Getting ready

I love seeing all of the students getting ready for the competition. Seeing how things come together and the kids really focus in on their specific dance. Adding in their own variations on moves or wanting to perfect their look of sophistication. It all comes down to next week. Weather we win the overall or not, I know we are going to represent our school pride and self respect to everyone and that is what makes me proud.
I have always loved teaching at Poe Classical and am always excited for the school year to start. Seeing my students come away proud of themselves and each other will be something that they and I will never forget. I am so thankful to be a part of this program every year.

May I have this dance.......Again?

As I settle into my third year as a DWC instructor, I must say one of the biggest perks is having the opportunity to return to a school the following year. It's always bitter sweet at the end of session, when we say goodbye to students and parents after the big dance event. However returning to a school the following year, is always exciting. Most of the time I get a new group of bright eyed students, who have heard all of the fun stories about last year and are super excited, and somewhat nervous. I love seeing the classes from previous years in the hall...

"Hey Miss Brandi!"
"Are you teaching again Miss Brandi?"
"I taught my mom the Salsa Miss Brandi!"
"Can I come down to the dance room with your new class Miss Brandi?!!"

It's very exciting : )

Just last Wednesday I had the pleasure of returning to, Libby Elementary School. Because they have a YMCA sponsored after school program that participates in, DWC, I walked into the class room pleasantly surprised to see my little angles from last year, already partnered and practicing!! I peeked in through the window, so I could observe without being spotted, until I hear, "It's Miss Brandi!" Suddenly I was bum rushed by a group of happy dancing kids ready to learn the new Meringue, and very happy to see me. The feeling was mutual and the class was one for the books.....or the blogs : )

Good Memories

I still have that pic in my head when my students from Davis School participated at the Chicago Cultural Center . Everyone was so happy and a a little nervous too.  They were in the back practicing with their partners and helping each other: that's teamwork! I'm very proud of them and I cant wait see them again.

Lifetime Experience

Today I received a call from the mother of a girl who participated in Dancing with Class six years ago. Her daughter is now a sophomore in high school. The mother was hoping she could somehow order a DVD of the Dance-Off event her daughter performed in back in 2007.

When I asked her why she was trying to get a hold of this video so many years later, she explained, "Well, I wanted to give it to my daughter as a Christmas present. I was hoping it would inspire her to keep dancing. She was so good at it, and I thought if she watched the video, it would inspire her to get back into dance."

I hope I can help her find the video, and more importantly, I hope her plan works. This is what DwC is all about: creating an experience that opens the door for a lifetime of dance, and all the joy and good health that comes with it.

What the students have to say

Today on my 6th week of class, I asked the students to talk to me a little about their experience.  I know they are extremely excited about the upcoming competition, so I have no trouble getting them to concentrate on each dance I've taught. They are flying through all 4 of the core program dances, and they are always asking for more.  It is just such a moving experience for me.  In class today I asked them to tell me what they've learned so far.  Their answers were:
Swing is a joyful dance
Waltz and tango are serious dances
You always ask a lady to dance
and my two favorites:
Show off your diamonds (ladies styling)
Check out the ladies in the room (men's styling)  Too funny!

I also asked them the hardest part of dancing.  They all said remembering the steps, remembering their posture, and what foot to start each pattern with.  Very valid comments, I thought.

The last question I asked was what makes a good dancer.  They agreed remembering the steps, listening to their teacher, being determined, and being optimistic were all ingredients to a good dancer.

I could not agree more!

My favorite classroom moment so far

This is my first year teaching the Dancing With Class core program, and thankfully I have an amazing school with a wonderful teacher to help me along.  The kids are just fabulous, too, and they make me laugh every week.  Before they leave class, I ask them each to tell me one thing they learned about the dance I taught.  It could be the movement, the history, the country of origin - anything.  Last week when I was having the gentlemen escort their partner out the door, I asked them what they learned about the swing dance we just learned.  The first gentleman I asked looked at me with wide eyes so I knew he had nothing in mind. He then suddenly smiled, looked at his partner, and said, "Ladies first."  I couldn't help but laugh because I had been stressing proper manners and it came right back at me!

