Upon entering the Woodlake auditorium on February 11, 2019, there is a big sign with these striking words, Character Counts and under it are the meaningful words: Respect, Caring, Trustworthiness, Self-discipline, Citizenship, Responsibility, Fairness, Perseverance and Honesty. That happens to go great with the Fordney Foundation/DREAM Program which stands for Discover, Respect, Express, Achieve, Motivation. Mothers, fathers, sisters, brothers, grandparents, and friends were all happy to be here on this special occasion of the Mid-Year Ballroom Dance Showcase to celebrate their excited children’s 15-week progress.
Principal Mario Thompson greeted us and made us feel welcome. He said he gets a kick out of being able to see the children come out of their “comfort zone” and be able to interact with their peers through the DREAM Program. The children learn to respect themselves as well as others. He further stated that ballroom dancing is huge and “that we are all blessed to be able to have this program be part of this school.” To find out more about DREAM, you can follow the DREAM program on Facebook – @dreamdanceprogram, Instagram – @dreamdanceprogram and Twitter – @DREAMdanceprog. If you are interested in taking dance lessons, find out more about it by contacting Erica at EA Dance in Encino and find out about all of their dance programs.
We then heard from dance instructor and professional ballroom dancer, Erica Arnold, who by the way, just had a baby boy named Radion. He was born on December 19, 2018, and we all gave her a big round of applause! While she was away, her husband, Artemi was able to fill in for her. Erica told us that there are 365 students participating in this program. Half of these students were performing on this night. She said that the Fordney Foundation fully funds this program and Mrs. Marilyn Fordney would tell us how the Fordney Foundation came to be a little later. Erica participated in the dance performances of the evening right along with her students and introduced her equally talented professional dancer husband, Artemi Okunev, who not only was Master of Ceremonies but also a sound man and even dazzled us with a Pro/AM dance performance a little later.
Artemi taught us all how to applaud with meaning and it was so much fun to get this crowded room of children and adults going. He also complimented all the parents for dressing the students so well, making it all the more special! The children did look amazing in their great outfits. He said that the DREAM Program is designed to make ladies and gentlemen out of the children while equally allowing them to learn to respect teachers and older people.
It was finally time to see the children dance. They did not disappoint and did some really cool moves! These were 4thand 5thgrade students who represented their teachers well: Kate Oltz’s 5thgrade class, Kendra Barbula’s 4thgrade class, Irene Miramontez’s 5thgrade class, Tiffany Cullen’s 4thgrade class, and Alexandra Williams 5thgrade class. The dances performed this evening were: Salsa, West Coast Swing, Hustle, and Rumba.
We were then treated to a Pro/AM performance by Artemi and his dance student, Anna Gilichensky. Before they performed, Erica told us that Anna was their shy student that started learning ballroom dance at the age of five. Now she is a champion at competitions! She went on to explain about Fordney Foundation’s sponsored programs like Best of the Best, Top 10 Best in Standard and Latin to name a few and other scholarship opportunities. Artemi and Anna were awesome doing the Cha Cha. Everyone admired their performance! As you can see, the red costume went well with that dance, showing a lot of movement.
Mrs. Marilyn Fordney then addressed the auditorium by saying how glad she was to see everyone giving so much support to their children. Mrs. Fordney then told us her compelling story on how the Fordney Foundation came to be. As a six-year-old child and the eldest of four siblings, she spoke about the harsh internment treatment conditions she endured during World War II. People don’t know that Santa Anita Racetrack is the previous home of World War II’s seldom spoke of internment camp. The blessing of meeting Father Flanagan is what changed Marilyn Fordney and her family’s lives. Mrs. Fordney’s family moved to Omaha, Nebraska, after being uprooted from their home in Los Angeles. The significance of Boy’s Town and living there definitely impacted her life. To learn more about Marilyn Fordney’s dramatic beginnings, please read our blog at https://fordneyfoundation.org/once-upon-a-time-in-america-an-untold-story/. You can also read the story that was recently published in the November-December 2018 issue of Omaha Magazine. There is a book written by Father Clifford J. Stevens entitled Legacy of Devotion that is available on Amazon that has even more details of the seldom spoken story of what went on in America during World War II.
In 1947, Mrs. Fordney’s family was able to move back to California. It was not easy when three families had to live together and they were very poor. She further explained how she was able to have education through hard, dedicated work, babysitting and catching lots of buses (then called streetcars). She was able to follow her heart and passion for dance while becoming a foremost expert in her academic field. She not only was an educator but also went on to publish numerous textbooks that won four nationally acclaimed awards! Through her publishers, Elsevier Science and Cengage Learning, Mrs. Fordney was able to write 90 books throughout her academic 40-year career! This is how she was able to support two foundations, the Fordney Foundation and Havasi Wilderness Foundation with her husband, Alex Havasi. As a note, Mrs. Fordney continues to give donations to Boys Town that is celebrating 100 years of helping young children. She spoke about dance, as something you can do all of your life, through ups and downs. She explained how dancing makes us feel more positive both better mentally and physically.
It was then time to say goodnight to a fun-filled evening. We wish to thank every one of our children for their great performances this evening. Special shout-outs to the 4th graders who were performing for the first time tonight! We thank all the teachers for their continued support. A special thank you to Principal Thompson, for his continued belief in what we do! We thank Artemi Okunev for a job well done in so many areas! Thank you too, Anna Gilichensky for coming to dance for us! You were great! We love all of these super photos taken by Mr. Alex Havasi and thank him for his hard work. Thank you, mothers, fathers, aunts, uncles, grandparents, and friends for supporting these children by showing up. That means the world to us and them! We stand up and applaud Erica Arnold Okunev for the marvelous work she does with the children. The students love you! And a special “thank you for all you do,” Mrs. Marilyn Fordney, “who gives the gift of dance” and does so from her heart.
**We have received contributions from individuals who would like to have a dear relative or friend who passed on remembered that loved to dance or was a dance aficionado. We call these memorial contributions. Perhaps you would like to have someone memorialized in this manner. Make a donation and give us their name. We will soon put on our website a yellow brick road to add their name to a brick as a memorial to that person. This contribution will assist future generations of dancers and help keep young people more positive and healthy.
Thought Of The Week:
It’s not how much we give but how much love we put into giving – Mother Teresa