Ryane Zipstein is one of two students at Laguna Beach High School who wrote a spoken word poem for the Laguna Beach Education Foundation. Since then, the dance department has choreographed some movement sequences to it and because they were so moved, the piece will be included in their Spring dance concert on April 28 and 29. in Laguna Beach, CA on Thursday, April 27, 2017. (Photo by Sam Gangwer, Orange County Register/SCNG)
Dancers with the Laguna Beach High School dance department perform to a spoken-word poem by students Ryane Zipstein and Bayley Thomas. in Laguna Beach, CA on Thursday, April 27, 2017. (Photo by Sam Gangwer, Orange County Register/SCNG)
Dancers with the Laguna Beach High School dance department perform during a spoken word poem by students Ryane Zipstein and Bayley Thomas. in Laguna Beach, CA on Thursday, April 27, 2017. (Photo by Sam Gangwer, Orange County Register/SCNG)
Dancers typically begin a sequence of movement by counting 5-6-7-8 to mark the tempo and phrase of the music, but what if there was no music? What if the familiar rhythm and melody of a song were replaced instead by spoken words?
For the beginning/intermediate Dance 1 class at Laguna Beach High School, these questions were answered as the dancers prepared movement to accompany a student-written poem.
“It was a bit daunting because in order to dance with a poem, we sort of had to forget what we know about dance when it comes to keeping in time with the music,” said sophomore Gabriela de Moraes. “There are moments when the choreography matches up with specific words, but for the most part we have to create our own flow and tempo.”
The poem, written by seniors Bayley Thomas and Ryane Zipstein, was originally composed to help the Laguna Beach Unified School District’s SchoolPower foundation raise money for new staff positions that will focus on supporting students’ emotional and mental well-being. The text of the poem was meant to attract donors as it illustrates the stress, anxiety and more serious mental health issues that students experience.
Zipstein, who also performed the poem, explained her view on this need for support.
“I know being a student doesn’t sound like the most stressful situation in the world, but at this point in our lives, the stress is the most we’ve ever handled. I think about the ratio of pressure to our age, and sometimes we’re not equipped,” said Zipstein. “The angsty teen stereotype is really prevalent, but I don’t think that makes it any less serious.”
Thomas and Zipstein’s spoken word was used in a video that was screened at SchoolPower’s 32nd annual Dinner Dance on February 11 and helped generate more than $158,000 in donations for the Student Well-Being Initiative.
Because the poem was so well-received, Thomas and Zipstein’s drama director passed the original version of it on to dance director Estee Carrizosa, who was looking for opportunities to collaborate with students of other arts disciplines.
The 15 dancers in the piece dissected the poem stanza by stanza and created movement based on the emotions of the text. The resulting piece, “Resilience + Perseverance = Grit,” was presented at the school’s spring dance concert at the end of April.
Sophomore dance student Katie Palino said she was excited to try dancing to words instead of music.
“I think our dance brings the words alive and gives it this in-depth feeling so you feel the sadness or the anger even more.”
Zipstein agreed with Palino, saying that dance “fills in the gaps” that poetry creates.
“I think of dance as being on the other side of the spectrum from poetry,” she said. “It’s that contrast between mind and body. What you see and what you hear.”
Between the poem and the choreography, “Resilience + Perseverance = Grit” ended up being an entirely student-created piece. This made the final product even more symbolic of the theme, the students said, because it offered an honest look at the struggles felt by a student.
“People are fascinated by seeing through the eyes of another perspective,” said Thomas. “I think it promotes the idea that people should consider other points of view when navigating through life.”
Thomas described the collaboration as “explaining a simple struggle in an elegant, complex way.”
“As someone deeply blessed to live in an area like Laguna, I can really appreciate art that allows the audience to depart from everyday life and experience extraordinary emotion,” Thomas said. “I feel honored to be a part of the dance show.”
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