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German students express themselves with American hip-hop

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Isabelle de Pommereau

(Read caption) German students at a Frankfurt vocational school learn hip-hop choreography in a Dancing to Connect workshop.

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• A local, slice-of-life story from a Monitor correspondent.

If, a few weeks back, you’d asked Duc-Tin Thung to dance in front of hundreds of spectators, he would have stared at you as if you had just arrived from the moon. “I would never ever dare,” says Duc-Tin, a Frankfurt vocational school ninth-grader.

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But recently, he twisted and turned his body hip-hop style on a basketball court in a routine he had choreographed partially through Dancing to Connect, a groundbreaking project that partners professional dancers from New York’s Battery Dancing Company and Drastic Action with children, often from disadvantaged backgrounds.

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In a country that tracks children into university-bound and vocational schools as early as age 9 or 10, vocational schools like Duc-Tin’s are often called “leftover schools,” because they are where immigrants and children from low socioeconomic backgrounds often get relegated. Dancing to Connect boosts the confidence of children like Duc-Tin, and helps educators see those pupils in a different light.

“I would not in my wildest dreams have imagined that my pupils are capable of performing the way they did,” says Heinrich Kössler, principal of Duc-Tin’s school, the Theodor-Heuss-Schule.

“Those kids needed to overcome lots of barriers, but there was an authenticity in everything they did,” says Dancing to Connect founder Jonathan Hollander, who is also artistic director of New York’s Battery Dance Company. Mr. Hollander’s Dancing to Connect sponsors workshops with professional dancers in schools across Germany.