Students Explore Culture and Evolution With Visiting Dancer

Students in some of Collegiate School’s Upper School biology and Spanish classes participated in a co-curricular activity today that allowed them to study themes across two academic specialties and learn how African music, song and dance have influenced Latin American culture.

The students welcomed Kevin LaMarr Jones, founder, artistic director and choreographer for Claves Unidos ("United Rhythms”), a Richmond-based dance company, to demonstrate the interconnection between the two subjects.
Through his work with Dogtown Dance Theatre, VIVA dance workshop series and the Afrikana Independent Film Festival, Mr. Jones routinely shares the influences of Africa on Latin America.

Today, he guided Collegiate students in Sandra Marr’s Biology I classes and students in Spanish teacher Ling Fung-Wu classes, through a series of dances that hail from Cuban, Puerto Rican and other Latin American traditions. (Some students who participate in the Upper School Spanish Club also stopped by for brief lessons.)

Mr. Jones indicated that some movements are common across Latin American cultures, including polyrhythmic and pantomiming steps. In just about every culture, he said, there’s a purpose for people gathering to dance, whether it be for a coming-of-age ceremony or for a social event.

The time spent with Mr. Jones gave Spanish students an opportunity to learn about the diversity of cultures within the Hispanic community and to explore how African culture has been a constant in Latino culture and identity, Ms. Fung-Wu said.

“In class, we have been talking about Latin America, its people and its culture, as well as the influence of Europeans, Africans and indigenous people,” she said.

Today’s experience will help Mrs. Marr’s students better understand how biologists and anthropologists explore evolution and the factors that shape how human culture shifts in new environments.

In addition to Ms. Fung-Wu’s and Mrs. Marr’s efforts, the Collegiate Dance Department and the Institute for Responsible Citizenship were instrumental in hosting Mr. Jones’ visit, which coincided with Hispanic Heritage Month (Sept. 15-Oct. 15).

“I don’t know if students always understand how things come to be,” said Erica Coffey, Collegiate’s Director of Global Engagement and Inclusion. “Today’s visit with Mr. Jones helps them realize that the songs and music they listen to have really deep influences from the past.”

Mrs. Marr is confident that Upper Schoolers who participated today gained additional perspective about the impact one culture can have upon another.

“I also believe that by studying this very human story of how traits get passed down, not genetically, but through cultural exchange, my students will be able to relate better to the idea of natural selection, (which is) harder to grasp on a timescale of millions of years.”