Latin dance coming to hilltown elementary schools

  • Eileen Hermann-Hasse and her business and dance partner Raul Nieves are shown conducting a dance workshop at the McGlynn School in Medford. They will be doing two workshops in the Hilltowns in early April. SUBMITTED PHOTO

Staff Writer
Published: 3/9/2020 11:49:16 PM

WESTHAMPTON — The world of Latin dance is coming to two area rural schools next month, giving children the opportunity to witness the drama of tango, the dynamism of salsa and the rhythm of cumbia, while also learning these dances themselves.

Susan Hatfield, the music teacher at Westhampton Elementary School and New Hingham Regional Elementary School in Chesterfield, secured the grants that helped bring the dance program to her schools.

Hatfield said that most of the students at both schools are from towns that are not particularly diverse. Westhampton Elementary School primarily serves Westhampton children, while New Hingham is the elementary school for Goshen and Chesterfield.

“We want them to know that there’s a bigger world out there,” she said.

Money for the workshops came from the Westhampton and Chesterfield cultural councils, which receive funding from the Massachusetts Cultural Council, and from the parent-teacher organizations at both schools.

Each workshop is an hour long and will be put on by the dance company Dance Caliente of Arlington. The workshop at New Hingham will be on April 2, while the workshop at Westhampton Elementary School will be on April 3.

“We introduce the students to Latin dance and music by performing,” said Eileen Hermann-Hasse.

Hermann-Hasse co-owns Dance Caliente with her dance partner and good friend, Raul Nieves. In addition to teaching dance workshops for children, the two also offer social dance classes to adults and give private lessons; when they’re not teaching, they perform at special events, such as the 200th anniversary of the town of Arlington, and in venues such as senior centers and nursing homes.

“All our programs are interactive,” said Hermann-Hasse.

Hermann-Hasse has been teaching dance professionally since she was 19 years old. She has a master’s degree in dance education from Columbia University’s Teachers College, is the former artistic director of dance at The Dalton School in New York City and has choreographed off-Broadway musicals. Nieves, meanwhile, has more of a dance competition background.

“I’ve never stopped teaching,” said Hermann-Hasse, 68. “In my old age, I’m performing more than ever.”

Hatfield was introduced to Dance Caliente at a festival in Arlington, where she was impressed by how the duo taught dance to people of all ages.

“Everyone was moving,” she said.

At the two workshops in Hampshire County next month, Hermann-Hasse and Nieves will demonstrate four Latin dances: merengue, Argentine tango, cumbia, and salsa. The pair will then lead a conversation with students about each of the dances. For instance, Hermann-Hasse said that when they talk about a dance coming from a particular country, they ask the students if anyone is from that country or knows someone from that country.

Merengue originates from the Dominican Republic, while cumbia comes from Colombia and salsa has Cuban roots. Argentine tango is one of that country’s most famous exports.

In the next part of the program, Hermann-Hasse starts giving a “very serious lecture” about how people imitated animal movements when they first started to dance in humanity’s early history. As she does so, Nieves jumps around and does animal movements behind her.

“There’s a lot of humor involved in this whole program,” Hermann-Hasse said, who noted that she never gets very far in her talk.

Hermann-Hasse eventually “catches” Nieves, and the two of them proceed to teach the animal movements to the children. Then, they use these animal movements to teach the students the four dances.

“A little lion here, and a lion there,” said Hermann-Hasse.

While Hermann-Hasse has visited western Massachusetts before, this will be the first time Dance Caliente will be leading workshops in Westhampton or Chesterfield.

“I love it, it’s beautiful out there,” she said, of the western part of the state. “I wish we were there longer.”

Bera Dunau can be reached at bdunau@gazettenet.com.


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