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ALL THE RIGHT MOVES : Dancer From Aman Folk Ensemble Takes Kids on a World Tour of Fascinating Rhythms

March 18, 1993|CORINNE FLOCKEN | Corinne Flocken is a free-lance writer who regularly covers Kid Stuff for The Times Orange County Edition.

When I was in grade school, movement and learning were not pals. Fidgeting, the teachers called it, and if you kept it up long enough, you'd find yourself tap-tap-tapping your way to the detention hall. Double-time.

With the help of people such as Robert Fox, the rhythm is changing. Fox, a principal dancer with the Los Angeles-based Aman Folk Ensemble, is proving that movement and dance can sometimes enhance learning instead of distract from it, especially in the areas of history and social studies. Fox will present "World Rhythms," a dance workshop for children in grades two through four, at the Fullerton Museum Center on Saturday.

"World Rhythms" is held in conjunction with the museum's exhibit, "Haiti: Symbols de Mystere." And Lynn LaBate, the museum's curator of exhibitions and education, says that although it does not focus on Haitan dances, the workshop highlights the country's multicultural heritage by offering children a "world tour (that) helps kids relate to it in a global sense."

During the session, Fox will lead youngsters in three dances: hoe ana, a hula-like dance from the South Pacific island of Rarotonga; pandogo, an African improvisational dance, and a circle dance from the Appalachians. While teaching children the mechanics of the dance, Fox says he will pass on simple information about each region's history and culture.

Fox, who holds a degree in applied physics from Caltech, says he became enthralled with dance while studying at Occidental College. He joined the internationally recognized Aman company in 1990 and now serves as the group's assistant company manager. Between performances and rehearsals, he has put in plenty of classroom time, both on his own and as part of Aman's smaller educational touring group.

Fox says that when selecting a curriculum for children's workshops, he looks for dances that can be adapted to suit different age groups, and, more importantly, serve as effective and enjoyable teaching tools.

"I look for something that's representative of a culture, so the kids can learn something from the dance," said Fox, who estimates he teaches 50 or more sessions each year to children in kindergarten through through 12th grade.

The hoe ana, for example, uses the hula style of storytelling with hand movements to tell of islanders' search for an imaginary perfect place, which lends itself to discussions of "what life is like there and the way they teach their children to keep pursuing higher goals," Fox said.

In teaching the pandogo, Fox says he demonstrates how cultural traditions can be a thing of the present, not just the past.

"The dance is done differently by different tribes," he explained. "The style has been preserved in modern culture . . . the music is still evolving. It's a good tie-in because when I talk about folk culture in general, I mention how it's always changing; it's not just what used to be."

The Appalachian circle dance amplifies that thought and brings it closer to home, said Fox, adding that Aman typically includes an Appalachian piece in its major concerts.

"I decided to carry on that policy as a way to show kids that folk culture isn't just weird things that go on in other countries. It's alive, and it's right here."

Fox said that when possible he likes to enhance his lessons with cultural artifacts. At the workshop in Fullerton, he will demonstrate an Appalachian limberjack, a carved figure that can be made to dance when the player manipulates a wooden paddle beneath it. Fox often features the limberjack in Aman concerts.

Because he had little exposure to the arts while growing up, ("I was more of a reader; my goal in life was to know how everything worked"), Fox said he's especially eager to expose children to dance at an early age.

"It's great because I get to play with the kids, but I'm sneaking in some learning, too," he said. "The kids don't think of it as a lesson, so they don't have any of the prejudices that they usually have about learning."

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