Maybe it’s because I’m a New Yorker, or because I grew up with a deep love of the arts of the Harlem Renaissance, or because watching the video of Harlem residents reacting to the now-infamous Harlem Shake videos just tore my heart out and infuriated me all at once.
But people ought to know the real cultural significance and beauty that is Harlem — from its roots right up to the real Harlem Shake.
Interacting with a teacher from the other side of the globe, it was put to me that teachers and students from other countries may know this whole apparent Harlem Shake bastardization (is that considered foul language?) but have no idea where or what Harlem actually is. Which, again, maybe it’s my NY pride that’s wounded, but I just can’t let that slide. It isn’t that I actually expected anyone outside of the US (or in some cases, even outside of this state) to know that, but more that I took the knowledge for granted and…never really considered it before.
So as we speak I’m compiling a handful of resources for studying an integral part of the history of the arts that just happened to blossom in this beautiful city, to be added to this post over the next day or so when I’m happy with the collection I’ve amassed and reviewed. PLEASE, if your students are into the Harlem Shake, go look up the actual Harlem and see what you can do to bring that heritage into your classroom!
And also-please, if someone thinks they would be better-suited to tackle the subject or already has, drop me a line. I will gladly reblog it here. I’m not a music teacher or any licensed sort of art teacher, and am only working from a combination of personal appreciation and elementary-level collection of actual educational resources. If you have research or experience I would love, love, love if you could share it!
Resources (as I compile them, to be better-organized when I have them all):
From The Kennedy Center’s ARTSEDGE:
LESSON PLAN: Musical Harlem, a multimedia-based lesson (including assessment) on jazz in the Harlem Renaissance, intended for upper elementary but with resources good for all levels that lack prior knowledge
LESSON PLAN: Rhythm & Improv: Jazz & Poetry, a high school lesson focusing on the “musicality of words,” has students translate characteristics of jazz from music to poetry, and then craft their own.
MEDIA ACTIVITY: Drop Me Off in Harlem is a thorough, self-paced web-based exploration of iconic members, places, and themes of the Harlem Renaissance that includes notes for use by educators, intended for high school students.
From PBS NewsHour:
LESSON PLAN: The Harlem Renaissance - a fairly dry piece in itself, I’m posting it for the highly-recommended activity suggestions and list of suggested websites on the right-hand “materials you need” sidebar. It kicks off with an article about the history of the Apollo Theater, a venue that is still very much alive and well today, tying the modern to the historical through something current and accessible.
SUGGESTION: Have your students browse the Apollo Theater site after making the historical connection, to see what its offerings are in modern-day. How does it tie back to its roots? How has it changed? Can they draw connections from one to the other?
From PBS Great Performances:
LESSON PLAN: Modern Dance and the Harlem Renaissance is specifically dance-focused in subject matter, but even more delightfully, seems also focused on teaching students research and organization skills through four activities that demonstrate those skills through creative projects rather than just papers. It could also easily be extended, with a little extra work, to popular dances like the Harlem Shake by looking at common threads of movement and rhythm.
UNIT: A Harlem Renaissance Retrospective: Connecting Art, Music, Dance, and Poetry is, as noted, an entire unit plan, with well-laid-out lessons, resources, and project suggestions covering everything from the expected Langston Hughes to the Lindy Hop; make sure you check all the tabs to get the full wealth of information!