Atkins’ workshop takes children around world

by W. Winston Skinner

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Joanna Pang Atkins demonstrates a graceful Japanese fan dance for children at the Carnegie. 


With music and movement, the children on the upper floor of the Carnegie Library traveled around the world.

Actress, singer and dance instructor Joanna Pang Atkins led them on their musical tour. Atkins conducted two classes in international dance on July 16 – about 25 younger children in the morning and ages 8-12 in the afternoon.

During the morning session, Atkins used music, dance, costumes, props – and some plain old teaching – to introduce the group to Japan, Scotland and Kenya.

Atkins usually spends several days at a school – teaching children dances and information about the culture of a country. At the end of her time at a school, the students are prepared to present a program – with dance and melodies – on the nation studied.

Her program at the Carnegie was a light version of what she usually does.

Atkins opened the morning session with Japan. She recalled “performing Japanese and Chinese dances” and being fascinated by “the different traditions, the different cultures.” She enjoyed “learning about the music and – because I am a dancer – learning about the dances,” she said.

She used fans and drums to illustrate different types of Japanese dance. One of the dances uses beautiful fans, and she said “the most important thing” about that dance is “the head following the fan.”

A group of boys wore tied headscarves and enthusiastically beat taiko drums as Atkins led them. “What’s different about taiko drumming is the arms go way up in the air,” she explained.

Atkins asked the group – which included children from Breakaway Childcare – about the sister city relationship between Ayr, Scotland, and Newnan and the county connection between Ayrshire, Scotland, and Coweta County. “We’re going to travel to Scotland,” she said.

She talked about how tartans represent family groups – clans – in Scotland. The Highland fling, originally a dance for men signalling a victory in battle – was demonstrated.

“We are going to leave Scotland. We’re going to Africa. Africa is a huge continent. In Africa, there are many, many different countries,” Atkins said.

Atkins has traveled to Kenya with her husband, film producer Dick Atkins. “He was doing a documentary on the lions and the rhinos,” she said. “We had a fantastic experience.”

They met members of the Masai tribe, and they brought Masai fabric and artifacts to Newnan. Atkins let one of the girls, Christiana Sanders, wear a neck piece given to Atkins by a Masai woman.

“The Masai live all over Africa, but a lot of them live in Kenya and Tanzania,” Atkins said.

As some of the children put on Masai garb, Atkins explained Masai men “wear a lot of red” and women “wear colorful patterned fabrics.”

Atkins showed spears used in the lion dance. The spears were then traded for less pointed lances as the children learned the dance. The Masai dances, she noted, are energetic and move up and down while dances in Ghana are “all hips and shoulders.”

Atkins explained that in many cultures, certain dances were once reserved for male dancers. Often today, she said, she sees women dancing those steps as well.

During each segment, Atkins showed the children the flag of the country and explained its symbolism.

The dance event ended with youngsters enjoying a dance to the American rock song, “Celebration.” While Dick and Joanna Atkins were in Newnan, he spoke about the making of the television film, “Murder in Coweta County,” in the 1980s. The movie was based on events that took place in Coweta.



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