Holiday concert unites community with cookies and milk

Will Tolliver, ’14, and Victoria Pless, ’14, waltz in Professor Sumerfield’s ballroom class.

This year, Cookies and Milk, an annual holiday concert sponsored by the Dance and Movement Studies department, will feature performances by a wide variety of dancers including some young members of the Meadville community. Certain songs from the performance directly relate to Allegheny’s theme, the Year of Transforming Education.

The DMS department works closely with the Creative Landscapes Learning Center, an educational outreach program founded by Jan Hyatt in 1990 which incorporates an after-school program as well as a family choir called Creative Landscapes for Families. Both affiliated groups will participate in Sunday’s performance.

Now an accelerated elementary school for children in kindergarten through fourth grade, the Center is defined by a hands-on learning approach that is highly interdisciplinary and creative in nature.

Cooperation and collaboration are also essential to Creative Landscapes’ educational vision. Similarly, they are important aspect of Cookies and Milk.

In addition to performances by Allegheny dance students, Creative Landscapes and the choir, and the Jazz and Dance Ensemble dance team, special-needs children from the ARC will also perform choreography taught by Betsy Sumerfield, professor of DMS.

The performance songs were written by John Hyatt, music director for the DMS department, to teach children mathematical concepts in an interactive way.

Hyatt, who teaches seventh-grade social studies at Meadville Middle School, played guitar and sang his self-written “Number Songs,” a set of six songs titled according to the numbers between two and seven. Each song’s time signature corresponds to its number; for example, “Twos” is written in two beats per measure, “Threes” is written in three beats per measure and so on.

“Any time signature with an odd number is more difficult,” Hyatt said, explaining that “Fives” and “Sevens” are the songs with the strangest rhythms.

Dancer Hilario Segarra, ’15, said he found the time signature for the “Threes” song difficult to adjust to at first, but that the mathematical dimension to the song made it more accessible.

“It’s taking math and turning it into a dance,” Segarra said. “Dance is already pretty mathematical…you have to do the counts.”
Hyatt’s songs describe mathematical processes such as the multiplication tables.

Teaching is Hyatt’s passion: he received his Master’s in Education at Allegheny, that is, when Master’s programs were offered. Hyatt said that Professor of Dance and Movement Studies Eleanor Weisman asked him to write the “Number Songs” in her first year at Allegheny.

Veronica Lang, ’15, choreographed two of the “Number Songs” for the Cookies and Milk performance. She and Lauren Klimczak, ’14, co-choreographed “Threes,” and Lang choreographed “Fours.”

This past week, Hyatt came into a “Threes” rehearsal to slow down the tempo for the dancers in Lang’s and Klimczak’s number, which combines aspects of waltz and jazz to create a unique style of dance.

“We decided we would collaborate because…I have background in ballroom and [Klimczak] has much more in modern, jazz and ballet dance,” Lang said.

She said that the Year of Transforming Education ties in to the College’s original vision of dance as promoted by Jan Hyatt, co-founder of the DMS program (and also John Hyatt’s mother). Jan Hyatt looks at dance as an alternative learning method.

“There’s a lot more than just an entertainment factor,” Lang said. “The ‘Number Songs’ deal with mathematics because mentally, music and math use the same part of the brain.”

She added that dance has the potential to teach concepts in a subconscious way.

“You’re gaining information without realizing you’re learning, unlike the traditional sitting down and learning method,” she said.

Shari Mastalski, a dance artist from Butler, Pa., choreographed the “Fives” number for performers from the Creative Landscapes program.

Mastalski said that although she coordinated the “Fives” dancers, choreography was truly a collaborative effort made possible by the dancers as much as herself. This collaboration is central to Creating Landscapes’ mission statement.

“We all know that we are more than the sum of the parts, and together we can do amazing things,” Mastalski said. “The only challenge is to trust the process…that it will work, and not feel an urge to be in control.”

“One of the challenges Allegheny has faced with Meadville is integration…combining the two communities,” Lang said.

She said the concert aims to unite the campus community with Meadville as a whole.

“We said, there needs to be something in town to kick off the holiday season, and yet be for everyone,” Sumerfield said. “Whether or not you have money, whether or not you are Christian… to be very inclusive with the community at large.”

She added that it is important to diversify the dance styles showcased in the concert so that the performance is enjoyable for a wide range of audience members.

“I always make sure I try to keep in mind…it has to be entertaining enough for young kids, and yet also be entertaining for adults, because it’s not just kids in the audience,” Sumerfield said.

Sumerfield said that as a choreographer, part of the fun is also being surprised by the other dance routines.

“I think it will be fun to watch, because my assumption is nothing is going to look alike,” Sumerfield said. “I know one of the ‘Number’ pieces is a waltz, but I have not seen it and they have not seen my [waltz], specifically so we make sure that we are not influenced in any way by each other.”