Summer CSGC Grant Update: Youth Summer Dance Program

After hours of practice, repeatedly counting to eight, and insurmountable amounts of snacks, the children had finally performed their dance pieces to their families. It had taken A LOT of work to get to this point but the smiles they now stood beaming into the audience was reward enough. Every Monday, we would set up in the recreation room of the CYO (Catholic Youth Organization) ready to run the dance to Carly Rae Jepsen’s Call Me Maybe or Portugal. The Man’s Feel it Still.

The first group, Call Me Maybe, was composed of children between 7-8 years old. They were always the most enthusiastic group, screaming and breaking into a sprint upon entering the room. Chaotic, yet adorable. Every time a younger one stepped through the doorway they greeted us both with a warm hug. After weeding out those who seemed uninterested in our elective dance offering the first week, the remaining children expressed genuine excitement around dancing; Even when we didn’t assign choreography to a phrase the students would improvise sassy moves, try to sing along, and often insisted on showing us their WIP near-splits whenever the music allowed. The energy in the room far outweighed our expectations, and occasionally, our ability to deal with it. While the music was on, people tended to fall into place practicing their choreography, however, with so many students constantly trying to show us their unique skills and talk to us, it was difficult to organize the kids to give corrections or add choreography. We learned that in order to be most productive you needed to implement some of the tactics the teachers at the school did: learning their currency and using it as an incentive. This could mean updating them on what they had to do before receiving snacks for the day, or reviewing the expectations for cooperative behavior if they wanted to perform.

The Feel it Still group, composed of kids 9-10 years old, required less reigning in than the younger group, but needed direction surmounting an additional challenge: delivering a suave, jazzy performance to uneven, difficult-to-count music. The first two weeks they laughed at themselves as they moved into positions, chugging their heels and swaying their hips. Yet as the weeks went on they gradually stopped paying so much attention to mastering each movement and desperately trying not to look silly. As they grew more comfortable with the steps, and us, tentative, fragile, joy began to bloom throughout their movement. Even if their timing wasn’t perfect, they were able to tap into the kind of cool, jazzy confidence necessary to perform the song. Everything really came together when we added the bright-colored, sparkling fedoras. The dancers donned their hats like crowns and paraded onto stage, proud of their creation and ready to share with their eager peers!

Our expectations for this project were not only met, but exceeded. It was obvious the children had fun and several seemed interested in continuing to cultivate their newfound love for dance. We both completely fell in love with these kids and after talking with the director of the program, hope to continue our initiative next year.

Thank you so much to the Workman fund! Without the funds you provided our dance program would have never been possible. Hannah and I have each danced pre-professionally for twelve years, and are currently dancers in Deerfield’s dance program. Recognizing our privilege to have access to similar facilities and instruction our entire lives, we wanted to use our expertise to introduce the art to people who otherwise would not have been able to experience it. With our grant money, we were able to teach upwards of 20 kids from Ewing New Jersey’s Catholic Youth Organization to master basic dances. At the end, they performed for their parents with props and accessories that made the whole thing come to life! These kids are so sweet, enthusiastic, and hopeful. We absolutely fell in love working with them, and seeing their glowing smiles every week wouldn’t have been possible without your generosity!

-Svetlana ’25 and Hannah ’25