South Charlotte

Best way to teach fine arts?

A group of students from South Charlotte Middle School recently got a taste of the Big Apple and a crash course in some of the finest of the fine arts.

Two weeks ago, 41 wide-eyed students and 11 adults took an early morning flight to the biggest city in the country. Chorus teacher Virginia Mitchell-Harris, art teacher Dave Theissen, drama teacher Jeff Rothberg, and dance teacher Janelle Neal brought a small group of their students who'd chosen to pay for the optional field trip.

For several students it was their first time visiting New York City, or at least the first time they were really aware of their surroundings.

"The look in their eyes when we were in Times Square on Saturday night was, 'Wow, there are a lot of people,' " said Neal, who planned the trip.

That weekend was a whirlwind.

The group visited the Statue of Liberty, Ground Zero and St. John's Cathedral.

They walked through Central Park and bargained with street vendors in Chinatown.

They took a tour of Radio City Music Hall and got to meet a Rockette.

And while many of the students toured the Guggenheim Museum and the Whitney Museum of American Art, the dance students took a class with Karen Arceneaux, a dance teacher at the world-renowned Alvin Ailey Dance Theater.

They also did a workshop with "West Side Story" stars Mikey Winslow, who plays the character Big Deal in the musical, and Mike Cannon, who plays Snowboy.

Then the whole group went to see "West Side Story" on Broadway that night.

"It was really neat to meet the guys they would see a few hours later on stage," said Neal.

One night, student Cole Webber got to go on stage and perform with the band Blue Man Group.

"It was an off-off Broadway theater, a small venue, and as we were walking in, they took Cole aside," said Neal. "They set it all up and gave him directions, and they made it look like it was spontaneous."

They put Webber in a white jumpsuit, took him backstage and did a special effect that made it look like he was being held up by his feet and splattered with paint.

Neal, a self-dubbed small-town girl from Virginia, got a performing arts degree and ended up spending some time in the New York dance scene. She planned for the trip to be fun and educational, in more than just a teaching-from-a-book way.

"My ultimate goal was to expose the kids to an arts scene that's larger than what they know," said Neal. "A lot of them are from Charlotte and have never been to a city larger than Charlotte. What they've seen is what they think (the world) is. This trip opened their eyes to the arts."

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