“Get in the zone, people!”
Sixty fourth and fifth graders are lined up in imperfect rows in the Washington cafeteria. Younger students look on, snacking on apples and doing their homework. It’s an energetic space, full of elementary student chitchat and fidgeting.
When we come through you know we shut it down! Beats bust through the speakers, and all are alert, ready to show the moves they’ve been practicing all week.
This is World of Hip Hop, Hilary Mitchell’s Classroom Grant that brings in a dance consultant (Mr. Santos) for weekly hip-hop classes. Now in its 12th year (nearly all funded by the Schools Fund), the class has become increasingly popular and a staple of the school community. This semester has more boys in the class than ever before, and the kids love it!
Ms. Mitchell explains, “The primary goal of this project is to motivate all students to achieve excellence in both their academics and character. It gives all students regardless of their socio-economic and racial backgrounds the opportunity to express themselves through dance as well as develop self-discipline and discover the rewards of working as a team of dancers toward a final product (their performances). For many students this is one of the only areas where they can really shine.”
As class goes on, students push themselves, loosening up, exhibiting the drama of the dance. Mr. Santos does not go easy on them. The moves are quick and challenging; students repeat the choreography over and over until they get every count right. He instructs them to give “full out energy! Even when you mess up!”
Hip Hop is not just about learning steps. As Mr. Santos says in the beginning of class, “Hello discipline! You are in dance class now so you need to step it up a bit.” Students are encouraged to get in the “Dance Zone:” that place where you focus only on yourself and your moves.
It’s also about developing confidence and stepping out of their comfort zone. These students are about to enter the challenging period of Middle School, and Ms. Mitchell says her Hip Hop students are more willing to put themselves out there and try dance in Middle School. “They already have experience with dance, with moving their bodies, and they are much more excited to try it out later on.”
She takes it a step further: “This confidence then transfers over into the classroom setting. They become motivated to do their homework, complete classroom assignments, and become a leader in their classrooms. There is no greater pleasure as an educator than to see the students who are starting to check out of their education perform on stage to the cheers of an audience and their peers and see the happiness on their faces as they discover that they are valued and respected. This class nurtures our students’ social and emotional needs and opens the doors for tremendous personal and academic growth.”
By the end of class, students are out of breath but smiling. The bell rings, but they keep dancing until the song is over, deep in the zone.