guest post: Cheryl Burns talks dance

Today I’m delighted to welcome our first guest writer to The Arts Room!  Cheryl Burns is Company Manager for Island Moving Co., Newport’s contemporary ballet company.  She is also Program Director of Dance at Portsmouth Abbey School, and an instructor at the Newport Academy of Ballet and locally at Just Dance!  She is a member of Dance USA and the National Dance Education Organization.  A passionate arts advocate and local mother of two, Cheryl is also currently co-chairing the Performing Arts Committee at Guiteras School.  I’m thrilled she agreed to share her thoughts with our readers, so without further ado…

“Every day I work with professional ballet dancers, and every day I see students just beginning to dance. They all inspire me and move me to advocate about the power of the performing arts.  Now, as I participate in the group of community members that are working together in the Walley School project I hope that others think this is a project that needs community involvement. Why are the arts important? For the people who could not participate in the focus group meeting on the 8th of February – what do you have to say?

Here is my personal response – I’ve always been involved in the arts. I remember trying on my first pair of ballet slippers on when I was 2 years old. The studio was smoky, the wood bench was hard when I sat on it. The two little slippers that slid on my feet, unbeknownst to me, were a very big part of what I needed to get through life. I still use the tools I learned in dance class. There are many, but here are just a few:

-Come prepared.


-Listen, focus, try. Then try again. And again.

-Confidence can be learned.

-Take care of your body.

-Everyone is different.

This just covers class. There are also benefits gained from performing, working as a group, creating work, and improvisation. I encourage more people to participate in the Walley School project and to talk about why the arts are important in living life.”      -Cheryl Burns

The Power of a Grant

Saturday, March 10th at 6pm

It’s bee season again – Bodacious Bee, that is – that quirky time of year when local adults indulge their silly sides … and their competitive streaks.  In just a couple of weeks, on Saturday, March 10th, the Bristol Warren Education Foundation (BWEF) will present the 4th annual Bodacious Bee, a spelling bee for adults and their biggest fundraiser of the year.  The buzz around town is this is a party you don’t want to miss, a see-and-be-seen soiree where the guests wear crazy costumes instead of cocktail dresses, and there’s always a surprise or two in store.  Teams have been formed, and participants are furtively finishing their costumes and practicing their spelling.  Just last week hints were revealed as press releases were circulated – a “royal” event has been planned.  I imagine there will be a Queen Bee, then, and perhaps a parade of ostentatious hats?  You’ll have to attend to satisfy your curiosity; individual tickets cost $50, a table of 8 costs $350, doors open at 6pm and dinner is included.  Visit the BWEF website for more details.

Having gone last year, I can attest it really is a fun night, especially if you go with a group of friends!  And of course, the best part is knowing that you’re contributing to enriching the education of our community’s children.  Proceeds from this event will support BWEF Enrichment Grants for Educational Excellence.  Last year the education foundation was able to award over $33,000 in grants to local educators from all six public schools in our district, funding innovative projects across a range of disciplines.  One such grant, “A Bridge Across Cultures”, was a joint effort between Colt Andrews library educator Harriet Lapointe and Guiteras library educator Nicole Galipeau.  Designed to encourage elementary students to “develop an understanding of another culture and relate to the common threads between Chinese and American culture”, the culmination of the project was an author visit in January of this year, when Grace Lin, author of the Newbery Honor Book Where the Mountain Meets the Moon, traveled to Bristol to talk with the students at Guiteras School and Colt Andrews School.

from the Bristol Phoenix (1/19/12): “Author Breathes Life into her Fiction”

I got the chance to see this grant in action when I was invited to attend the author’s presentation at Colt Andrews School.  In the months leading up to the author visit, students participated in a multifaceted exploration of China, during which 5th graders researched various aspects of Chinese culture and created visual projects ranging from posters to relief maps to Powerpoint presentations.


Classroom teachers also enthusiastically supported the grant project, Mrs. Lapointe says, by reading Ms. Lin’s award-winning novel in class for several weeks, ensuring that every 5th grader would experience the story.  The second grade also participated in the program, and many of the 2nd graders had read Ms. Lin’s books, either in class or on their own, before the author visit.

Visit Grace Lin’s website to learn more about the many books she’s written.

At the presentation the young students were captivated, and the author connected easily with the children when she talked about her childhood in upstate New York and her visits to Taiwan as an adult.  They seemed to especially enjoy hearing about the first story she ever wrote (in the third grade, she won third prize in a story-writing contest), and they appreciated seeing the photos from her visits to Taiwan that inspired some of the illustrations in Where the Mountain Meets the Moon.  There was a noticeable absence of fidgeting, and no bored expressions or awkward silences.  The students were entranced by Ms. Lin, and when it came time for audience questions, most every hand shot into the air.


Along with several questions specific to Ms. Lin’s books, here are some glimpses into the students’ minds from the question-and-answer session:

“Do you enjoy the writing part more, or the drawing part, of writing your books?”