My favorite class of the session

At Dancing With Class, we are often in schools for 10 week sessions.  Although the dance competition is a highlight - it's such a moving experience - one of my favorite classes of the session comes at about week 6, maybe week 7 or even 8 for some schools.  It's the class where the students stop being worrying about how weird dancing might be, or how hard the steps are.  It's the class where they begin to truly work together as a team.  You can see it in their body language - they're no longer trying to hide their hands in their sleeves, or trying to avoid making eye contact with each other.  They're excited about the dancing - they really want to get ready for that competition, they really want to do their best at this dance.  They look at each other and say "Come on!  Let's practice!"
This just happened at one of my schools, and I remembered what a great feeling it is!  I had been practicing the waltz with one group of students, while the others practiced merengue in the corner.  The waltz is one of the hardest dances, and with the infectious merengue music in the background, it was a little hard for my waltzers to concentrate.  But when I challenged them to try to do the entire waltz routine by themselves while I checked in with the other students, they really stepped up!  When I came back, they were so excited to tell me "Ms Megan!  We did it, we did it! We did the whole routine!"  Seeing how eagerly they worked together to accomplish a goal, I was so excited too.

This American Life

This weekend, I visited the Dancing with Class All-Star scholarship team practice for the first time since this summer when they first started working and training together. On my way there, Chicago Public Radio was airing an episode of "This American Life" focused on the the awkwardness of middle school years and what a difficult time it is for kids. A piece of the show interviewed kids who were on their way to middle school dances across the country.....many of them contemplating whether or not they might "dance with someone" and if so, how that would go since they've never done it before or learned how to do it.

Then I walked into the park district building where our All-Stars were practicing. They are mostly 7th graders -- about 16-20 kids from schools all over the city. What I saw was a group of confident, happy young gentlemen and ladies who comfortably and happily worked on Fox Trot, dancing with one another without thinking twice about it. I was reminded of how this transformation happens every day at schools across the city who participate in Dancing with Class.

Fourth, Fifth and Sixth graders are given a chance to get comfortable with "dancing together" in a safe and structured environment before they get to that awkward middle school stage.

Just think: if part of our "American life," included EVERY child learning to do this in their schools and homes BEFORE the middle school years, how much more confident kids might feel during those social occasions. How much more respectful they would be of their physical selves. And, perhaps, how much happier they would feel on the way to that middle school dance. If you would like to listen to the "This American Life" program, here is a link:

Progress Report

November 5, 2012

Today after I finished teaching class, I had just finished packing up when I felt a hand stop me.  Hailey, one of my students, said "Ms. D today was so much fun".  I just expressed that I was glad she had a good time.  She went on to say  "I think that in the beginning of class there was this weird thing.... but now we've all kind of come together and it's really a lot of fun.  Today was so much fun."

Exposing these young ladies and gentlemen to a new experience is priceless.  To see their sense of camaraderie develop and expand is an amazing byproduct of the Dancing With Class program.
Definitely pinning this progress report to the fridge.

Dancing on Halloween

I think Halloween is the best day of the year to work with school kids! Almost all the kids were dressed in costumes yesterday. Kids I didn't even know would pass by and proudly show off their costumes: "I'm a Chef!"... "I'm a Ninja Alien!"..."I'm a Platypus!" Even the teachers got into the act dressed as fairies, board games, and robots. So when I told my dancers to imagine themselves in a ballroom with the ladies dressed up in fancy gowns, they didn't even have to imagine as many of the ladies were already actually wearing their pink, blue, and white gowns! We did have to use our imaginations to explain what the ninja alien and platypus were doing in the ballroom (studying Earthling dance and being the king's pet, respectively). I hope I get to teach on Halloween again next year!
October 31, 2012,

    Today my school had a special event right before Dancing with Class started.  All of the students came in with so much energy, we jumped right into dancing.  I got a chance to just let the music play and my students were rocking out.  At the end of class one of my students said "Is it over already, class went super duper fast".   My response: time flies when you're dancing with class

Game Time

October 24, 2012

     Today my students got a chance to play the "May I Have This Dance" game.  Let's just say they had me promise that we could do it again next week.

Overcoming Shyness

Last fall, my student Roberto was in tears the day before the after-school club was to give its debut performance at a school assembly. While he had been doing fine in the dance classes, he was too shy to get up in front of the whole school and perform. He sat out that morning and watched while the rest of the school cheered for his club-mates as they performed their swing, tango, and merengue routines.

Four months later, the dance club was performing again - this time in a friendly, casual dance competition format. I took Roberto aside and asked him if he would like to participate. Without hesitation, he said yes. On the day of the event, Roberto showed up dressed to the nines and ready to go. On the dance floor, he smiled at his partner and nailed the swing dance routine with confidence. He and his partner made it into the final round and walked out that afternoon with awards in hand and grins on their faces. They hadn't finished in first place, but they most certainly had won.

Playing Bongoes

A favorite Merengue step of DwC students is called "bongoes".

My students love this step because they get to accentuate the beat. Any time we do a step where they get to imagine they are a character (such as a bongo player in a Latin band), they have more fun. Being able to be an imaginary character frees them of inhibitions and puts smiles on their faces!