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Department Of Dance

BYU Performance Groups Share the Gift of Dance with Outreach to Utah Elementary Schools

Every Spring Semester, the BYU Kinnect and Traditionz Companies Perform for Local Schools, Centers and Events

How does the BYU Department of Dance give back to the community and inspire the next generation? The answer comes through the department’s outreach companies, Kinnect and Traditionz. These two companies spend winter semester rehearsing and preparing shows to perform at elementary schools and other locations across Utah during the spring semester. Each company chooses a theme and has individual goals and methods but they share a purpose: to inspire and uplift children through dance.

Kinnect, led by Karen Jensen, is based in contemporary dance and dance education. Each year the BYU students use the Utah Core Curriculum to decide a theme and create an educational dance performance that they present to elementary school children. After each performance, they teach creative dance classes to the K-6 students. This year they also performed at Primary Children’s Hospital, an assisted living center, a museum and a City of Orem event. “Kinnect is an outreach performance dance company, focusing on cultivating teaching, creative and performance skills in its members,” said Jensen.

“I love seeing the students become skilled teachers and learn how to instruct and engage children,” Jensen said. “It is exciting because they fall in love with teaching and education, and they get to see how influential they can be in guiding creativity in students.”

This year, Kinnect’s theme was “Earth and Motion,” centered on aspects of the earth and natural phenomenon. “Movement is part of the discovery, imagination and learning processes,” said Jensen. “When students can move through a topic, they are more apt to remember it. They become more expressive when they can make creative choices.”

Traditionz, led by Amy Jex, is performance based, with an educational narrative to accompany the dance and music. The company is a precursor to BYU’s International Folk Dance Ensemble and is used to prepare students for international performance. This year, the company held 45 performances at elementary schools and one at a veterans center. Jex describes these performances as “mutually beneficial” for both the BYU performers and the audience members.

Traditionz Students Perform Traditional Wedding Dance for Elementary Students.
Traditionz Students Perform Traditional Wedding Dance for Elementary Students
Photo by Natalie Lund

This year the Traditionz show was titled “Family Ties” and centered on how families celebrate with each other at holidays, weddings, etc. “Because our program is about cultures and people, it's a good way to show elementary students things they might not have seen before,” Jex said. “It exposes them to people they might not have interfacings with or not appreciate. Dance is a fun introduction to somebody else’s life and their ways of moving and interacting.”

Jex recalled one elementary school principal who spoke to the students after the show about seeing good in people who are different from themselves. The principal spoke about how the Traditionz performances can teach young children how to appreciate other people and cultures, especially in schools where there are multiple demographics.

The directors of both performing groups feel that the gospel and Jesus Christ are at the center of their process. “Every member of Kinnect recognizes that they have help from above,” said Jensen. “It is important to present children with good, wholesome, inspiring entertainment. My students feel that there have been layers of miracles throughout this process.”

Jex added, “We chose a hymn, “Go Forth with Faith,” that became our anthem. While [the theme of this year’s show] didn’t seem outwardly like we were preaching the gospel, inwardly we knew we felt that we had a message that was important—to strengthen families.”

The directors agreed that the performances were beneficial and inspiring for both the dancers and the audience members. The majority of the student performers on Kinnect are dance education majors, and Jensen hopes that the experiences they have with Kinnect will benefit them their whole lives, from their careers to their religious practices.

Traditionz Students Perform at Local Elementary Schools. Two couples dancing in American style.
Traditionz Students Perform at Local Elementary Schools
Photo by Isaac Hendrikson

When asked about the impact of the performances, Jex recalls noticing a veteran singing along with the lullabies used during the traditional hula dance; he had tears streaming down his face. At schools, some children told the dancers that their grandparents would sing those lullabies to them. “[Experiences like this one] make it more real for my students,” said Jex. “They realize that these dances have meaning to people.”

The opportunity to engage with people in the community is what makes the performance companies worthwhile. “We’re always aiming to stand up for dance as an academic discipline and show its value in a university,” Jex said. “Having these experiential learning opportunities is what education is all about: taking what you learn in the classroom and going out into the world.”