Venezuelan music, dance teachers reach kids online amid pandemic

Corina Pons

By Corina Pons

CARACAS(Reuters) - With Venezuela now three months into a coronavirus quarantine that has kept children locked indoors, music and art teachers and storytellers are for the first time moving their classes online.

The change is an uphill battle in the South American nation, where blackouts are constant and where almost half of households are not connected to the internet, one of the world's slowest.

Artists have taken on the challenge anyway, concerned children are not using their imagination or developing their talents amid continuing uncertainty over when they will be able to visit concert halls or meet under the shade of trees again.

Though the pandemic has caused a similar shift in many countries, Venezuela's children are at unusual risk due to a dire economic crisis that has exacerbated child malnutrition and weakened access to education.

The United Nations children's agency, UNICEF, has said that as children learn by playing, parents should play with their kids each day at home.

After preparing a youth dance program that was set to include a performance at a Caracas theater, dance troop Imagirodanza now teaches virtual classes twice a week to girls and their mothers.

Imagirodanza director Carmen Perez, 51, had a group of daughters and their mothers drape sheets on their backs and imitate birds as part of an online classes.

The quarantine has forced the group to reinvent itself "so that we didn't become irrelevant," Perez said.

Story tellers now film themselves reading children's tales from their balconies and send the videos to families and schools that hire them to keep children motivated during the extended lockdown.

"I had never done anything digital, I did everything outside," said Nury Delgado, 53, of storytelling group The Enchanted Frog that has entertained children with the support of bookstores for more than a decade.

Many now see the online world as being the reality for children in the near future.

Education Minister Aristobulo Isturiz said in a June interview classes could start in October as usual, but if the pandemic worsened, "we have the option of starting in January," leaving kids in their homes for the rest of the year.

With virtual learning, some 40% of children are at risk of missing out entirely on education because their families do not have sufficient connectivity to participate.

Luis Alfredo Sanchez, 33, a trumpet player for the prestigious Simon Bolivar National Orchestra, says the quarantine has shown online lessons are viable even for music.

To pique the interest of kids in taking classes, he filmed a video of himself playing the Star Wars movie theme using different trumpets, yielding 8,000 Instagram views.

He cannot listen to students practice in real time due to a slow internet connection. Instead, he asks them to send WhatsApp voice notes with recordings of the pieces they are practicing, and responds via another voice note with his evaluation.

"Everything stopped" with the quarantine, said Sanchez in an interview. "I decided to help the students, so that at least the music won't stop."


(Reporting by Corina Pons, writing by Brian Ellsworth; Editing by Bernadette Baum)