Head Start students get a dance lesson


The Head Start students led by Sun Country Dance Theatre dancers perform ballet dance moves, specifically the arabesque position shown here.

AIDA MALLARD/Special to the Guardian
Published: Thursday, February 27, 2014 at 2:43 p.m.
Last Modified: Thursday, February 27, 2014 at 2:43 p.m.

Girls wore paper tutus and boys sported paper crowns and Hawaiian leis as they performed ballet dance moves at the fifth annual Head Start Dance Day last Friday at Prairie View Academy.

Nearly 160 Head Start students ages 3-5 at Rawlings Elementary and Prairie View Academy participated in a morning of dance lessons provided by staff and dancers from Sun Country Dance Theatre, a nonprofit organization formed in 2008 to provide dance instruction to students in middle school through college.

"Dance Day exposes the children to the beauty of dance and creative movements," said Ann Crowell, director of the Alachua County Head Start program.

Judy Benton, artistic director at Sun Country Dance Theatre, said Head Start Dance Day is part of the dance company's education outreach program, and the organization's commitment to community service and educational outreach. Benton said Sun Country Dance Theatre uses the Sun Country Sports Center facility, and their funding comes from fundraising and grants, with parents making all the costumes.

Benton said Dance Day introduces Head Start students to age-appropriate dance classes and various dance styles. At this event, the students learned ballet creative movement and terminology followed by a hip hop dance finale.

Following the lessons, the children, parents and visitors moved from the classrooms to the auditorium for a live stage performance by the Sun Country Dance Theatre dancers doing various forms of dance including classical and contemporary ballet, modern dance, jazz and tap. And the children appeared so captivated by the performances on stage. It was so quiet you could hear a pin drop.

To prepare the children for Dance Day, Benton provided Head Start with activity books and teacher's guides to engage the students leading up to and following Dance Day.

Benton said Sun Country Dance Theatre also benefits from Dance Day because it provides dancers with performance opportunities.

"We need these opportunities for our dancers," Benton said. "And the children are acting like professionals. They're so well behaved."

The children were separated into eight classrooms each with about 20 very enthusiastic children taught by two to three dancers.

Crowell said Dance Day provides an opportunity for parents to see their children learning and enjoying dancing which could lead to a student's transition into the dance program at Duval Fine Arts Elementary School. "We can talk to the parents about the dance program at Duval," Crowell said.

Benton said an off-shoot of Head Start Dance Day is a weeklong summer Head Start dance camp, now in its second year, in collaboration with Head Start and Fearnside Family Services. She said about 25 children ages 4-5 participate each summer,

Dance Day received good reviews from parents and children.

Tamika Wilson, the mother of 3-year-old Kennedy Wilson-Terry, said her daughter has been very excited and talking about Dance Day. Wilson praised Sun Country Dance Theatre and Head Start. "It's very nice they are teaching the children ballet," Wilson said, "and getting all the children together and having the patience with the 3-year-olds."

I love this program," Wilson said, "Kennedy has grown and is more open to things and people."

When asked what she liked best about the event, 4-year-old Aleiyah Jones performed an arabesque, which consists of Aleiyah standing on one leg with the other leg extended behind her body with arms extended out at the sides.

Lewis Hall, who came to support his 4-year-old granddaughter, Miracle Hall, was pleased with the event. "This is nice," Hall said. "Ballet is something different and my granddaughter really likes it. I'm glad I came."

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