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Participating in dance gives children a new opportunity to learn to persevere and excel.

courtesy SBDI

Participating in dance gives children a new opportunity to learn to persevere and excel.


Dance as a Path to Excellence

School Program Inspires Children with the Arts


For more than 500 schoolchildren each year, a dance arts program has created an outlet, a safe haven, and a place to grow. Founded in the belief that the arts have a unique ability to inspire children toward excellence, our nonprofit, Santa Barbara Dance Institute (SBDI), works with over a dozen schools, offering both in-school and after-school educational dance programs that bestow uncountable rewards.

A school-based opportunity to be involved in quality art programming gives children another outlet to learn to aspire to excellence, an aspect that translates into their other subjects. It helps create an atmosphere for learning that is so important for any school.

courtesy SBDI

“I have never felt so proud of myself. I had fun and gave 100 percent in each dance class, and then I got to perform under the big lights for all these people! I felt like a superhero.” —Adriana, 6th-Grade Student

In our full-year programs, the kids get to work toward and experience a fully staged performance at the Marjorie Luke Theatre. Roughly 350 students take part in an original dance theater piece to a sold-out house of family and community members. Talk about elation! The children see the long-term goal ahead and dance their way toward it in a positive, fun, and challenging endeavor with their class. Each child becomes empowered as they gain more and more command of the dance steps, and they also develop an understanding of what it means to be part of a team. When the children perform after months and months of hard work, it is transformative for many.

Many other Santa Barbara art programs offer performance-based classes, too, with equal benefits for kids. Some visual art programs culminate in public showings for community, family, and friends. Budhi Harlow teaches drumming and dancing in schools to students, who get to participate in the Solstice Parade and final presentations. Schools themselves offer talent shows or end-of-year presentations.

courtesy SBDI

“For me, dancing with my class every morning in preparation for our big performance gave us a focus and a shared goal. We laughed, we helped each other, we got a little exercise, and we played with music. We all felt that we were involved in something bigger than ourselves, and we tried hard to make it shine! Our participation in SBDI brought a cohesiveness and a level of enthusiasm to our class in a healthy, natural way that we would not have been able to do in any other way.” —Solvang Elementary School Teacher

SBDI’s mission is to inspire children to realize their true potential by motivating them to believe in themselves, be responsible, and develop a personal standard of excellence. These are life skills we all can benefit from having. In each class, while they are working up a sweat, the children are inspired and having fun. That is what a quality art education program does in schools, in whatever form, dance, music, art, acting, you name it.

courtesy SBDI

“I want to dance in the future because it makes me feel brave.” —4th-Grade Student

“It is a tough world for many of our children, and most of them have already been given a run for their money. If we can teach them that they do have a voice, that they are strong, and that they can be whatever they want through focus, discipline, and hard work, we can give them a new and fresh outlook on life,” says Rosalina Macisco, executive and artistic director of SBDI.

And the arts, even dance, can be integrated with class curricula. For example students in the 3rd grade usually learn about the solar system, so why not create the solar system through dance? “You have eight counts to rotate like the sun into your dance spots,” says Mariah Korte, one of our instructors.

Math, a subject usually scoffed at by 3rd graders, is used to help find the beat in the music . “How many counts do we clap for? What is 2 times 2? Yes, 4 … What is 4 times 4? Yes, 16 … what is 16 divided by 2? Yes … 8. You have 8 counts to move from here to there,” instructs Lauren Macioce, another SBDI teacher.

“Dancing with SBDI was new, and I felt nervous; it felt like my life was going to change!” —3rd Grader

Another constant topic of discussion in our country is childhood obesity. Dancing creates an environment that allows children to get fit without even knowing it because they are having so much fun. Dancing one hour a week is definitely exercise, and it motivates students to want to stay healthy — that’s the first step in creating a healthier, more educated next generation.

“I am amazed at how some children do nothing for me in PE, but in dance they move up a storm.” —Lauren Macioce, PE and SBDI Instructor

courtesy SBDI

Dancing with confidence and smiles!

“Kids leave SBDI with greater confidence and, hopefully, the courage to be vulnerable again,” Holly Gil, a parent of Adelante Charter School students and the founder of Querencia, has told us. “I think the work you are doing is so, so important. It is building resiliency in children. I know you measure academic achievement and behavior, but I wonder if there is a way to measure resiliency and perceived worthiness in participants.”

Kaila MacKenzie is the program and event producer for the Santa Barbara Dance Institute.

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