“Was it hard growing up as a Chinese-American girl? Were kids mean to you?”

“Are your picture books based on your life?”

“What was your favorite fairytale when you were growing up?”

“Do you do a lot of traveling to talk about your books?”

The author even stayed to autograph copies of her book for her young fans.  I confess I was so impressed with her presentation that I bought a copy of Where the Mountain Meets the Moon on the spot for my family, and waited in line to have it autographed.  I am equally impressed by, and grateful to, Mrs. Lapointe and Ms. Galipeau, for making the extra effort to seek this grant, because these are the learning experiences that stay with you when you’re a child navigating your school years, and these are exactly the kind of learning experiences I want for my children.  And now’s the time to seize the chance to support the innovative, hardworking educators who are devising ways to enrich our children’s education in the coming year, by reserving your tickets to the 4th annual Bodacious Bee and supporting the Bristol Warren Education Foundation in its endeavors throughout the year!

“It is not enough to simply teach children to read; we have to give them something worth reading. Something that will stretch their imaginations- something that will help them make sense of their own lives and encourage them to reach out toward people whose lives are quite different from their own.” ―Katherine Paterson

not for nothin’, but

I attended and participated in the February 8th Arts Vision workshop organized by the Roger Williams University Community Partnerships Center, and I have a few things to say in response to Eric Dickervitz’s coverage of the workshop that appeared in this week’s Bristol Phoenix.  Most of the article is a fair, if dry, account of what went on at this workshop.  However, I must speak to a quote from Alan Crisman, who according to the article said, “Art can be a career path, especially if you include ‘vocational’ [arts].”  May I point out the obvious?  The arts already are a career path.  I’m not sure what Mr. Crisman means by “vocational arts” but perhaps I’ll find out at the next workshop in March.

Second, in the article the topic of STEM to STEAM was highlighted.  Now, I am quite skeptical of the STEM initiative, but I strongly support the Arts + STEM = STEAM movement.  In any case, by my recollection this was barely a topic of conversation at the Feb. 8th workshop.  In the final hour when we all regrouped to discover the outcomes of our small group sessions, STEAM occupied one Post-it note out of hundreds, and it was not part of the concluding discussion.  I do not deny this is an important issue facing our public school system, but I’m not sure a community arts corridor is the best place to address the shortcomings of the STEM initiative.  I suspect it made its way into the newspaper article because STEM is such a “hot topic” these days.

Finally, I take issue with the phrase “deserving youth”, used in the description of a potential youth mentoring center.  At the workshop I never heard it stated or implied that access to a potential space for children and teens would be limited to some definition of “deserving youth” – and as far as I’m concerned, all children and teens are “deserving”.  Indeed, the arts are for everyone, a truth on which everyone in attendance at last week’s workshop was in agreement.

“Listen to the tasty guitar licks being thrown down by this very talented musician…” over on Bing videos                

possibilities in your pocket

With February school vacation week on the horizon, I’m looking forward to allowing the kids to indulge in relaxed mornings and unstructured time to just – PLAY!  But I also like to have in mind a few ideas for planned activities, just in case my sugar plum visions of happy-children-playing-together suddenly turn into dark tales of cabin fever…

Warren Art Spot on Child Street in Warren is offering four art workshops next week, on Tuesday, Wednesday, and Thursday.  Kids and teens can learn cartooning techniques, explore the art of collage, and more – class size is kept small, so call 245-0190 and visit their website for details.

George Hail Free Library on Main Street in Warren is offering a week full of fun for children of all ages, including a children’s book author visit, the Traveling Tide Pool of Biomes Marine Biology Center, a ‘tween Just Dance! pizza party, Animal Experiences with Dave Marchetti, and two popular movies the kids will love!  Several events require advance registration; call 245-7686 to reserve a spot.  For more details, visit their website.

*please note: both George Hail Free Library and Rogers Free Library will be closed on Monday, February 20th in observance of Presidents’ Day.

Rogers Free Library on Hope Street in Bristol will also host Animal Experiences with Dave Marchetti, on Wednesday, February 22nd at 10:30am.  Call 253-6948 for more information.

The Audubon Society of Rhode Island’s Environmental Education Center on Hope Street in Bristol is always a great place to bring the family, especially when cabin fever strikes!  They have several special School Vacation Week activities planned (including nature-themed storytimes and arts& crafts), plus the photography exhibit “Flying Jewels”; call 949-5454 ext. 3041 for more details, or visit their website.

Blithewold Mansion & Arboretum on Ferry Road in Bristol has planned a fun-filled February Vacation Camp, with a different theme each day and plenty of enrollment options for parents to choose from (full-week, single-day, and even half-day!).  “Snowflake Bentley Day” is sparking my interest, and “Mystical Magical Day” has grabbed my kids’ attention – call 253-2707 to sign up and visit their website for more details.