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Anaheim High dancers give kids a leg up
Nearly two dozen elementary school students found themselves spreading their proverbial wings, strutting across the room and posing like superstars during the final session of a series of four weekly dance classes led by Anaheim High School students.
Inspired by the school’s basketball team, which recently began offering free clinics for local elementary kids, Meg Elder figured it was time her students followed suit.
“I wondered why we didn’t have something like this for the arts,” said Elder, dance director at Anaheim High. “At the same time, I thought it would be a really good first project for my students to design a piece of choreography for elementary kids who have probably never danced before.”
History teacher Ryan Ruelas, who sits on the Anaheim City School District board, helped communicate the information about the free clinics to the principals of nearby feeder elementary schools.
Before the start of the program, Elder divided her Dance 3 class into four groups of 10 or so students and let them decide which session they wanted to lead. Each session would revolve around a distinct style of dance, from superhero hip-hop during the first week to improvisational freestyle in the final session.
“I’ve never done anything like this before, but that’s what makes it so exciting,” junior Steven Rojas said shortly before leading a portion of the last session. “How many people my age get to say they’ve taught a class anyway?”
On the Monday after each session, the dance students who led the clinic would discuss their experience with the rest of the class.
“It’s a win-win,” Elder said. “Both sides are learning about so much more than dance. It’s about being creative, collaborating, public speaking and interacting with people effectively.”
Anaheim High’s new on-campus community service group, CROWN, standing for Civically Raising Opportunities for Women Now, also took part in the clinic. CROWN members handled the signing-in process before each session and offered small-group counseling at the end.
“Some of the CROWN students are also enrolled in my high-intermediate dance class, so the collaboration made sense for everyone involved,” Elder said. “It’s an opportunity for these kids to be mentored by a peer who is where they are going to be someday, and it tends to be a lot more powerful than having an adult speaking with them.”
Typically, group discussion topics ranged from how to be successful in school to dealing with common issues such as bullying.
Dance student and CROWN President Vanessa Ureno helped lead the final class.
“The kids have enjoyed both aspects that we bring to the table,” Ureno said. “They get to move around, let all their energy out, meet new people, plus get some mentoring as well. It’s been so cool to watch.”
For CROWN’s Daisy Avalos, who was a member of the dance program the previous two years but took a break to focus on her studies, it was a chance to reconnect with her dancing roots and give back to her community.
“I have lived in Anaheim my whole life so it’s important for me to be able to show these kids the value of learning new things and staying active in their community,” Avalos said. “I’ve been here for most of these classes and have seen the kids grow a little more each week.”
Said dance student and CROWN member Victoria Ahuatzi: “It’s going to be sad to say goodbye to these kids since I’ve helped out with every class, but the one thing I encouraged them all to do is just keep dancing.”
By SEAN STROH / CONTRIBUTING WRITER