Music ed students learn about cultures by folk dancing

By Payton Clark, Arts Editor

Jill Pullen and Olivia Jones get their groove on in the RAWC. / Alena Blakley, The Bison 

It’s a normal day in the RAWC. You can hear the sounds of running footsteps, weights being lifted, balls bouncing around and… folk music?

Thursday Jan. 26 music education students participated in folk dancing lessons during their regular meeting for the National Association for Music Educators (NAFME).

Members of the Oklahoma City International Folk Dancers taught students traditional dances from a variety of cultures, including Israeli, Hebrew and English.

“I had never experienced anything thing like that event,” sophomore vocal music education major Emily Wright said.

“It was refreshing and rejuvenating. It made me realize how much I needed to get back into shape.”

The folk dancing lessons were intended to support music education students in their preparation for certification exams for teacher education in Oklahoma, according to Assistant Professor of Music Education Dr. Kathy Scherler.

“A part of our competencies lies in the area of music history and global and multicultural music,” Scherler said.

“While it is wonderful to read about it in a book, it’s so much better to be able to hear it performed live, see a demonstration or to have something that you can participate in yourself.”

The Music Education program has put on multiple events promoting multicultural music including a Latin drum circle and Native American music from Kiowa Museum music emphasis, and this year was no different.

“This year our emphasis was folk dancing,” Scherler said.

“We cover folk dancing in one of music methods courses. We had been learning from watching others groups do it on YouTube, and it’s usually not too complicated, but we are not experts.”

Scherler believed it would be more beneficial to learn from experts, so she attended a gathering of the Oklahoma City International Folk Dancers and found the cultural experience there to be very educational.

“We thought it’d be really great to invite people that are considered experts who perform this on a weekly or monthly basis,” Scherler said.

“Many of the people in this group are former professors, but there were all kinds of different professionals that find this is a cultural learning experience. They talk a lot about the types of dances, where they’re from and how it’s used.”

An elderly man from Israel who was in attendance inspired Scherler to use these dances to teach her students.

“The other part of it that was so beautiful to me was that he was there dancing to songs he’d been dancing to his whole life,” Scherler said.

“In research and literature we look for primary source documents, he was a primary source here.”

Included in the dances taught at the NAFME meeting were dances from Israel, the Balkans, Contra dances and English country dances, which particularly interested students.

“Several of our students are very interested in Jane Austen and the era of Pride and Prejudice, and during this period there weren’t many public performances but social dances in homes,” Scherler said.

“These are the types of dances that have been done for hundreds of years.”

Scherler particularly likes the idea that the students can learn about different people and diverse cultural norms.

“While our cultural norm may be square dancing from early Oklahoma history is just as normal as doing a Hole in the Wall in England, or a Smidge in Belgium,” she said.

“Our students are learning that while we have many differences, there are lots of things about us that are the same.”

Due to the diversity in class sizes, music emphasis and dance experience, Scherler believes folk dancing was a great way to acclimate students for future careers.

“For me as a teacher this is important because Oklahoma certification is from pre-school to 12th-grade, vocal or instrumental,” Scherler said.

“You could get a job from a small school and be expected to be the band director and in charge of elementary music. When a lot of our schools in Oklahoma teach square dancing, experiences like this will make you a well-rounded teacher.”

Wright intends to use folk dances like those taught in her future lesson plans as a teacher.

“This event will help me into making sure that these folk songs aren’t taken for granted,” Wright said.

“I want to make sure that my kids get an opportunity to learn about different cultures and how they express themselves through their heritage.”

While learning the dances was initially challenging, Scherler believes it was all part of the process to embrace mistakes and improve.

“They learned that you can make a mistake and then fix it, and that’s the beautiful thing about arts,” Scherler said.

“That’s why we need more arts in public education, because arts teaches that it’s okay to make a mistake, but when you practice harder you can get it right and later become proficient.”

Scherler enjoyed the experience as well as watching and hearing the students’ responses.

“I loved that as we got into the performing there were these giant smiles on all the students’ faces,” Scherler said.

“I’ve had a great response from the students, they really enjoyed it and some even thought it was a good workout.”

While she had initial doubts, Wright found the dancing to be very fun.

“My first initial thoughts about the folk dancing event were, in all honesty, I bet this is going to be cheesy,” Wright said.

“But, that changed. I thoroughly enjoyed it, and I couldn’t stop smiling.”

Wright appreciated the sense of unity created by the folk dancing lessons.

“We forgot about all our cares and busyness of the school year, and fully enjoyed ourselves,” Wright said. “It was a community feeling.”

While the NAFME group often changes the types of cultural experiences they bring in to meetings, folk dancing may stick around.

“It was such a hit, and if there is enough student interest they’re considering offering it as a seminar class or a multi-week session,” Scherler said.

“There definitely is interest from these leaders, so you never know, we may have started a trend at OBU.”

After the experience, Wright wants to see more folk dancing events at OBU in the future.

“I hope the RAWC will open a Folk-Dance class because I would invite all my friends,” Wright said. “It is such a unifying experience.”

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