If you decided not to holiday shop on the crisp winter evening of December 11th and went to La Reina High School instead, you might have given and received the best gift of all! And if you were looking for a bit of excitement, there was plenty of that too. The auditorium was full of eager and excited local school children, looking forward to entertaining you. That they did, and many of these children have never been in front of an audience before, so some of them were a little nervous. It was a fantastic turnout. We are talking about a packed audience from end to end.
What this was all about is, the Dancing With Our Local Schools – Winter Showcase (DWOLS). This is a non-profit dance program designed for 4th – 8th grade students in the Southern California School Districts. It
is hosted by La Reina High School and sponsored by the Fordney Foundation in partnership with Dance 4 Wellness. Each semester since 2010, we provide a 12-week 20-40 hour program to 6 to 8 local schools. We believe it gives children an opportunity to interact with classmates, as well as a healthy outlet for self-expression and exercise. At the end of 12 weeks, all schools perform their dance routines in our Showcase and receive participation medals.
Maria Durant was the Master of Ceremonies, as well as being the Co-Founder of DWOLS and Executive Director. Maria is also the CEO of Dance 4 Wellness. She got us all energized with a super video that was a lot of fun to watch combining old dance film footage with a modern song. She always does an excellent job of coordinating the show each year and we are in our fifth year of presenting this show to you with over 16 schools having participated in our program. We are also thankful for her talented staff of Erica Arnold (who the children adore) as Artistic Director, her motto is, “By doing what you love, you inspire and awaken the hearts of others.” Also on staff is Ballroom Instructor, Coby Mosby, who is Hip Hop and Musical Theatre Instructor. This year Coby worked with 8th Grade students doing Hip Hop at Westlake Hills School for 8 weeks. Maria showed Coby with the students in a video because Coby could not attend the Showcase. They looked like they were all having a blast. We like his expression, “Dream big and keep reaching for the stars.”
The host of our show, Dr. Michael Bates, Head of School at La Reina High School, addressed the audience. He explained that La Reina is branching out into new creative fields like ceramics, robotics, ballet, and a lot more. They are building new space and facilities to accommodate these new areas. We love performing at La Reina and certainly are happy to hear about the progress this school is making in so many areas.
Marilyn Fordney, the founder of Fordney Foundation and Co-Founder of DWOLS, was then introduced. She commented how beautifully all the children were dressed. She expressed that dancing is very special in that it is a gift you can share with others. And of course, because of her, literally over 5,000 children thus far, have been able to experience dance.
A special note and thank you to all of the Sponsors, to our Board of Directors and all of the Volunteers! Many of the volunteers are dance students of Dance 4 Wellness who helped with many of the behind the scenes details that no one may see, but are very crucial to an event like this. We very much appreciate what you do and the giving of your time.
Now we were all set to see our schools perform. First up was Maple Elementary’s 4th and 5th grade classes. Dr. Juan Santos is their Principal and has been a huge supporter of our program since he’s been in it for the last 3 years. These 4th and 5th graders were divided into four groups doing the Hustle and Salsa. Good going boys, you got to dance with different girl groups, four times. Thanks for stepping up to the plate on this one guys! And everybody danced very well!
We then heard from Steve, a student of Maria’s, who she has known for 12 years. Steve told us how after he got a divorce, he found dancing and how it changed his life. He said it did take him 2 years to be able to perform. He was the shy and quiet type. He worked hard to learn how to dance, almost thinking he couldn’t do it. But after he overcame his fears, he found that he really loved to dance! He now encourages people to dance and wished he had the opportunity way back when, to learn social skills and confidence. Steve said the main thing is to learn to dance and have fun with it. Steve’s heart felt message is inspiring and we appreciated that he was able to share his story with us.
Next up was Glenwood Elementary. Welcome, first year Principal, Vivian Vina! Principal Vina gave a huge shout out to Erica and the sponsors, thanking them for this wonderful opportunity for her 4th and 5th grade classes. These 4th and 5th graders did the Cha Cha and Night Club Two Step. They had fun doing these dances and we had fun watching them. Good job!
Madrona Elementary was our next school to perform. We welcome Madrona Elementary, as this is their first year in our program. Principal Hallie Chambers is the Principal and had the largest group of the evening with 180 people performing! They had 2 groups doing Merengue and Hustle. You were all awesome, and we’re glad to have you in our program!
We stopped for a couple of Raffle giveaways and some lucky people got some prizes.
Then it was Westlake Hills Elementary turn to perform. They are in their 2nd year with us.
Principal Somer Harding thanked parents, students, Marilyn Fordney and Maria and Erica. Principal Harding went on to say that she has seen “little miracles happen with these kids dancing.” Wow…we sure enjoy hearing that. The 5th graders performing were in 2 groups doing Salsa and Samba and each group did a great job.
Conejo Elementary was then ready to perform for us. Principal Kari Taketa thanked Maria and Erica for the social skills her children were learning and introduced her 5th grade class to us. They did the Hustle and then a Waltz, which they did well and everyone looked like they had a good time.
More Raffle tickets were read off and a few more lucky people won prizes.
Last, but not least, it was Westlake Elementary’s turn, also having its first year with us. Welcome, Principal Megan Triplett and her 5th grade class! This 5th grade class was in two groups performing the Rumba and Swing. Both groups were super and we enjoyed watching you very much.
It was time to see some special performances. We were treated to a brother and sister dance team of Mike and Maya Urshansky. Mike and Maya compete in competitions all over the country for kids between the ages of 8 to 15 years old. They are very good dancers and performers and have only been dancing less than a year. I’m sure we will be seeing more of them in the future!
Speaking of special performances, what a treat to see Gabby Siegal and Lior Vasilevskiy dance. Gabby is 13 years old, a straight A student and valedictorian of her class at school. She has been dancing for over 10 years. Gabby not only dances, she plays piano and enjoys skiing. Her dance partner, Lior Vasilevskiy, is 15 years old. Lior enjoys acting as well as dancing and traveling. He’s been a ballroom dancer for over 8 years. Both Gabby and Lior have won many trophies already. I can see why, they were wonderful together and a real pleasure for us to see.
The last of the Raffle tickets were given away and more lucky people received some very nice prizes.
The wonderful and popular Erica Arnold then performed for us looking quite lovely in a blue dress and performing with her partner, Artemi Okunev. They were both terrific and everyone loved their performance, especially all the students who are huge Erica fans.
We all got a special treat next from four of the Principals who did a smash up job in performing and charming the whole audience with their dance routine and moves. They were a lot of fun to watch!
Maria’s friend Steve did return to speak to us about an important subject. Since our program
is growing, it becomes necessary to seek additional support. Our program is very open to people who would like to be involved, like becoming a volunteer or become a sponsor. This can be someone you know or even yourself. Donations are always appreciated. Maybe you have some ideas or would like your school to participate in our program. We are here and please note that our Spring Semester Program begins February 8th. Please contact Maria Durant, at 805-991-6113 or firstname.lastname@example.org for further information.
It was then time to give out medals to all the students who participated in the program. I might add, these medals were so beautiful. They were done in royal blue and the medal itself said: DANCE! How perfect and fitting to end a wonderful evening filled with happy children that now know how to dance and are proud of it!