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Anoka Middle School for the Arts students participate in virtual dance residency

Anoka Middle School for the Arts dance residency (05/01/20) With distance learning set to continue through the end of the academic year, schools like Anoka Middle School for the Arts (AMSA) are reimagining how to bring students and guest instructors together virtually.


During the end of April, AMSA dance teacher Jenny Pennaz and her three dance classes, featuring students in grades six through eight, were able to work with guest artist Darrius Strong, a Twin Cities-based choreographer, dancer, and educator, who turned what was supposed to be his fifth in-person dance residency at the school into a virtual one. 


“Historically, it's one of the experiences that dance students most look forward to year after year, so I am happy that we can continue the residency during the pandemic,” Pennaz said.


During the residency, Pennaz said students had a number of interactions with Strong, which introduced his "hits" phrase, or dance. “It's about building strong, sharp movements and confidence by hitting shapes within the phrase,” she said.


At first, students followed pre-recorded instructional videos from Strong, and then submitted videos of themselves demonstrating the phrase, either individually with Pennaz, or sharing it to their class group via an educational video app called FlipGrid, like Precious Sama did


After that, students began learning fresh choreography from Strong the last two weeks of April, which culminated in a live rehearsal as a class with him on April 30 via Google Hangouts.


“(Strong) is a world class artist, but he is also really down to earth and always uplifting and positive with students,” Pennaz said. “I think that this is more important than ever right now. My goal for students during distance learning is that they continue to find ways to be active and creative and fortunately dance accomplishes both of those things.”


Students have really enjoyed the opportunity to work with Strong during distance learning.


“I like it a lot,” said AMSA student Josilyn Christiansen. “It was really fun and just something to help get my mind off of what is happening right now.”


Student Hailey Barrows agreed. “It has given me ways to grow as a dancer that I would not regularly get outside of school,” she said.


In addition to developing his own dance company STRONGmovement in 2015, Strong is a member of faculty at Macalester College, St. Paul Conservatory Performing Arts High School, TU Dance Center, and Eleve Performing Arts Center.