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Mexico: Music and Dance Classes Foster Tolerance, Self-Esteem
email this pageprint this pageemail usEmilio Godoy - Inter Press Service
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March 15, 2010


We want the children to become culturally aware of the arts, and physically aware of their bodies. This is 'movement literacy.'
- Rocío García, ConArte
Mexico City - Ten-year-old Jessica Algoneda leaps in the air, raising her arms and spinning around at her primary school in the Mexican capital, as if in honour of Terpsichore, the Greek muse of dance and poetry.

Algoneda and her fourth-grade classmates are in a group of students taking music and dance classes at the Ponciano Arriaga public school, in the historic centre of the capital city.

"I like it because we move our hands and arms, we learn the steps, and sometimes it's quite restful," she told IPS, in her uniform grey skirt and red sweater, before a rehearsal for the performance they are preparing in the school playground.

At 22 state schools in the heart of Mexico City, primary school pupils (aged 10 to 12) and secondary school students (aged 13 to 15) attend music and dance classes as part of their educational curriculum.

The main purpose of the classes is to foster respect and tolerance, both inside and outside school premises, according to the programme Aprender con Danza (Learning Through Dance), launched in 2006 by the non-governmental International Consortium for Art and Schools (ConArte).

"ConArte is my favourite subject. I have learned to be more patient, because sometimes I get exasperated," Ricardo Figueroa, another fourth-grader, told IPS.

Lessons are one hour a week, with live music, and are part of the regular curriculum for grades four to six of primary education and the first three years of secondary schooling. To date, a total of 3,310 children have participated in the programme.

"It's a very enriching process, because we are constantly learning along with the children," Iliana Ramírez, the ConArte teacher who runs all the classes at the Ponciano Arriago school with the help of a teaching assistant and a music teacher, told IPS.

There are more than three million children enrolled in preschool, primary and secondary education in the Mexican capital.

The programme has so far targeted groups of students from lower and lower-middle income families.

"We want the children to become culturally aware of the arts, and physically aware of their bodies. This is 'movement literacy'," Rocío García, coordinator of the ConArte programme, told IPS.

In its early days ConArte, founded by visual artist Lucina Jiménez in 2006, called for applications from ballet dancers and musicians interested in teaching in state schools. Those selected were given grants for a course to train them as educators and facilitators.

During the organisation's first year, it relied on advice from the National Dance Institute, created in New York in 1976 by ballet dancer and choreographer Jacques d'Amboise with the aim of inspiring children and promoting dance disciplines in the city's schools.

The ConArte programme is staffed by eight teams, each made up of a dance teacher, an assistant and a musician, and it is supported by the Education Ministry, the National Council for Culture and the Arts, the Spanish Agency for International Cooperation (AECI) and private Mexican companies.

The Ponciano Arriaga school has the reputation of being one of the most violent in Mexico City, according to the municipal education authority, which administers 60 educational institutions in the city centre.

In 2009 the Universidad Intercontinental, a private college, carried out a study of 3,550 children in 29 primary and secondary schools and 16 preschool centres in the capital. It found that 36 percent of preschool children, up to six years of age, had seen, participated in or been victims of "mobbing", bullying or intimidation by other pupils.

Nearly 80 percent of children in primary schools, and 63 percent in secondary schools had also experienced physical or psychological harassment, again as victims, bullies or standers-by.

In this context, the ConArte programme appears to yield positive results. Over and above any academic benefits, students have made progress in ways that have ranged from spatial and rhythmic coordination, ability to concentrate and pay attention, and development of an ear for music, to arithmetic, expanded vocabulary and social communication skills.

Above all, the ConArte programme contributes to a better school environment, with less violence, more teamwork and a greater willingness to learn, as well as higher self-esteem for students, according to an evaluation study performed by the programme in conjunction with the city education authority.

Mexico City's education authority instituted a campaign to combat bullying called Escuelas Sin Violencia (Schools Without Violence). In 2009, workshops on psychosocial skills, self-esteem, conflict resolution and emotional management were held in 200 city schools.

The workshops were for the entire school community: teachers, parents and students.

"There was a boy who used to act up a lot, and now after the ConArte classes he's behaving better," Algoneda, who is in a class of 30, told IPS. Her school adopted the Aprender con Danza programme three years ago.

While flowing music is played on a keyboard, Ramírez gestures with her arms and demonstrates the steps for the morning class. "What we value most highly is respect, and making a persistent effort. The class is a space where the students can express themselves," said the teacher, who studied ballet and now teaches ConArte in five schools.

"I have a bad temper and I talk a lot. But when we go into class I know we mustn't talk. The teacher is very patient with us," said 10-year-old Diana Vargas, Algoneda's classmate.

In November 2009, ConArte presented the project's achievements at a national Arts Education meeting, and it is organising another meeting in June for all the ConArte project schools to share their experiences.

"There is keen interest on the part of schools, openness, receptivity and sensitivity to art education; the programme is really being appropriated by parents and head teachers," said García, who has been part of ConArte from the outset.

The programme is to feature in an Ibero-American Congress on Arts and Education, Culture and Citizenship, to be held in Mexico in October 2010, where each of the Ibero-American states - the Spanish-speaking countries of Latin America along with Spain and Portugal - will present an educational initiative that can be replicated by others.

Last year ConArte's work in schools culminated in end-of-year presentations on the theme of the founding of what is now Mexico City in 1325.

This year they will focus on two themes: the bicentennial of Mexico's independence from Spain on Sept. 16, 2010, and the one-hundredth anniversary of the Mexican Revolution which began a century later.

Music teachers have been given a collection of musical scores dating from the independence and revolutionary periods, as well as reading material on both events. "The students will present their own version and vision of Mexican history," said ConArte's programme coordinator García.

ConArte is expanding its programme to five more schools this year, out of 40 that have expressed an interest, and in future it might be expanded to private schools as well, García said.

"The point of Learning Through Dance is not to produce professional dancers, but better human beings, by working with children in schools from the earliest age," she said.

ConArte's other school projects include "¡Ah, que la canción!" (Oh, but the song!) which familiarises schoolchildren and teachers with Mexican music, and was acclaimed as an example of best educational practice by the Organisation of Ibero-American States.

Still other ConArte initiatives include an Artists in Schools programme; courses on digital art, media and networks; teacher training; and an Interdisciplinary Programme Against Violence in Schools (PIVE).

However, for Jessica Algoneda, Diana Vargas and Ricardo Figueroa, the main thing is to keep on going to school, so as not to miss their ConArte classes.



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