I'm a big believer that dance is representative of cultural history, and part of what I love about teaching through Dancing With Class is the feeling that I am participating in both teaching and creating cultural history; the cultural history of Chicago students. A great example is a comment in a recent class from one of my students.
I was teaching the waltz. I told them that the dance originated in Germany, and explained that it is widely known as one of the most beautiful and elegant dances. I asked them to imagine doing the waltz as they met Prince William and Princess Kate at a beautiful royal castle. Then one of my students, Cameron, raised his hand.
"But, Ms Megan... I don't think people in Chicago can be elegant. There's too much crime and violence here."
His comment blew my mind. These kids are participating in the Chicago history that's being made right now, and one thing that's been happening in Chicago lately is a lot of violence in neighborhoods. His comment was a potent reminder that those events have a cultural effect; in this instance, affecting the way Chicago students think about themselves. Cameron is an example of what many students are undoubtedly thinking; they believe that qualities like elegance and sophistication are not available to them! they believe that the negative events in the world around them are what defines them.
Now, I don't know that the waltz is going to be Cameron's favorite dance. But by participating in this program, Cameron is going to get to go to our Dance-Off... an event we purposely make as elegant as possible, from the beautiful Chicago Cultural Center location, to the requirement that gentlemen wear dress shoes and ladies wear skirts. And at our Dance-Offs, I have seen an increase in confidence and self-respect in many students; for students I've taught and students I've merely observed. So I told Cameron: "On the day of our competition, I'm going to ask if you still think people in Chicago can't be elegant." I'm betting that he's going to change his mind.
I'm proud to make my mark on the cultural history of Chicago by opening up some doors for Chicago students: inviting them to view themselves a little differently, to view what they're able to do a little differently. I believe that Dancing With Class is changing the culture of Chicago in a positive way, and I feel very privileged to be a part of that.