Bailey Lawton, Sunset Elementary School fifth-grader, dances to “Reach” in front of an audience of parents Friday morning at the school. She and other fifth-graders were the first group to perform Friday in a series of dance programs tailored to meld music and physical education.

Photo by Bridget Manley

Bailey Lawton, Sunset Elementary School fifth-grader, dances to “Reach” in front of an audience of parents Friday morning at the school. She and other fifth-graders were the first group to perform Friday in a series of dance programs tailored to meld music and physical education.

Sunset Elementary dance program melds music and physical education

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Dance Program at Sunset Elementary

Dance Program at Sunset Elementary

Dance Program at Sunset Elementary

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Lane Ferguson, center, a Sunset Elementary School fifth-grader, dances with a group of his classmates during a program Friday morning at the school. Sunset Elementary students in fifth- through first-grades danced for an audience of parents in a series of performances Friday.

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Sambu Shrestha, right, a Sunset Elementary School fifth-grader, dances in a square dance during a program Friday at the school. Sunset Elementary has put on the dance program for more than 20 years, physical education teacher Susan Nicholson said.

A lively Greek tune began to play, and clusters of fifth-graders began to move in synch to the music.

“Five, six, seven, eight,” Susan Nicholson called into the microphone positioned at the front of the Sunset Elementary School gym.

On Friday morning, the gymnasium looked more like the setting of a barn dance than a basketball game.

Instead of T-shirts and shorts, most students wore button-up shirts and colorful blouses. Parents, some toting cameras, filled nearly every folding chair around the gym’s perimeter.

The students were showing off their skills in a dance program, a tradition at the school that stretches back more than 20 years, said Nicholson, Sunset Elementary physical education teacher.

The program combines the mechanics of movement with music, and it’s designed to show that “physical education and music do go together,” music teacher Amanda Peltier said. “It’s not two separate things.”

Nicholson said she hopes the program teaches students “the enjoyment of movement with music,” as well as “some of the … traditions of other countries” captured in dance.

Peltier and Nicholson led fifth-graders through a series of dances early Friday morning as their parents watched. Children in first through fourth grades put on similar performances throughout the day.

The dance programs included a cross-section of music and dance traditions from around the world, including the German “Zingerpolka,” the Israeli “Ve David” to the Hokey Pokey and the Bunny Hop.

More than 60 parents turned out to watch their children show off their dance moves during the fifth-grade program. Among them was Stacey Severson, who came to see her son, Carter, 11.

“They put a lot of effort into it,” she said, referring to the annual program Carter has performed in for several years.

Sunset Elementary Principal Zack Allen said the high parent turnout to the annual event “amazes me.”

He believes it’s important to include these types of programs at the school, despite them teaching skills not tested in the Colorado Student Assessment Program.

“I don’t think a full and total education is only about the state-tested skills,” he said.

When parents come to watch their children perform, their presence “tells me that they also believe the same thing,” he said.

Fifth-graders danced hand-in-hand to the Greek “Ais Georgis,” then later spun and promenaded their partners to the sounds of “Long, Lonesome Highway,” a square dance.

The performance ended on a more modern note as children snapped their fingers and lifted their hands to the rhythm of “Reach.”

Performing in front of an audience isn’t easy, Allen said, but he believes it prepares children for life’s later challenges.

“I think it’s good for kids to try things that they don’t think they can do and discover that they can,” he said. “ … I think that will help them become successful adults.”

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