Twelve fifth-graders from Chester Upland School of the Arts (CUSA) put on their dancing shoes, competed and won in the Spring Ballroom Dancing competition.
The final competition was held at the Temple Performing Arts Center on June 2. CUSA was the first school outside of Philadelphia to be included in Dances Classroom Philly.
“When I first heard about the dancing competition I was excited and scared,” said CUSA student Makiyah Burrell and dancing partner of Towan Cherry. “I learned all about different dances, techniques and hip movement. I never knew about any of the dances that we did at the competition, so learning the dances was a different experience for me.
“Out of all the dances that we did learn, my favorite dances were the merengue and swing,” she added. “I definitely want to continue dancing in the future, but right now I just want to keep celebrating the dance competition win with my school.”
Established in 2007 by Jane Brooks, Joyce Burd and Harvey Kimmel, the Arts in Schools Collaborative brings the arts to inner city schools. The collaborative’s primary program is Dancing Classrooms Philly, a licensed ballroom dancing program for Philadelphia schoolchildren. The mission of the program is to build social awareness, confidence and self-esteem in children through dance.
“The students were very hesitant and awkward in their first few classes; they didn’t want to touch each other,” said Akosua Watts, assistant principal of CUSA. “It was a very different thing for them to be dancing so close, making eye contact with their partner, touching their hand or back while they were dancing. The students had mixed feelings about, but as the lessons went on you saw them become more comfortable and confident.
“They became as a team and really saw themselves as a team of dancers,” Akousa added. “They would encourage one another and be genuinely happy for one another. It was really beautiful to see how they transitioned [from] hesitant students into ballroom dancers. The biggest lesson I hope they got out of this is that when you invest your time and work hard on your craft you can excel.”
CUSA students learned six dances — five were competition dances. The waltz was the showcase dance. Other dances include the merengue, rumba, foxtrot, swing and tango.
Dance instructor Donna Boyle taught the CUSA students. Fellow dance instructor Melissa Putz also helped the students with their dances. The students had 20 lessons over a span of a several months. While all of the fifth-grade students participated in the lessons, only 12 were chosen to compete in the semi-final on May 23.
“Dancing was a new experience for me, but it was also exciting,” said Jiy’yir Cooper, fifth-grade student of CUSA and dance partner of Shaughnessy Dill. “As [a] dancer you can’t show that you’re scared of your competition, so instead of us being scared we became fierce on the dance floor. In all of our dances we made sure we had good posture in our dance frame.
“My favorite dances were the rumba and the swing mainly because both required a lot of energy,” he said. “We had a lot of good competition, but we couldn’t be scared — we just had to go out there and dance with our partners as if no one else was around.”
Other schools that participated in the completion were silver level teams including Northwood Academy, Russell Byers Charter School, Pan American Charter School and Independence Charter School. The bronze level teams included Kennedy Crossan School,
St. Nicholas of Tolentine and Annunciation BVM.
“The culture at our school is all about students developing their talents, but also good practice make perfect,” said Anna Hadgis, principal of CUSA. “When the kids are doing something we also want to make sure that they do it the best of their ability, not to just practice at it. This is a real testament to the culture that we are trying to instill here, because the kids know they have the talents, but we try to make sure that they see those talents come to fruition. I am so proud of them — to see the excitement in their eyes when they came back to school was exhilarating. They worked hard, and it’s nice to see them be rewarded for their great work.”