Don’t tell them, but some Hays youth spent their afternoon off learning. The lessons were disguised with music and movement.

Lied Across Kansas, a program of the University of Kansas Lied Center, brought Paige Hernandez to Hays Recreation Center on Wednesday to work with three age groups with dance, spoken word and writing exercises.

The Lied Across Kansas program started three years ago, said Anthea Scouffas, engagement director for the KU performing arts center.

“We have access to artists who perform across the world, and we just thought it would be cool to bring some of them to meet some kids and community members and interact with them,” she said.

The center committed to bringing performers to Sabetha, Hays, Russell and Salina for five years. They travel to the communities the same week they will perform at the Lied Center.

Hernandez, a Baltimore native who now lives in Washington, D.C., has taught students from preschool to college in more than 100 workshops, residencies and performances. She often integrates arts and STEM initiatives, and was named by American Theatre magazine as one of the six top teaching artists in the United States.

On Saturday at the Lied, Hernandez will perform her show “All the Way Live!” commissioned by the John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts. She uses hip-hop elements with lessons on creativity, respect, cooperation and understanding.

She brought those elements to Hays on Wednesday. Even though it was an early release day for Hays USD 489, only about a dozen children attended the half-hour session, a much smaller group than what she had worked with the day before in Sabetha. Approximately 150 children there from several area schools learned hip-hop dance moves.

Scouffas said the lower turnout can be attributed to the fact the HRC doesn’t offer the same “captive audience” a school would. In addition, the Lied staff wasn’t familiar with Hays and which entities to reach out to.

But the HRC offers some advantage, she said.

“I think the rec center is one of those places that people feel comfortable going so it’s not intimidating,” she said.

Most of the boys and girls who came to Wednesday’s early afternoon session seemed eager to follow along with Hernandez.

“I’m so excited I get to dance with you, but first we get to take an imaginary trip to Cuba. Everyone put your wings out,” she said, stretching out her arms as the children did the same around her on the gym floor.

To Latin hip-hop beats, she taught them salsa dance — stomping their feet, clapping their hands, whirling their arms through air and twirling with partners.

Hernandez has traveled the world teaching children to express themselves, and she said she has found they all have much in common.

“Kids are kids are kids are kids. No matter what the backgrounds are or how different the circumstances, they just want to be up and having fun and engaged,” she said.

“At the end of the day, they just want to get up and move and shake it out and have new experiences.”

They are always looking for mentors, too, she said.

“Especially at this age, they’re always looking for that person who is confident, who can show them what that looks like to interact positively with strangers,” she said.

Earlier in the afternoon, she led a group of preschool age children through simpler dance moves, and later in the afternoon she worked with high-school age students on writing and dance.

“I try to cater to be as developmentally appropriate as possible,” she said.

She said no matter where her career takes her, she always will be involved in arts outreach.

“That is really important to me because that’s how I got the hook,” she said.

“The exposure is key,” she said.

Hernandez will offer workshops today to middle school and high school students in Russell and Friday with elementary students in Salina.