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An Honors English III class at West Rowan High School put on a production in their school’s library Monday entitled “Let Harlem Speak.”
The purpose of this event was to educate students about the Harlem Renaissance in a new and interesting way. Instead of learning through a textbook or in a classroom, the students put on a production including singing, dancing, painting and even poetry readings in order to portray the changing era of the 1920s.
The class put on the production 12 times in order to allow many different classes to watch. Each production lasted 20 minutes.
When each class came in to watch the production, the room transformed into the Harlem Renaissance time period. Waiters and waitresses greeted the students with several different refreshments that would have been served in the 1920s. Band members were playing music from the Harlem Renaissance in the background while all the students in the production sang along with it. The audience was then shown a short video briefly describing Harlem and showing pictures of dancers and many famous figures of the Renaissance.
There was also a band performance done by a student acting as Louis Armstrong.
“We got to learn about music, hairstyles, make-up, and even the dialect of the Harlem Renaissance by doing this production,” said Shaniya Wordsworth, a student acting as Ella Fitzgerald.
Students said that it was much more interesting to study the 1920s this way than just learning in a classroom.
The dancing took place in the students’ version of the Savoy dance hall. This was one of the most famous ballrooms of the 1920s because when the music started, ethnicity did not matter. All races mingled and danced together on the dance floor. However, when the music ended, everyone would return to their own tables.
Students put on a dance called the Charleston. The girls wore sequined dresses and feathers in their hair for the performance in the ballroom. Their costumes came from the Meroney Theatre.
They said that they watched many different videos of dances done during the Renaissance and took bits and pieces to form their own dance. They also had escorts dance with them and lead them off stage.
“It’s important to recognize the need to celebrate diversity and to make learning fun and relevant,” said Wendy Fontenot, Honors English III teacher and organizer of the event.
Students who saw the production agreed that it was much more interesting to see in real life how the Harlem Renaissance worked. They would like to have more productions done to learn about other time periods as well.

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