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Music, Movement, Artistic Expression And Children’s Rights

Wednesday, July 23, 2014

Article 31 of the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child protects the right of children to participate freely in cultural life and the arts. This right encompasses both the rights of children to join with adults in their cultural and artistic pursuits and the right to child-centered culture and arts. At the same time, this right also includes the obligation to create opportunities for children to participate in all forms of cultural and artistic activity as well as enjoy performances and exhibitions designed specifically for their pleasure. 

Jaime Vargas, ballet master at the Royal Winnipeg Ballet (RWB), was born in Mexico City, where he started his dance training at age 14. He then studied dance in England and Australia and went onto traveling the world performing in numerous leading roles. In 2004, Jaime joined the RWB as a principal dancer, a position he held for six years. At the end of this time, when he was about to retire from dancing, he went to Israel as part of an RWB’s international tour. In Israel, the ballet participated in “Shared Values Playground for Peace,” a project aiming to provide a fully accessible, environmentally friendly and educational playground where Arab, Jewish and Christian children from low-income neighbourhoods could play together. In addition, Jaime conducted a dance workshop where the children could feel safe and connect with each other in an environment free from politics. A similar initiative called Peace Camp Ottawa will be featured in the Canadian Museum for Human Rights exhibits, along with other stories in children’s rights. 

Man with backpack in front of an Arab-Jewish Community Center.
Jaime Vargas at the Arab Jewish Community Centre in Israel with the Shared Values Playground for Peace project. Photo credit: Unknown

Manitoba’s Minister of Immigration and Multiculturalism also attended the Playground for Peace project. After seeing the way in which Jaime interacted with the children and their positive response, she decided to invite him to join the provincial initiative MyMB. This program gives youth at risk access to role models from Winnipeg who shares their personal stories of courage, hope and strength. As a result, Jaime developed a community-oriented outreach program for the RWB working in conjunction with the RWB School’s existing Outreach Program. To date, Jaime has facilitated these programs with children, youth, adults and persons with disabilities across Canada.

Teacher leading a classroom of elementary children in raising their hands and face to the sky.
Jaime Vargas leads a Read and Movement workshop at Inkster School in Winnipeg, Manitoba. Photo credit: Michelle Blais

Reminiscing on his past, Jaime doesn’t hesitate to affirm that dance changed his life. He remembers how it gave him an opportunity to better his self-esteem and to see himself as a person. Witnessing young children struggle with very difficult problems is one thing that has struck Jaime over the years. However, he sees dance as an oasis where they can feel safe and free. Jaime strongly believes that, in many ways, music, movement and artistic expression can significantly improve a person’s life. This is why he works to ensure that dance can be accessed by as many as possible.

Man in a library holding a book and striking a dance pose while sitting children watch.
Jaime Vargas participates in a Read and Movement class at R.F. Morrison School in Winnipeg, Manitoba. Photo credit: Unknown.

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Through outreach programming, the RWB is dedicated to inspiring others by bringing dance to communities and organizations across the country. In one of its initial programs, done in partnership with Art City, the RWB gave children and youth access to workshops on movement, dance photography, wire sculpting, costume and point shoe decoration. During this one week program, children followed and photographed dancers executing ballet poses while performing daily tasks; they wire-sculpted tiaras and robot heads; and met the RWB’s head of wardrobe to learn about costumes and the head of shoe department to learn about point shoes and how to decorate them. During this workshop, Jaime witnessed these children go from shy and reserved to confident and empowered, while exploring, engaging, creating and connecting with music, movement and other artistic expressions. 

Jaime has also developed the workshop called “A Day in a Dancer’s Shoes”, where he helps children experience what dancers go through in a normal day. This workshop includes training, motivational and anti-bullying components and Q&A periods. All of Jaime’s workshops and presentations are interactive and try to connect the activities with discussions about empowerment, bullying, discrimination and other similar topics.

Man in front of a large painting leaning down to speak to a group of children seated on the floor.
Jaime Vargas at A Day in a Dancer’s Shoes at the National Arts Centre in Ottawa, Ontario. Photo credit: Unknown

 Jaime is always looking for future opportunities to expand his work with the Outreach programs. He keeps the doors open for possible collaborations with different institutions and organization that share RWB’s values. In the future he is looking to use technologies like Skype to reach disadvantaged communities in Latin America as well as to expand RWB’s work with persons with disabilities and maybe even bring ballet to unexpected places such as women’s prisons. Jaime’s and the RWB’s commitment to uphold children’s right to freely participate in cultural life and the arts brings light to an often forgotten human right. The Canadian Museum for Human Rights looks forward to collaborating with the RWB after our official opening in September of 2014.

Smiling young girl in a classroom wearing shorts and a tutu.
Young child at Art City workshops in Winnipeg, Manitoba. Photo credit: Michelle Blais

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