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RJ Bailey Students Learn About the Many Facets of Rhythm and a Surprising Connection to Black Culture

The concept of rhythm is complex; it is all around and within us. It’s in the way we move, communicate, listen, and even think. The most obvious examples exist in music and dance, and the students at Richard J. Bailey explored the rhythm in not only those art forms but also how it’s experienced in their everyday life with special guest speaker and Black opera singer Sabrina Francis.

The assembly was the grand finale of Black History Month celebrations, which extended into March. Ms. Francis is a local artist who is passionate about the power of storytelling, which uses rhythm instead of words and has been used throughout our lives and across the black diaspora. RJB PTA President Ayeshah Parker worked with Principal Rraci on coordinating the event. 

“Ms. Rraci wanted to give students an opportunity to engage with black history from a living context,” she said. “The school curriculum mostly covers what has happened in the past, so we wanted the students to engage with a present-day artist. Ms. Francis offers a unique perspective because of the connection between opera and African music. It’s not commonly known that old African folk singing and strategies are used in opera.”

The strategies Ms. Francis focused on during the assembly included rhythm, storytelling, and the ‘call and response’ technique. Using examples from the Harlem Renaissance, Ms. Francis explains that ‘call and response’ is a device that is integral to the rhythm of communication and storytelling. In the arts, ‘call and response’ is used to engage with others through voice, instrument, and movement. But that’s not the only place it’s found. “You are already using ‘call and response’ in your lives, and you probably don’t realize it,” Ms. Francis told students. “It happens every time you’re on the playground engaging in play with each other.” 

Ms. Francis and her pianist accompanist Dante Harrel demonstrated how ‘call and response’ works with students by combining singing with game play. The students also watched videos of history-making performances from the Harlem Renaissance that demonstrated this technique. The crowd favorite was a rousing performance of Whitey’s Lindy Hopper dancers. Watching how the swing dancers worked together as pairs was just another way for students to understand the concept in tandem with rhythm, music, and movement. “The back and forth, twirls, and dips are all part of the rhythm in dance,” Ms. Francis told the students. “This is how our bodies can also tell a story.”

Ms. Francis has been teaching children of all ages, even preschoolers, about rhythm. It’s a practice she developed while in college and graduate school, and it blossomed into a sort of curriculum-based approach.  “As a child, I found rhythm to be very organizing for me. It’s a structure and a skill that you have to build, she said.”It’s a mindset, just relax and realize it there and feel it. Rhythm is everywhere; movement is everywhere.”