MY ART STORY by

Paul and Melanie Zeir

Santa Fe
New Mexico

talking_hands_talking_feet2.jpg

Students wearing animal masks in gym.

Animal Pow Wow at El Dorado Community School in New Mexico. Photo courtesy of Paul and Melanie Zeir

Every year since 2008, our company Talking Hands Talking Feet has received generous grants from NEA for our curriculum-based performing arts programs in Santa Fe schools under the fiscal sponsorship of Partners In Education.

Here is the remarkable story behind it.

It began in 1996 in our Seattle living room with a group of friends who also had young children. We would often have family gatherings where we would play music and dance, sing songs, and tell stories. The biggest challenge was finding compelling children songs that engaged the whole family and songs that opened doorways to new learning. So we started writing original songs with story and dance accompaniment. We soon realized it was a marvelous springboard of discovery into the natural worlds, the human body, language, geography, numbers and counting, and the kaleidoscopic world of human beings.

Our parent friends loved these songs. So, in September 1997, in response to their enthusiastic encouragement, we opened our home to the public and started music, movement, and story workshops for parents and children every Saturday morning. We called it Talking Hands Talking Feet.

We have always believed in and practiced the arts as a vehicle for natural education. This was how we raised our sons. If you truly wish to learn something of value, give it a form of expression! Start with the most fundamental of human arts—music, rhythm, movement, language, symbol, story, and song. To our ongoing wonder, delight, and discovery, parents and their little ones couldn't get enough of Talking Hands Talking Feet.
Thus it began. It steadily grew year by year. We created a record label and produced our first albums. We moved from Seattle to Boulder to Santa Fe, always experimenting and expanding what was becoming a substantial curriculum of arts integrated educational songs.

In 2005, many hundreds of family workshops later, our youngest son's first-grade teacher in Santa Fe, New Mexico, asked us to help with an end-of-school-year performance that involved orchestrating four classrooms in a songful extravaganza. It went so well that the following year the teachers asked us to do it again, this time with our own original songs and that we would be paid to do it! So we developed our first thematic 12-week performing arts program for four first- and second-grade classrooms called "In Tribute To The Earth." Thus, Talking Hands Talking Feet curriculum based performing arts programs were born.

Now, nine years later, Talking Hands Talking Feet has received grants from the NEA through New Mexico Arts to do our original 12-week curriculum-based performing arts programs every year in several schools in Santa Fe, New Mexico.

The range of content has expanded to 140 songs with movement and story accompaniment, including inspiring lesson plans that help teachers bring subjects alive. The songs cover a diverse range of themes with a spirit of discovery, compelling humor, and humanity; and now have personally touched the lives of thousands of young students.

It is remarkable how many children years later tell us how they love and remember the songs and the experience of learning through Talking Hands Talking Feet. We are so thankful to the National Endowment for the Arts and to New Mexico Arts for making this possible and reaching thousands of students in Santa Fe.