SPOTLIGHT ON THE ARTS: Life lessons through dance

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By Anna Finlay

As the Edward Villella recipient, I had the opportunity to intern with the National Dance Institute (NGI) this past summer.

Founded in 1976 by New York City Ballet principle dancer Jacques d’Amboise, NDI is a non-profit organization that strives to motivate children through award- winning learning programs.

Over the past 30 years, the Institute has shaped the lives of over two million public school children. Through dance, they learn skills that will enhance their lives in and outside of school and encourage curiosity about the world around them.

In classes taught by professional teaching artists, NDI works with over 35,000 children throughout Manhattan, Brooklyn, and the Bronx each year.

In my internship, I worked in the summer intensive program, a month-long performing arts academy with classes in ballet, jazz, ethnic dance, tap, music, and theater. The dancers have the opportunity to work on their techniques in these areas, with classes focused on each every day.

I was fortunate enough to work as an assistant teacher in the Jazz department, as well as recording the jazz curriculum for the first time ever. I also helped start choreographing and teaching a group of more advanced dancers a piece to Michael Jackson’s “Thriller” that will be performed on Halloween night at the New York City Center.

Whenever I’m asked what my favorite part about this experience was, my immediate response is the children. To watch these kids, some of whom struggle with complicated family lives, academics, and the tough emotional challenges of everyday life, come to dance class and let go of these difficulties for a few hours was incredible.

The dancers project such strength and joy every moment they are performing and learning, with a restored attitude towards the challenges they face due to the techniques of NDI.

The Institute’s founder says it best: ‘There seems to be a human need to dance – to dance for joy, for sadness, to petition the gods and then to thank them. Children feel this need to dance acutely; often its just the opportunity, the invitation, they lack.

“It is, I’m sure, this human need that triggers the extraordinary changes I see in them. At National Dance Institute we expose thousands of children a year to the mystery of dance – some who are deaf, some who don’t know left from right, and some who never thought they could (or would even want to) dance – and all of them are changed by the experience, some in small ways, others profoundly.’

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