Arts & Entertainment

Thousands of fifth-graders join live dance performance at Blue Ribbon Children's Festival

Thousands of fifth-graders gather at the Music Center Plaza to participate in the annual Blue Ribbon Children's Festival in Los Angeles, Calif.
Thousands of fifth-graders gather at the Music Center Plaza to participate in the annual Blue Ribbon Children's Festival in Los Angeles, Calif.

The thunderous chatter of thousands of fifth-graders reverberated throughout The Music Center Plaza in downtown Los Angeles on Thursday as they performed the Diavolo dance, a contemporary acrobatic dance.

The event was an opportunity for kids from across the county to experience performing arts.

For many, this was the first time they ever performed in front of a live audience. Parents, siblings and teachers gathered around the plaza to watch. Once the dancing began the once talkative students became silent with concentration.

“What does art mean to you in your life? Where would you be without music? Without the beauty that you see when you go to a museum,” said Constance Towers Gavin, the president of Blue Ribbon, an organization that sponsored the event. “The arts are a part of who we are and without them it would be pretty sad.”

Today, Feb. 18, 2010, over 3,000 fifth grade students from throughout Los Angeles County performed a choreographed dance on the Music Center Plaza as a part of the Blue Ribbon Children's festival.

The Blue Ribbon Children’s Festival began Wednesday and ends tomorrow. Throughout the festival, students were invited to watch a the Diavolo Dance Company troupe perform.

"What I love about it is that for so many of these kids, it's a world that they never knew existed: the world of dance, the world of live performing arts," said Mark Slavkin, vice president of education for the Performing Arts Center of Los Angeles County. "All of these experiences, just even coming downtown," he said.

The Blue Ribbon Children's Festival began 40 years ago.

"When I started, this event was at the Philharmonic," said Blue Ribbon member Maxine Dunitz, who has participated in the festival since the beginning. "I remember because I was in my 20s and they told me to take the top floor. I didn't know. I remember going up those steep stairs and down because all the children wanted to go to see the bathrooms. They had never seen fancy bathrooms. I came home that night and I said to my husband, ' I can't walk and I can't move, all I've been doing is running up and down stairs taking kids to the bathrooms."

Gavin said Dunitz's story epitomizes one of the reasons the program is so important.

"I think it tells a lot about children, they hadn't seen bathrooms like that," Gavin said. "It's a magical experience they have when they come here, everything is awesome to them. We want them to feel that it's awesome but it's friendly."

Dunitz funded "A Journey Through the Music Center," a book every student takes home which teaches them about performing arts venues located downtown.

The book transforms the field trip from a singular experience for the child to something that could be shared with the whole family. The book teaches about different jobs that a child might have in the various departments and even how the family could get to the Music Center by car or by bus.

"The children go home and they might say they saw a beautiful building and a beautiful performance but (the book) refreshes them," Dunitz said. "The book keeps changing every year ... It's current and up to date."

One of the main messages the Music Center tries sends to all of the different schools is their concern about arts programs, especially due to budget cuts. Slavkin said if the programs get wiped out now, it will take about a generation to get them back.

"As much as we do at the Music Center, we are proud to do it, this can't be the whole arts program for kids today," he said. "This needs to be part of a year-long arts learning program that takes place in their school. So we really want to urge all of our school district partners to preserve their arts programs and to see what we can retain these wonderful opportunities so that we can grow after the economy gets better."