“Around the World” with BYU Traditionz

A mesmerizing Hungarian bottle dance, an exciting Indian harvest dance, and a percussive Indonesian clapping dance are just a few of the pieces you’ll see showcased in BYU ‘Traditionz’ new digital series, Around the World. ‘Traditionz’, BYU’s cultural dance outreach company has worked tirelessly over the past four months to learn, rehearse, and film choreography and instructional videos that celebrate the diversity of cultures across the globe.

For 30 years, BYU ‘Traditionzhas traveled to Utah schools each spring to provide elementary school students with an entertaining and educational dance performance. This year, as a live outreach production was not an option, the 28 dancers, along with BYU’s ‘Living Legends’, worked hard to create a digital video series called Around the World that features 19 dance videos, 9 instructional videos, 5 coloring pages, and a few lesson plans that teachers can use in their classroom and even over Zoom!

Amy Jex, Cultural Dance Area Coordinator and director of BYU ‘Traditionz’, recognizes the benefits of movement in the classroom, especially movement that opens eyes and hearts to diverse experiences. Each video in the series begins with a short introduction that adds insight into the dances’ origins, costumes, music, or cultural significance. Jex hopes that in these videos, teachers and parents “will find not only entertainment value, but also educational and social benefits for [their] students…” She continues that, “Learning about world cultures is so vital to shaping an inclusive and accepting view of others. We firmly believe that dancing together has physical, social, and mental health benefits for people of all ages.”

Historically, Traditionz’s audience has consisted of students from about 25 Utah schools per year. Thanks to physical distancing restraints forcing ‘Traditionz’ to get creative with their outreach program, the program’s audience has expanded significantly. Now, as a virtual performance, these resources are available to everyone! Teachers, parents, students, administrators, and anyone else from around the world can view them by visiting www.byutraditionz.com and registering for the materials using a google form.

Abby Whipple, a native of Provo, Utah, has been dancing for most of her life but never imagined she’d be dancing on BYU ‘Traditionz’. Whipple has enjoyed her experience immensely and shares her love of being a member of the team because it connects her to different cultures through the art of dance. In her own words, Whipple states, “I think it is important that everyone can experience and learn about world cultures because it connects us to those around the world and it can teach us many things.” She is excited these resources are available to so many and hopes that “students of all ages can learn to love and appreciate different world cultures.”

As students find connections with other cultures, as Abby mentioned, they will also find connections with the dancers who present them. Each dance in this virtual series is filmed in the classroom that ‘Traditionz’ rehearses in–the setting most similar to a live performance in a school gym. Jex reminds us that just like the students who will view the dance videos, dancers on ‘Traditionz’ “experienced remote instruction, wearing masks in class, social distancing as much as possible, and other challenges the pandemic has brought to education.” Furthermore, the performers are not immune to making mistakes! Some of the videos contained in this virtual series will contain dancing errors, prop malfunctions, and speaking blunders illustrating to students that mistakes are normal, correctable, and sometimes even funny! Abby Whipple noted, “As dancers, it’s easy to make mistakes, but we have learned that making mistakes is normal and can help us improve next time! Our mistakes can help us learn, grow, and improve.”

Carly Wanlass, an elementary education major at BYU and ‘Traditionz’ performer, looks forward to helping students in her own future classroom “realize that one way we can connect with anyone from around the world is through dance.” She is grateful for her opportunity to connect with students virtually this spring.

The virtual resources provided in Around the World will aid students in developing empathy, strengthening connections, and broadening their worldview as they observe and replicate dances that honor a plethora of shared human experiences. Daniel Owen, a BYU microbiology student and ‘Traditionz’ performer from Meridian, Idaho remarks, “As I’ve literally stepped into the shoes of people with completely different backgrounds than me, I have come to realize that as members of the human family, we are more connected than we might think. Even though cultures and countries around the world may look different, we are all people with feelings and experiences and fears and hopes and dreams. I believe that recognizing and emphasizing that concept will bring greater empathy, compassion, and appreciation for one another, ultimately resulting in unity that spans cultural and physical boundaries.” 

We encourage everyone (especially teachers and parents) to enjoy this virtual series, Around the World, while it is available for use for the next two months. After that, the videos with limited copyright permission will no longer be available, but the others should remain. Feel free to reach out to BYU Traditionz at byutraditionz@gmail.com with questions or inquiries from your students! The dancers would love to see videos of your students and children participating with them.

Amy Jex and the ‘Traditionz’ team wish you the best in the remainder of your school year and hope these dance performance and instructional videos, lesson plans, and coloring pages will provide much-needed relief and support to teachers and students, making the end of what one teacher called “the longest and most difficult school year in history” a delight!

Hanna Gemperline is a BYU ‘Traditionz’ performer, a junior majoring in Experience Design and Management, and the social media manager for the BYU ARTS Partnership. When she isn’t dancing or singing, she loves to travel, hike, and try new ice cream flavors.

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