Lula Washington kids
Students enriched through the arts
Santa Clarita, CA – Children at Cedar Creek Elementary School in Santa Clarita danced their hearts out on Monday morning with world-renowned dancer, choreographer, and artist Lula Washington.
As part of a 12-week grant program through College of the Canyons, two schools in Santa Clarita were selected to be a part of an academic enrichment strategy, and Washington was selected as the artist in residence.
Principal Rudy Ramirez feels blessed and excited to bring the arts to his students at Cedar Creek.
“We are currently a program improvement school, which means the state is watching our academic performance,” he said. “So we thought while we are dealing with kids in the classroom intensely, we couldn’t forget the entire child.”
Teachers, administrators and staff workers gathered in the multi-purpose room on Monday, filled with excitement, anticipation and wonderment and watched Washington work her magic.
Used also as the cafeteria, the room was transformed into a dance studio filled with a diverse group of fourth graders. Each child was attentive, well-behaved, and sweating.
“If you look at the children’s practice, we have some special education children in there, and you would never be able to tell the difference,” Ramirez commented.
He says Washington has a way of engaging the children, especially those who typically have behavioral problems.
Washington says she never had a problem with any of the students, because it is the dance that grabs their attention.
“I can say the kids are very excited about the opportunity of doing this and not volleyball, tetherball, or dodge ball,” Washington said. “It’s something new for them … to do something that’s perceived as special, different from their ordinary daily routine.”
Because of Washington’s instruction, Cedar Creek students have shown significant improvement in their academic performance and behavior, says Principal Ramirez.
Washington believes dance, as with other creative forms of learning, help students utilize the skills they acquire in the classroom and improve the tools they need to succeed, such as memorization and recall.
And the veteran dancer and choreographer, also knows that it is important for children to learn to do things the correct way. Consequently, it is not unusual for her to stop the youngsters mid-step to correct their wrongs.
“If one of you is off, the whole group looks bad,” she will gently tell the budding dancers. “I’ll stop them before they even get started, and they’ll be like ‘What?’” she said. “I ask them, ‘If your teacher gives you a spelling word and you are missing one letter, is it right?’ No it’s not right. And it’s the same with the steps. If I let them go with that, then I’m doing them a disservice.”
At the end of the session, the students are pretty worn out, but walk away with smiles on their faces. Fourth grade classmates Desiree Miranda, David Mugwanya, and Colin Mellison all agree Washington is a tough teacher.
“She’s nice, but if you pull on her strings, she can get cranky,” Mugwanya said.
For most of the students, this is their first time being a part of a choreographed dance experience, and although it is a little tiring, they say dance is something they’d like to stay involved in.
“I like it because it’s really active,” Miranda smiled. “I want to do this dance for the rest of my life, because I think it’s really fun.”
Unfortunately, all students do not get to participate in the program, which leaves a few feeling anxious and left out.
“Some of my friends are jealous and some are like, ‘Oh, that’s a girl’s sport,” Mellison commented. “I say, ‘No, watch Dancing with the Stars.’”
Students from Cedar Creek will participate in a show April 30 at College of the Canyons Performing Arts Center, where Washington celebrates the 30th anniversary of her dance company. A select few will also have the opportunity to dance with the professionals in the night show. More information about Lula Washington’s performance is available at www.canyons.edu.