Dancing For The Next Generation

Published 7:26 pm Friday, December 17, 2010

Alex Castillo has some moves.

The 10-year-old Brookhaven Elementary School fourth-grader is adancer in the making, and he showed his classmates what he could doThursday morning when the Mississippi School of the Arts dancestudents invited him onstage during a guest performance at BES.Teenage artists in ballet costumes followed the little guy’ship-hop lead as he tore up the hardwood stage.

It wasn’t Alex’s first interaction with the skilled dancers fromMSA.

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“He’s been attracted to this group of kids for two years. Healways makes a B-line for us,” said MSA dance director TammyStanford Williams.

If one 10-year-old from Brookhaven is drawn to the MSA dancersand their craft, are there any others? The answer may come nextyear.

The arts school’s dance department is looking to extend itsreach into the Brookhaven community in 2011 by establishingafter-school dance lessons for youth, a program aimed at increasingthe availability of local arts education and perhaps fashioning afew future MSA recruits. Getting kids started in arts disciplineslike dance at an early age will give them an advantage if theychoose to pursue arts in later life, and it will teach participantsthat arts isn’t necessarily something one must be born with – itcan be taught, Williams said.

“The majority of kids who come to this school have not had artsin their background, and that deters some people. They thinkthey’re not qualified to audition,” she said. “You’re alwaysqualified, you just have to have the potential to develop thetalent. A program like this can help children develop theirconfidence to come and audition.”

Any dance classes or lessons the MSA dance department hosts willbegin at square one, teaching participants the basic principles ofgross motor skills – how to control large groups of muscles dancersuse to jump, leap, turn, skip or gallops.

Once the basics are learned, the emphasis will shift tocomposition, with young dance students being taught to developoriginal movements to positive music of their choosing. The youngages are a great time to begin the creative process, Williamssaid.

“Their imaginations are perfect to develop their ownchoreography,” she said. “If we were able to do this on a yearlybasis, we could have kids come through that program that would beready for a really advanced class once they reach high school.”

But dance training would do more than just benefit MSA and teachkids how to dance, Williams said. It would also teach kidsmaturity.

“The first thing dance teaches is self-discipline, how to resistimpulse actions. When you learn to control your movements, controlyour body, you learn how to control your feelings and emotions,”she said. “That’s what we do in dance.”

What and how to teach isn’t the problem the MSA dance departmentis facing. The challenge is where to teach.

The outreach program is still in the earliest stages ofdevelopment. The arts school is still in the process of contactingschool administrators and establishing the program. Two possiblelocations for the class include BES and the Boys and Girls Club ofLincoln County, but nothing is certain.

“We hope to be able to offer some dance classes and activitiesfor youth in the spring,” said MSA Director Suzanne Hirsch. “Somany times children and their families just can’t afford to buy thelessons and training. But here, we just so happen to have a groupof students who are very interested in working with children.”

No matter where the classes are eventually offered, offeringthem is one of the arts school’s many missions to the community andits students.

“This is part of our curriculum – learning to communicate andteach the art of dance,” Hirsch said. “It’s actually career skillsour students are building by teaching students other thanthemselves.”