NORMAN — Moving to the sounds of Bollywood reverberating off the gym walls, dozens of high school students learned a choreographed dance during the third Annual High School Dance Festival this weekend.
During the two-day festival hosted by Norman Public Schools at Norman North High School, over 200 Oklahoma high school students participated in a variety of classes Friday and Saturday, with public performances both nights. Norman North 15-year-old sophomore Alexa Branch said the classes have taught her about more than just dance.
“You’re also learning about new cultures and it just helps open your mind and keep you creative,” she said, of the 32 classes offered for all skill levels in a variety of genres like bomba, Afro-Cuban, ballet, modern, jazz, salsa and more.
Candace Dragg, Norman high school dance teacher and event coordinator, said the program, developed by the University of Central Oklahoma, is meant to showcase Oklahoma public school dance programs, support dance as an essential component of learning and offer arts experiences to students.
This year’s participating schools include Putnam City North High School, Southeast High School, Bishop McGuinness High School, Capitol Hill High School, John Marshall High School, Tulsa Central Fine and Performing Arts Magnet High School, Classen School of Advanced Studies, Northwest Classen High School, Norman High School, Norman North High School and Harding Fine Arts Academy.
Though coordinating the event was stressful, Dragg said it was worth it to watch the nearly 225 students, including 55 Norman students, actively participate in the arts.
“It can be intimidating. This is personal. Dance is very personal so you want to be in a safe environment and we’re creating that safe environment,” Dragg said. “We want them to be comfortable at all levels and engage in something.”
Norman North sophomores Bea Kim, 15, and Cheyenne Hale, 15, said the experience has of course, taught them to be more aware of their bodies, but also taught them about the cultural significance behind dance and to be more culturally sensitive and open towards others.
“It’s been more of an opening,” said Kim, about the challenging classes.
“It’s pushed my limits, made me reach beyond them,” she said.
Norman North 17-year-old senior Arrie Ledesma said trying out the different dance genres during the classes have been rewarding.
“I think it keeps you opening up. Doing dance you have to be social at these things and get out of your shell,” Ledesma said. “You can’t be nervous. You just have to put yourself out there.”
Students danced each day from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. in classes taught by various community members. During a break between classes and their public performances at 7:30 p.m., students watched professional dance companies, R.A.C.E. and Perpetual Motion Modern Dance Oklahoma, during private performances.
Hale said watching the dance companies perform was inspiring. Branch, Kim, Hale and Ledesma said they are all interested in pursuing dance professionally in the future.
UCO began hosting the festival in 2010, and this is the first time the event is being held off of the UCO campus.
The festival also offers the first juried event for the State Superintendent Excellence in the Arts Award for dance and is the only juried event for this award in Oklahoma, as stated in a Norman Public Schools news release.