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Keeping a socially aware beat

Dance program encourages high school students to convey global issues in performance.

June 11, 2008|By Alison Tully

Monterey High School student Lisa Navarro moved side to side and waved her hands in the air on Monday with her classmates. They were moments away from premiering their choreographed dance in front of a packed audience at UCLA’s Glorya Kaufman Hall.

“The dance was a great thing to do because it was something new,” said Navarro, who enrolled at Monterey High after falling behind in credits at Burbank High School. “I never thought I would be interested in dance until I got involved in the program.”

The dance, set to African drumbeats, was part of the Hunger and Democracy program put on by the HeART project, a nonprofit that reaches out to Los Angeles County alternative schools that lack funding for arts programs.


For the past 10 weeks, professional artists representing the nonprofit have worked in 24 county schools, including Monterey.

This year, the program’s themes included hunger, poverty, extinction, adaptation, preservation, as well as the art of vision, or how people perceive the world. The agency each year picks the themes.

“Hunger and poverty are global issues, so it was a challenge to find a way for kids to communicate that in a performance,” said Lisa Jo LaMere, Monterey High classroom supervisor and physical education and health teacher. “But those issues stem from prejudice and segregation, so we talked to students about how prejudice has played into their lives.”

In addition to the dance, students constructed life-size magnifying cameras in the art-of-vision category that were exhibited during the winter at the Zimmer Children’s Museum, as well as time capsules for the extinction theme that were shown in April at the La Brea Tar Pits.

Professional dancer Esther Baker-Tarpaga helped Navarro and 17 other students choreograph a dance that reflected how hunger and poverty has affected their lives. During the dance, students would stop to recite a monologue about a time in their life when they felt discriminated against.

“Sometimes people look or laugh at my family just because of the way they look,” Navarro said during the performance’s opening.

“This girl came up to me in the cafeteria line and asked me if I could speak English,” student Maritza Aguilar said. “Then she told me to go to the back of the line.”

This was the first year that Monterey High took part in the HeART project. Warner Bros. and the Burbank Unified School District provided funding for the school to take part in the project, Principal Ann Brooks said.

Monterey High is a continuation school whose students have left previous schools because they fell behind in credits or because of other factors such as their attendance or behavior, she said.

“It was wonderful for students to have a cross-cultural experience,” Brooks said. “Sometimes kids wonder what the value is in what they are doing . . . so coming to perform at a theater like this is a great way for them to see their hard work put into action.”

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