Updated: Aug 19, 2018
For Lesley Molinar, deciding to volunteer to lead the Gypsum branch of 5678 Just Dance was easy. The 18-year-old had attended Gypsum Elementary, had been inspired to enroll in dance classes after receiving a dance scholarship at 13, and simply loves to dance.
It seems that most of the kids involved in the leadership of the program feel that way. 5678 Just Dance is an after-school introductory dance program for second- and third-graders at Gypsum Elementary and Edwards Elementary that is taught by high schoolers at the Vail Valley Academy of Dance. The program is free for the participants and the teachers are teenage volunteers.
Katie Deck, 17, who is a student co-leader at the Edwards Elementary branch of 5678 Just Dance, finds the uninhibited excitement of the participating students inspiring. “The kids pull out some crazy moves sometimes. I think they’re not as embarrassed as older dancers sometimes can be,” she said. “They’re just always smiling, and I think it’s awesome that dance is such a great way for them to get out their energy.”
The program began three years ago. Student leaders at Vail Valley Academy of Dance expressed interest in bringing exposure to dance to local kids, and have used several formats to do so through the years. This year, dance students including Grace Anderson and Deck, who both participated in leadership of the program the year prior, stepped up and volunteered to lead the Edwards branch. Molinar proposed the idea to Gypsum Elementary administrators, and all were met with support.
At both program locations, the class begins after school, with a short game to bring the kids together. “They love when we go around the circle and practice our names and say our favorite ice cream flavors,” said Anderson. “Then, we practice foundational moves like plies and tendus and work on the basic positions and arms. Then, Taylor, Cameron, and Alexa work on teaching choreography for the Student Showcase.”
The Edwards branch, where Anderson teaches, is working on choreography for a dance from the Nutcracker Ballet for their upcoming Student Showcase performance. The dance is special for many of the participating kids because as signing up to take part in the program, tickets and transportation were provided for participants and parents to this December’s Vail Valley Academy of Dance Nutcracker Ballet, as presented by Vail Friends of Dance. By working together with some of the Academy dancers they saw onstage, the elementary kids are able to come full circle and conclude the program with a performance.
On Sunday, March 11, the program’s participants – all 30 or so of them – from both Gypsum Elementary and Edwards Elementary, will come together with the Vail Valley Academy of Dance Reperatory Group and the Vail Youth Ballet Company for the Spring Showcase. Student choreography will be featured in many of these performances, which will range from ballet to jazz to more contemporary pieces.
The Spring Showcase will take place at 2 pm on Sunday, March 11, at Vail Mountain School. Tickets are available for purchase from the dancers and at the door and cost $10.
All proceeds from the Student Showcase will support Vail Friends of Dance, which issues scholarships to aid eligible students’ enrollment in the school, assists with costs associated with dance intensives, and works to bring exposure to the arts and dance.
“I started (dancing) late, at 13, and I didn’t really have the opportunity until I was given the opportunity when I was given a scholarship. I found that I really enjoy moving and how I felt while dancing. It was freeing,” said Molinar.
Though working with about 20 kids isn’t always easy, the student leaders agree that witnessing the excitement of the children as they learn makes their efforts worthwhile. Participants are welcomed regardless of their economic status, are encouraged to express themselves through motion, and are given the chance to perform in front of their friends and families. Vail Friends of Dance works to support dancers who exhibit passion and dedication, and 5678 Just Dance! is one of the channels by which exposure to dance and the culture of dedication occurs.