Dancing to their own beat

North­ern Liber­ties kids work with NLArts to take a turn at ex­press­ing their cre­ativ­ity through art, dance and more. 

Born to per­form: Young dan­cers from the NLArts pro­gram per­form at Liberty Lands as part of the Phil­adelphia Fringe Fest­iv­al. PHOTO COUR­TESY OF DAN GUST­AFSON

At sun­set in North­ern Liber­ties last Fri­day, the echo of unique mu­sic drew pass­ersby to Liberty Lands Park.

There, they dis­covered a group of young­sters per­form­ing an im­pro­visa­tion­al dance to mu­sic in­spired by Afric­an drum­beats, in an event held as part of the Phil­adelphia Fringe Fest­iv­al. 

But the 12 dan­cers wer­en’t just the young­est per­formers in the fest­iv­al — they also cho­reo­graphed the piece and wrote the mu­sic ac­com­pa­ny­ing it them­selves, through the NLArts — North­ern Liber­ties Arts — sum­mer camp pro­gram. The camp provides art pro­grams to chil­dren at week­end and sum­mer work­shops taught by loc­al artists.

Per­former Maya, 10, proudly said that she had cre­ated part of the cho­reo­graphy – dip­ping down with her hands out to the ground and make a scoop­ing ges­ture up­wards to demon­strate. 

“Run­ning up and down the park was hard,” Maya ad­mit­ted, but over­all she and her young­er sis­ter, Lili, who both per­formed, said they had a fun time.

“Even if it was just a one night thing, it’s cool they got to be part of the fest­iv­al,” said Maya and Lili’s dad, Craig Peterson, him­self the former dir­ect­or of the Phil­adelphia Fringe Fest­iv­al.

Cho­reo­graph­er Christina Ge­su­aldi, a dan­cer in res­id­ence at the Mascher Space Co-op, worked with the kids to cre­ate this per­form­ance. 

“We really played a lot with dif­fer­ent ideas. They wanted it to be spe­cif­ic to the park out here, and to be close to the audi­ence. It was really just take the mu­sic and run with it, and have fun,” she said.

Ac­cord­ing to Kristin McK­eown, an­oth­er par­ent of kids who per­formed in the pro­gram, NLArts is unique in that it in­vites kids par­ti­cip­at­ing in the pro­gram to cre­ate their own pro­jects.

“They love be­ing able to be so cre­at­ive,” McK­eown said of her two chil­dren, who have par­ti­cip­ated in NLArts for three sum­mers. “They’re part of cre­at­ing it. It’s a camp where they have a voice.”

NLArts has offered their end-of-sum­mer arts camp, as well as monthly arts work­shops for kids on First Fri­days, since 2007, ac­cord­ing to dir­ect­or Monika Kreidie. She said the pro­gram was star­ted due to the lack of arts pro­grams for kids in the North­ern Liber­ties area.

“We were ba­sic­ally just a group of moms that star­ted it,” Kreidie said.

Kreidie and the ap­prox­im­ately 100 oth­er fam­il­ies who had been sup­port­ive of an arts pro­gram in NoLibs de­cided to start up the NLArts pro­gram.

Cyn­die Re­id, whose daugh­ter per­formed in Fri­day’s dance, agreed that there wer­en’t many oth­er op­tions in the neigh­bor­hood for this type of art class.

“There’s a lot of mu­sic pro­grams, but not so much in the per­form­ing arts as­pect,” Re­id said. “My daugh­ter loves mu­sic and dance. It’s just so nice to see her get up there and want to be in a per­form­ance in front of every­body.” 

NLArts ori­gin­ally held its arts pro­gram­ming at the Crane Arts Cen­ter, and then at the Angler Move­ments Arts Cen­ter. In re­cent years it has moved to the North­ern Liber­ties Com­munity Cen­ter, which gives the pro­gram more flex­ib­il­ity, Kreidie said. The group some­times co­ordin­ates pro­grams with the North­ern Liber­ties Re­cre­ation Cen­ter next door.

The three-week sum­mer NLArts pro­gram, which takes place an­nu­ally in Au­gust, con­sists of three work­shops each in the morn­ing and af­ter­noon every week­day. In the first week, kids put to­geth­er a dance or the­at­ric­al per­form­ance, in the second week they con­cen­trate on visu­al art, and in the third week they take trips to art gal­ler­ies and stu­di­os around the city.

“What we’ve de­veloped over sev­en years, is what really works is when you give the chil­dren the chance to choose what cre­at­ive art they do,” Kreidie said. “It gives them a sense of own­er­ship.”

This was the first year that NLArts stu­dents held a per­form­ance after the pro­gram ended. Mu­si­cian Domin­ic An­gel­lela worked with the kids on cre­at­ing the mu­sic played dur­ing the per­form­ance, which loc­al mu­si­cian Tom Spiker helped them re­cord.

In the near fu­ture, Kreidie said NLArts is plan­ning a work­shop where kids re­dec­or­ate garbage cans in the neigh­bor­hood with col­or­ful designs. The group will also hold a work­shop soon in which kids will build drones, and an­oth­er planned neigh­bor­hood art pro­ject is for an in­ter­act­ive sculp­ture that will serve as a wa­ter foun­tain for dogs.

“That’s im­port­ant to us, provid­ing things that can be re­tained in the neigh­bor­hood,” Kreidie said. “That’s one ul­ti­mate goal we have, to make things that kids will look at their whole lives and be like, ‘I did that.’”

For more in­form­a­tion about NLArts, vis­it NLArts.org.

You can reach at snewhouse@bsmphilly.com.

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