Portsmouth students flip for the arts

Henry Pierce gets creative during his improvised "go-down" during a hip-hop dance workshop at Portsmouth Middle School Friday. Henry Pierce gets creative during his improvised "go-down" during a hip-hop dance workshop at Portsmouth Middle School Friday.

Henry Pierce gets creative during his improvised "go-down" during a hip-hop dance workshop at Portsmouth Middle School Friday.

Henry Pierce gets creative during his improvised “go-down” during a hip-hop dance workshop at Portsmouth Middle School Friday.

PORTSMOUTH — Matthew Razz was as much of an inspiration speaker as he was a breakdancer last week.

One half of the dance duo Swift Charakterz from Dance Fusion in Tiverton, Mr. Razz urged students to be fearless when they improvised their “toprock,” “go-down” and other basic moves.

“Don’t put up that fear wall,” said Mr. Razz, who was joined by “Brandon Bboy Freerock” in a hip-hop dance workshop during the school’s all-day “Arts for Life” celebration Friday.

"Brandon Bboy Freerock" (foreground) and Matthew Razz of Swift Charakterz demonstrate a few hip-hop dance moves during a workshop.

“Brandon Bboy Freerock” (foreground) and Matthew Razz of Swift Charakterz demonstrate a few hip-hop dance moves during a workshop.

“Jump in and try, or you might miss out on something that you could be amazing at,” he said. “If you’re sitting on the sidelines, watching everybody else, that’s indicative of not wanting success. That’s a small example of what’s coming in the future. Don’t set yourself up for failure.”

The duo’s fervor for breakdancing, or “b-boying” — a hip-hop dance that originated on the streets of New York City in the early 1970s — could not be denied.

“We take it as seriously as you would take soccer,” said Mr. Razz. “It’s our sport, our passion.”

Fourth-grader Trevor Gittus makes a clay bowl during a clay-making class.

Fourth-grader Trevor Gittus makes a clay bowl during a clay-making class.

The two basic moves the duo showed the kids were the “toprock” (steps performed from a standing position) and the “go-down” (moves performed on the ground).

“Take your time. Don’t go down like a sack of potatoes,” Mr. Razz told the students. “When you do your go-downs, try to do it a different way every time. Try to think out of the box.”

Many students, like 10-year-old Jack Higgins, took him up on the challenge. Spinning around like a top and flipping end over end, Jack looked like he’d been breakdancing all his life.

Actually, it was his first time.

“I like the cool moves and the footwork,” said Jack.

“He’s a little fireball,” Mr. Razz said while nodding approvingly at the 10-year-old’s moves.

40 different workshops

The two dancers were among the many different artists who visited the school Friday for demonstrations and workshops as part of the school’s “Arts for Life” day.

“There are probably 40 different workshops going on,” said music teacher Doreen Phillips, one of the organizers. “The point of the day is to get them exposed to different artists and different aspects of art. They’re working with different people than they work with in school.”

Among them was Susan Farrier, who helped organize the “community showcase” that brings in different artists from around the community.

“We have a small number of people who are giving very generous of their time. Basically the idea is to get the students excited about making things — being the creators rather than just receiving things,” said Ms. Farrier.

The school district used to have an Arts for Life week, but budget cuts forced it to be limited to one day at the elementary schools.

“It wasn’t until three years ago that we started having Arts for Life day at the middle school. Lots of us thought it was an important tradition, so the PTO raised money for that,” she said.

Sixth-graders Isaac Solly (left) and Seamus Sullivan play with animal masks made out of milk jugs and juice containers.

Sixth-graders Isaac Solly (left) and Seamus Sullivan play with animal masks made out of milk jugs and juice containers.

Among the art disciplines Ms. Farrier demonstrated to students was mask-making, which started with a simple plastic milk bottle. “There were quite a few kids who said they were going to home home and try it themselves,” she said.

The popular clay animation characters Wallace & Gromit were integrated into several projects, such as drawing, clay-making, flip books and life journey maps. Other demonstrations and workshops focused on Zumba, recycled art, cupcake design, cartooning, graphic design and more. Students were also treated to a laser show in the Little Theater.

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