Vancouver students dance till they're dizzy

With a $10,000 grant, Vancouver students ages 8 to 13 learn moves in after-school classes

By Susan Parrish, Columbian education reporter

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photo"Feel that beat? Move your hips with it," Truman Elementary School teacher Sheyla Mattos says as she leads an after-school Brazilian dance class at VSAA.

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Students get a dance lesson

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More than 80 children eager to sign up for free after-school dance classes stood in line with their parents Wednesday at Vancouver School of Arts and Academics.

The wait was worth it.

"Dance lessons are expensive," dance teacher Jackie Sacks said. "This is a chance for kids to dance."

Sacks' grant proposal for the Vancouver Public Schools Arts Program received $10,000. It's one of 11 programs nationwide selected as 2013 grant recipients by the Dizzy Feet Foundation. The pool of grant applicants tripled from last year.

The after-school dance program is geared for school district students ages 8 to 13 whose families may not be able to afford dance classes. Students were selected by their elementary and middle school dance teachers and represent schools from around the district.

Sacks first wrote the grant for $6,000, but it was rejected five times. She appealed to the foundation a sixth time, emphasizing that this was a new after-school program for public school students.

"We were very interested in helping to support their school district because of the community aspect in their application," Danae Rees of the foundation said. "The school of the arts is providing credentialed teachers to offer dance experiences to other children within the school district."

The foundation gave more money than requested — $10,000 — allowing Sacks to offer an eight-week spring program plus summer and fall sessions. Sacks said the spring program is full, but more students will have an opportunity to try the summer and fall sessions.

Classes are taught by certified dance teachers. Sacks is joined by fellow Vancouver Public Schools dance teachers Fern Tresvan, VSAA; Sheyla Mattos, Truman Elementary School; Ixel Olivas, Washington Elementary School; and Rhonda Summers, McLoughlin Middle School. VSAA students who are in the National Honor Society for Dance Arts serve as teaching assistants.

From the front of a mirrored dance studio, Tresvan led a group of students Wednesday in modern dance moves. Unlike a formal dance class, the kids' dance attire ran the gamut from footless tights to sweatpants to shorts and even jeans. Throughout the studio, ponytails kept long locks out of dancers' eyes.

"Let's do that knee spin," Tresvan said. "We'll do it slow."

In the second studio, fourth- and fifth-graders were learning a mixture of contemporary and ballet moves.

"We're going to do a tendu," teacher Olivas said. "It's a fancy way of saying you're going to point your foot."

In the third studio, a group of mostly middle school dancers were jumping and grooving as they learned Brazilian dance moves from Mattos.

"Ready? Here we go! Feel that beat?" Mattos encouraged her students. "Move your arms with it. Move your hips with it."

"I'm giving them a taste of samba," Mattos said.

After their first class, students boarded school buses to Portland for a field trip to see a BodyVox-2 dance performance with choreography by Éowyn Emerald Barrett, who graduated from VSAA in 2003. Her success demonstrates to these new dancers that dance dreams do come true.

Susan Parrish: 360-735-4515; http://twitter.com/Col_Schools;susan.parrish@columbian.com