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It’s summertime, but the living isn’t easy at Harvard Summer School. Lecture times have shot up from the customary 53 minutes to two and a half-hour sessions, last Monday saw the first organic chemistry test and pre-professional classes not offered during the year are now available, drawing throngs of students looking to get a step ahead on future careers.
But, in the midst of all these standard courses, there are some that are strictly outside the box. A few informal, student-organized classes are also available this summer for those interested in taking classes off the beaten path.
Creole for Health
Haitian Creole is not a language with much clout worldwide. But its very remoteness is what makes learning to speak it so imperative to a number of Harvard students.
The classes in Haitian Creole were put together by Project Health, a student organization which helps local low-income families with health, housing and educational issues. The 16-member class is mostly made up of Project Health volunteers.
Over the past school year, members often found themselves faced with an impossible language barrier when working with recent Haitian immigrant families.
“There is a real need to reach out to this community,” said Project Health campus coordinator Rachel Bloomekatz ’02, who organized the classes.
Although she says that Massachussets General Hospital, where Project Health is based, has many translators available, that is often not enough.
“If you can’t even tell [the familly] that you’re going to get a translator for them, you’re at an impasse,” she said. “Being able to initiate a conversation in someone’s first language really gives us an edge in helping them.”
The six-session summer Creole classes will not be a miracle solution, but Bloomekatz says it will be more than worth the effort if the volunteers come out able to “break through the initial language barrier.”
After the first class on Wednesday, many participating volunteers expressed optimism that the course would help them meet their goals.
“It’s going to be pretty useful,” said volunteer Kevin P. Wu ’03, “The teacher has made it like an immersion program, and I like that the focus is on conversation.”
The instructor, Eddy Carré, heard about the job through the Boston Creole Institute.
“Hearing Project Health’s goals made me especially want to do it,” Carré said.
A former economics professor at the University of the State of Haiti, Carré has been teaching French in Boston public schools for the last year.
He has tailored his syllabus to meet the demands of Project Health—from the first day, his students repeated phrases such as, “Eske ou gen manje pou tout mwa?” or, roughly, “Are you running out of food at the end of the month?”
Carré also makes frequent reference to the social context in which the basic Creole phrases are used in Haiti.
“Over there, it’s a poor country, so people are not always fine,” he says, explaining the ambivalence of the standard responce to “How are you?”—in Creole, it translates as “I’m hanging in there.”
Taking a Break
Those who enter into the world of breakdancing this summer will most likely have less precise goals of what they intend to get out of it.
Like many who start out, Taeho D. Lim ’02 said he was initially “overcome by apprehension” about getting into the breakdancing scene.
“I came from a background that was all white,” he said. “I had no idea about urban culture at all.”
Nevertheless, he swiftly became skilled enough to co-head the Harvard breakdancing club during his time at college.
Staying in Cambridge this summer, Lim has made it a point to encourage Harvard students to join bi-weekly practice and performance sessions, in which dancers from MIT, Boston College and Tufts are also involved.
“At the back of my mind, I think breaking is someting that should go on at Harvard,” he said.
This has not been the case of late. Lim said that he and his co-heads allowed the club to dwindle for the last two years because of busy schedules.
But Lin said he hopes that over the summer, undergraduates with more time on their hands may get into the scene.
By announcing the breakdancing sessions over Harvard’s summer email list, he says he has gotten a small number of students interested.
They will be joining a group of serious dancers good enough to participate in big breakdancing battles, the next one taking place this weekend in Rhode Island.
But newcomers are encouraged, not intimadated, according to MIT senior Jerome D. McFarland, who co-heads the MIT breakdancing club, and is instrumental in keeping the inter-collegiate coalition going.
“People get into it really quickly—they don’t necessarily pick up on breakdancing quickly, but they get our whole vibe fast,” he said.
The steps are demanding, but taking the plunge to pass from observer to dancer only comes with time, Lim said.
“There wasn’t so much teaching, but more me watching and joining in,” he said. “We all developed our own personal styles. Anyone can do it.”
Basic steps are taught, but it is the laid-back atmosphere at the practice sessions which leads to breakthroughs in dancing style, according to McFarland.
“There are no formal drills. We never say, ‘Do a headstand,’ ‘Do 10 pushups,’” he said. “There are no requirements, you just have to do it. It’s just about having fun.”
Though the sessions are marked by mutual support, a spirit of competition is what keeps them fueled.
“I liked the competition and battle aspect,” McFarland said of his first impressons of breakdancing. Now, he tries to ensure that members are always working for up-coming competitions against other dancers.
In break-dancing competitions, members of different teams come forward in a rotation to demonstrate their skills, as a background of hip hop music plays nonstop.
“Everyone knows intuitively who’s won,” Lim said.
Do a Little Dance
As breakdancing tries to reestablish itself firmly at Harvard this summer, ballroom dance seems to have a more certain future at the college.
“It’s been going on always and forever,” said Mildred M. Yuan ’04, who is the Harvard Ballroom team president, and is teaching a swing class this summer.
Salsa and Merengue, Social Latin—Cha-cha and Rumba, and Waltz and Tango are the other three classes being offered. They all take place weekly at Lowell Lecture Hall, where anyone—even those not affiliated with Harvard—may pay a $30 to join for the summer.
They have been popular so far, bringing in from 30 to 60 students each. Yuan, who is also a Crimson editor, said these numbers are “pretty comparable” to those brought in during school year classes.
“The summer classes are just an extension of the classes we teach during the year,” she said.
The classes, which are geared towards beginnners, are all taught by the teammembers.
“We all want to contribute to dance,” she said. “And there’s definitely a strong group of people who are going to do it.”
The students themselves are also a draw, Yuan said.
“The best thing is to watch them, how they are surprised at themselves. You can see it on the faces when they realize, ‘Wow, I’m doing something I’ve never done before,’” she said.
Twenty minutes after the Salsa/ Merengue class should have ended this week, students showed no signs of wanting to leave.
“It’s really cool,” said summer school student Rony A. León. “I know I learned some new steps.”
León came to the class when, after seeing it on the activities calendar, he decided it was necessary for his own social survival back home.
“I’m from Bolivia—that means I’m Latin, so I shouldn’t be here,” he says. “At home, I’ll go to the clubs and I just do it, but I don’t really know why or how I do.”
For other students, the dancing—though not the desire to dance—is all new.
“It’s always been on the back of my mind to learn Salsa,” said Jerrine Milke, who works for the Faculty of Arts and Sciences. “I’ve always thought it was beautiful.”
For awkward beginners, having a sense of humor is essential to getting underway. Yuan said her own apprehensions about teaching her first class dissolved after she made her students laugh.
“I was explaining how to get into frame. I said, ‘Put your hand where the guy’s bicep is, or where it should be.’ And everyone thought it was hillarious,” she said.
But after four years teaching dance, she still has not learned all the tricks.
“It’s a big challenge every time you teach the class. Every time, I still get butterflies beforehand,” she said.
—Staff writer Eugenia B. Schraa can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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