Schenectady High School students are stepping up and encouraging others to do the same on Election Day.
In a video released Friday, more than 30 students step dance and call out “V-O-T-E.” They hope that it will motivate viewers to do just that and that it might dispel certain notions about their generation.
“I think that a lot of people underestimate kids our age and think that we’re not woke in the world,” said Isabella Grevely, one of the students who took part in the project. “I think that us being a part of [the] video was an important message. It puts across that we are more than just high schoolers. We are woke to things that are going on in the world nowadays. We’re paying attention.”
The video, called “Step to Vote,” was created by the Schenectady High School dance department, in collaboration with the Saratoga Performing Arts Center’s Learning Library and Soul Step, which provided the choreography.
The idea started with high school dance teachers Eric Hatch, Sheila Los and Daniela Cipriano, who were looking for a way to not only engage students but give them a voice.
“Projects like this really help us to amplify our students’ voices,” Los said. “Right now, it’s such a polarizing place to be when you’re home by yourself and there’s so many things happening in our community . . . it’s been really fun to show them how we can take an art form like step and they can use that art form to communicate some of their thoughts and to advocate for different aspects of social change.”
During their classes, which they’ve taught virtually since the spring because of the coronavirus pandemic, they’ve worked together to teach the step dance choreography and talk about voter advocacy. Once students learned the choreography, those who were comfortable with being included in the video sent in a recording of themselves stepping.
The recording came with a few challenges. Normally, when they’re all stepping together in the studio, keeping tempo is relatively simple. A leader or caller sets the pace and the rest of the dancers follow. Since they couldn’t get together, each student set a metronome (via a YouTube video) when recording their dance.
Beyond the tempo, there’s also an exchange of energy when everyone is stepping together in the studio that’s hard to capture virtually, according to Los. The students have missed out on that this school year.
“Sometimes the hardest thing with any online school was you didn’t feel like you had that direct contact with somebody,” said SHS student Anjali Peters, “. . . if we were in school obviously everybody would be together and it would be more unified. It would feel a lot better to know that you’re not the only one going through this. It was just harder to do it outside in front of family and neighbors when they don’t understand what’s happening.”
Even though they had to record the videos on their own, for many students, the project gave them something empowering to work toward.
“I feel like this project was really an escape for me. Definitely for what the video was trying to come across for the importance of voting but it was also something positive to look forward to while sitting home because home isn’t always a happy place,” said Dasiah McDuffie, a student involved in the project.
“Personally, the project really helped me to get out of bed every day with everything going on. I just feel like I’ve been depressed and not in a happy space but this project made me want to get out of bed, want to move, want to learn more, do more,” said SHS student Jordyn Thomas.
Thomas is one of the only students included in the video who is eligible to vote in this election.
“I feel like I finally have a voice; I have a say,” Thomas said.
Though most of the students have to wait a year or more to vote, it was empowering to encourage others to do so.
“We’re doing it for the voters, to help them make the right choice, and because we’re so young that we can’t vote it makes me feel better that this video can help someone vote and make a choice,” said Tasha Jaggarsal, one student involved with the video.
“They’ve dealt with a lot of trauma this year, as well as everybody [else], but for high school kids, it’s a really difficult time,” Hatch said. “I think with the vote they understand that there’s a lot going on in the world, in our country politically and they have a lot to say about it but they don’t know how to get that out. This was a way for them to talk [about it].”
To see the video visit spaclearninglibrary.org.