Brazilian dance troupe moves Montana students

In 2013, the NEA Foundation Global Learning Fellows traveled to Brazil and saw Companhia Urbana de Dança perform in Rio de Janeiro. Inspired by their story and performance, the NEA Foundation supported the company on a recent arts exchange to share their talent and perspective with students in the United States. One of the stops on the company’s tour was in Helena, MT, where they danced with students from Reg Hageman’s physical education classes at Capital High School. Tom Pedersen, a biology teacher at the same school and former Global Learning Fellow, was excited to see the company again.

Reg Hageman knew it was an opportunity the school couldn’t pass up.

The Myrna Loy Center for the Performing & Media Arts, our premier local arts hub, was bringing the modern dance troupe Companhia Urbana de Dança from Brazil to Montana. Luckily, it just so happened that I would also be teaching our dance unit when the dance troupe was scheduled to arrive. I managed to secure four class sessions with CUD over two days. 

We met the dancers on a cold, late winter day in front of the school and took them to the gym.  I think we were all a bit skeptical: they were not too sure about the weather or what they had gotten themselves into.

We could not speak Portuguese, and their English was limited. But it soon became apparent that none of it mattered. It was amazing to watch dance become the language of the lesson.

Sonia Destrie Lie, Companhia Urbana’s director and choreographer, got the kids warmed up with some basic steps. Then, the music began to speed up. The dancers moved the kids around the gym changing from step to step, movement to movement. A few students still lingered at the back, unsure, shuffling, looking at one another wondering, “Is this okay? Should I be doing this?” But soon, they joined in. The music and energy of the dancers were infectious—all of a sudden, eighty students (and their teachers!) were up and shimmying around the gym.

To say the least, this was a completely new experience for most students and one they will never forget.

I watched my students climb out of their comfort zones, connect with people from another culture, and get lost in movement and music.

This type of learning experience cannot be measured by a test, but will be remembered for years to come.



Tom Pederson called the 2013 Global Learning Fellowship “a once-in-a-lifetime experience” in many ways.

I had never been out of the country, except to Canada. I had never been immersed in another culture firsthand. I had never witnessed another country’s education system. But by the time we left Brazil, we were all family and many still close friends.

The lessons we learned about global competency have been extremely valuable in developing my lessons and relating my students to the world....we are truly one! What an eye-opening opportunity this was for me!

When I saw the ad in the newspaper about Companhia Urbana coming to Helena, I was shocked…really, Helena?! It was a chance for me to relive my Rio de Janeiro experience and then see my students experience firsthand the enthusiastic Brazilian culture and passion for dance. Even though language was a barrier, nothing was lost in translation.

The classes were thoroughly immersed in the language of dance and really enjoyed the freedom to just let go and follow their lead.

I told Companhia Urbana that they would have to spend a lot more time in Helena if they were going to teach a bunch of kids from Montana how to groove. They laughed and agreed, but it didn't matter.

Their goal of connecting the world, Brazil to Montana, had been accomplished. These kids will always remember those two days and so will I!

Subscribe to our blog to receive our upcoming series of guest blogs from the 2014 Global Learning Fellows about their experience in Beijing and Xi’an, China.



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