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4th graders learn to dance

ana anthony/daily globe Larry Yazzie dances with fourth-grade students during an artist-in-residency session Wednesday at Prairie Elementary in Worthington.2 / 2

WORTHINGTON -- The gym at Prairie Elementary reverberated Wednesday with drum beats and what sounded like the stomping of feet.

Fourth-graders who lined up in rows were engrossed in dance moves like the "shuffle" and "criss cross" that they learned the day before from Native American dancer Larry Yazzie.

Yazzie and Tawny Adson, a fellow team member from the Native Pride Dancers, began working with elementary kids on Tuesday as a result of a Southwest Minnesota Arts and Humanities Council grant.

The $2,500 grant is funded, in part, through appropriations from the Minnesota State Legislature with money from the state's general fund, and its arts and cultural heritage fund that was created by vote of the people of Minnesota on Nov. 4, 2008.

The three-day artist-in-residency is part of the school's Comprehensive Arts Planning Program (CAPP) effort to provide music, visual arts and dance opportunities to students.

While music and visual arts are "officially offered" by District 518, CAPP committee member Jeanne Mammen said that a dance component was missing in the art curriculum.

"We felt that our community would be very receptive to multi-cultural dance experiences," she said.

She added that schools are required by the state to provide three of the five art standards -- music, visual arts, dance, theater and media -- to students.

Mammen explained that when Friends of the Auditorium had arranged for Larry Yazzie and the Native Pride Dancers to perform at Memorial Auditorium, it was "the perfect opportunity" to invite Yazzie for a dance residency.

Led by Adson, girls learned basic dance steps involved in the Native American shawl dance on Tuesday.

The boys were introduced to the men's fancy dance.

"We wanted them to realize the drum beats and timing and the balance," Yazzie said.

On Wednesday, Yazzie and Adson revisited the dance moves but added in some choreography.

"We will speed up the beat on Friday, but they will be able to create their own dance by showing us what they've learned," Yazzie said. "I encourage them to infuse their own movements."

As the founder of Native Pride Dancers, Yazzie has worked with people of all ages.

Based in the Twin Cities, the dance company strives to keep the Native American heritage alive by performing worldwide and conducting workshops, among other events.

Fourth-graders will be treated to a special performance at 9:30 a.m. today. In collaboration with the Nobles County Integration Collaborative, Friends of the Auditorium will be hosting a student series at 1 p.m. today.

Yazzie and the Native Pride Dancers will perform at 7:30 p.m. Saturday at Memorial Auditorium Performing Arts Center.

Daily Globe Reporter Ana Anthony can be reached at 376-7321.