Arizona Republic
February 13, 2007

Author: Karina Bland, The Arizona Republic Estimated printed pages: 3

The words of poet Alberto Rios have moved students at Herrera School for the Fine Arts in central Phoenix to their feet. On Monday, they invited Rios to watch his words dance.

The seventh- and eighth-graders gathered for their afternoon dance class and sat on the hardwood floors to talk to the poet whose works they have been studying.

Rios, who is a professor at Arizona State University, told the students about growing up in the 1950s in Nogales when children were swatted for speaking Spanish at school. The son of a Mexican father and English mother, Rios said he knows he doesn't look like his name, more European than Mexican. But it is that diversity, he explained, that taught him to look at things from many different perspectives.

Rios read aloud his poem Border Lines, and eighth-grader Pedro Mendez, who carries a folded and refolded copy of the piece in the back pocket of his jeans, finished the last two lines for him: "The border is what joins us, not separates us."

These are words that many children at the inner-city school can understand.

The students are planning a dance performance using Rios' work called Borders on March 7 and 8. The idea of borders represents not only geographic and political divides but gaps among races, gender, age, said Susan Bendix, who started the dance program at Herrera and is directing the show.

The performance stems from a partnership between Herrera School and the Dance Arizona Repertory Theatre at ASU, linking young dancers with their college counterparts.

"Would you like to see them dance?" Bendix asked Rios.

"I would love to see them dance," he said, clasping his hands together.

Eighth-grader Danielle Almanza read aloud Rios' poem In the Strong Hold of Her Thin Arms, describing his grandmother's long wave of hair.

"When I like a poem or words that much, it's really easy for me to express myself and act it out," Danielle said later.

As she read, eighth-grader Eyra Rodriguez danced along, her long hair swirling. Other girls joined her, their hair pulled free of hair bands, swaying back and forth and whipping forward and back, as they danced.

At the end, Rios clapped his hands, delighted: "Excellent."

The students performed a second dance, this one to his poem The Cities Inside Us. Students moved around plastic chairs to a techno beat, like the many moving parts of a city.

"I love this piece," Rios said.

The students grinned at each other or at the floor. Danielle said she was pleased that Rios liked what they had done with his works.

"It was very exciting for me to see," Rios told them.

Through their dance, he said, he saw even more in his own words.

He marveled that the children could understand the nuances of complex poetry. Bendix did the choreography.

Rios promised to come to their performance.

He told them, "I think you're going to have a great show, and I'm honored that you are doing my pieces."


What: Borders, by dancers from Herrera School for the Fine Arts and Arizona
State University.

When: 7 p.m. March 6 and 7.

Where: Herberger Theater Center, 222 E. Monroe St., Phoenix.

Cost: Free.

Details: (602) 254-7399 or

'The Cities

Inside Us'

This poem by Alberto Rios is one of many put to dance in Borders:

We live in secret cities

And we travel unmapped roads.

We speak words between us that we recognize

But which cannot be looked up.

They are our words.

They come from very far inside our mouths.

You and I, we are the secret citizens of the city

Inside us, and inside us

There go all the cars we have driven

And seen, there are all the people

We know and have known, there

Are all the places that are

But which used to be as well. This is where

They went. They did not disappear.

We each take a piece

Through the eye and through the ear.

It's loud inside us, in there, and when we speak

In the outside world

We have to hope that some of that sound

Does not come out, that an arm

Not reach out

In place of the tongue.

CAPTION: At Herrera School in Phoenix, Mayra Pena dances to a poem by
Alberto Rios.
Edition: Final Chaser
Section: VALLEY & State
Page: B1