- Associated Press - Sunday, February 9, 2014

SITKA, Alaska (AP) - Students at Keet Gooshi Heen Elementary this week learned how to line up as either a “biscuit” or “butter.”

They created a “spiral” and a “bagel.”

And they held hands, sashayed and do-si-doed to the sound of modern and traditional music in the school music room as the visiting teacher Susan Michaels called the dances.

“I get a chance to talk to the kids ahead of time,” said Susan Brandt-Ferguson, the Keet music teacher who organized the two-week dance classes. “The reaction is always mixed,” she said of Michaels‘ visits. “But when she comes, it’s never mixed. Everyone’s having fun. Everyone’s smiling. There’s no other option.”

Michaels is here as part of the Artist in Residence program, sponsored by Alaska Arts Southeast with a grant from the Alaska State Council on the Arts. Kids in grades two through five in music classes at Keet Gooshi Heen and Baranof Elementary School will each take four classes from the visiting artist over the two-week period.

Brandt-Ferguson, who organized Michaels‘ visit four years ago, said the La Crescenta, Calif., dance instructor and caller was a big hit with both herself and the kids the last time she came.

“I knew I had to have her come back,” said Brandt-Ferguson, noting that the kids who took the class last time are now in sixth through ninth grades.

The kids learn not just traditional and modern line and square dancing, but other lessons as well.

“A lot of what she focuses on is the fun of it, but also the courtesy and respect,” Brandt-Ferguson said. “She has a wonderful way of bringing that out in the kids.”

The lessons will culminate with a barn dance 6:30 p.m. Friday, Feb. 14, in the KGH gym. Fishing for Cats will play for the event, giving the kids a taste of a real barn dance.

Brandt-Ferguson said dance is an important part of any music program.

“People wonder why I bring a dancer into the music room,” she said. “Dance and music are two arts that are most closely related. You can’t pull them apart. They grew up together. … I’m not sure which came first.”

Brandt-Ferguson said many religions in early America didn’t allow the young to dance to instrumental music, but they could dance while singing. “There is a whole repertoire of ‘play parties,’” she said, which she uses in her classroom.

Pupils from Christine Hole’s fourth-grade class said they enjoyed their first lessons, which led off with “spiral” and “bagel.”

“It was really active,” said Fiona Raasch, after her first class.

Story Continues →