance company Soul Steps; five interactive, wheelchair-accessible dance lessons in the “Kitchen Floor Dance Class” series, led by Broadway veterans Eric Hatch and Dennis Moench; and “Instrument Beginnings,” a new series of music lessons that guide children through the beginning stages of learning an instrument, all via its SPAC Learning Library.
Soul Steps, which was launched in time for Black History Month, came to life as a partnership with dancer, choreographer and producer Maxine Lyle and her dance company, Soul Steps. It features six interactive video lessons on the art of Stepping and South African Gumboot dancing, a percussive type of dance that uses the hands, feet, arms and legs to create polyrhythmic sounds. Stepping originated more than 500 years ago as a coordinated movement to express solidarity, using the body as a musical instrument. The video series provides dance lessons, as well as historical context and an accompanying “SPAC-tivity” worksheet. “In working with Soul Steps, our mission was to increase awareness and to celebrate an art form that highlights the strength, resilience and solidarity of black communities in the United States and South Africa,” says Elizabeth Sobol, SPAC’s president and CEO. “We hope that educators, families and students will not only enjoy exploring these art forms, and learning these powerful dances, but that they will also appreciate their significance within the history and culture of the black community.”
SPAC’s partnership with New York’s Center for Disability Services has yielded a quintet of new interactive, wheelchair-accessible video dance lessons, in which hosts Hatch and Moench instruct kids to dance along to music from the iconic West Side Story, a musical in which Hatch performed on Broadway in 2009. Each new lesson has been carefully modified and presented in both seated and standing positions so that dancers of all abilities can participate. “Every child should have the opportunity to experience the transformative power of the arts, and we are grateful to the Center for Disability Services whose partnership and expertise allowed us to create dance lessons that are tailored to include participants with a wide range of abilities,” says Sobol. “We encourage classrooms and families with children of varying abilities to enjoy these lessons and experience the art of dancing together.”
Additionally, SPAC has teamed up with local instrumental music teachers and the John Keal Music Company to provide video-based walkthroughs of musical instruments. John Keal will provide instrument rentals for a four-month trial period with a one-time payment of as low as $15, depending on the instrument type and size needed for the child. The new series of lessons offers virtual violin, viola and cello lessons, with brass, woodwind and percussion instruments to come. “Our goal with ‘Instrument Beginnings’ is to provide an increase in access to instrumental music education, especially for children in families who are unable to afford private lessons and the costs associated with renting or buying an instrument,” says Sobol. “We hope that these lessons might provide a gateway to discovering a lasting passion for music-making.”