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Learning how to move to the beat

Artist Ofield Williams brings rhythm to classroom

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Classes at Champlain School turned into dance crews over the last couple of weeks as an artist skilled in music, dance and theatre shared his skills with students.

Ofield Williams, who’s trained in music, dance, and theatre, and is currently part of Winnipeg hip-hop band Grand Analog, visited the school for two weeks, spending Jan. 28-Feb. 8 teaching dance techniques to the kids as part of the Manitoba Arts Council’s Artists In the Schools program.

"It was enough teachers, colleagues and peers telling me there’s a certain gift I have working with kids, and that being an artist, I should seek out other ways to do so," Williams said of his motivation to join the program.

At the end of the two-week session, the various "crews" the students formed performed the routines they learned during a showcase for the whole school.

Williams, who has made "hundreds" of visits to schools through Artists In the Schools, has created a program for kids teaching them some breakdance fundamentals, and also incorporating hatha yoga to relax students and help them concentrate.

"The whole idea was, I love music and I love dance, so I wanted to put something together that allows me to share the joys of that. But also, infuse it with something children and adults and alike can use to further their health," he said.

Teacher Ashley Lutrzykowski said Williams’ class gave the kids an opportunity to learn things they normally wouldn’t get to, and that the moves themselves are accessible.

"He’s doing fun moves. Right now, they’re doing the robot," she said, pointing to a group of pop-and-locking students.

Williams’ approach certainly helped the kids warm to him. While he was speaking with The Times, a young girl rushes into the room for a quick hug, darting away as quickly as she burst in.

"That’s so school specific," he notes, adding kids react differently at each school he visits. However, he notes the reaction he’s gotten at Champlain School is evidence that the kids are comfortable with the program. Having two weeks to work with the kids helped, too.

"Any residency longer than a week is good, just because it gives you more time to develop a relationship with students," Williams said.

"Being a performer, and being a kid at heart, you make that connection really soon. The kids are engaged, and after the first day it’s just fun. It’s almost viral, the way it spreads across the school."

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