“As a person, it’s made me more open to be myself,” Shanya Walker says of her craft. “At first I was shy and didn’t want to be goofy. But dance gave me a place to put my goofiness.”
Walker has been a CityDance DREAM Dancer for ten years. She stared at J.O. Wilson Elementary, and now the 17-year-old is about to graduate from McKinley Technical High School. She says the program has made a difference to her as a person, to her academic career, and to her future goals.
Walker has just come off-stage after performing at the District of Columbia Public Schools (DCPS) Back-to-School Block Party. The troupe’s performance followed a speech by basketball legend Earvin ‘Magic’ Johnson.
“It’s made me want to do more,” Walker said.
She plans to attend Towson University in Maryland, where she hopes to major in nursing and minor in dance.
Walker is a senior member of the CityDance DREAM program, a free dance program that offers students specialized dance training coupled with academic tutoring, college preparation and family services. Serving DC youth with limited resources, CityDance DREAM walks side-by-side with their students, using dance as a pathway to help them graduate from high school, discover their potential and pursue their dreams.
The program was founded as a pilot in 2004 at Green Elementary in Ward 8. Founding Director of the DREAM program Kelli Quinn said the vision has crystallized over the thirteen years since into a center, providing a place for students in DC to challenge themselves in the dance studio in an environment that is focused on supporting the whole child: the social, emotional, and physical.
Quinn said that combining academic and family services allows students to fully commit and engage with their dance training experience. Students are served by an entire team, including the DREAM dance faculty, academic services coordinator and a family services coordinator who work with the student, their family and teachers.
She said the team gets together to discuss each student and their individual needs, including challenges and successes in the dance studio, the classroom, and in the home.
“It gives us a well-rounded understanding and helps us to be more effective in supporting a student’s change and growth in their 10-year journey,” Quinn said.
She said that many of the children that go through the program have amazing and varied journeys throughout their ten years. “There are a lot of ups, downs, ins and outs over ten years,” she said. “It is really helpful to have a full team to support them in reaching their full potential.”
In 2015, the DREAM program received The National Arts and Humanities Youth Program Award from the President’s Committee on the Arts and the Humanities, the Nation’s highest honor for after-school arts and humanities programs.
Looking to the future, CityDance DREAM is preparing for its next chapter to meet the growing needs of District youth: opening its own facility in the heart of downtown DC, The DREAM Center for Dance, and delivering an intensive dance curriculum with comprehensive academic and family services.
There are currently about 250 students in the program at-large, all older than grade three. With the launch of the DREAM Center for Dance, space is opening up to welcome new students into the pre-professional dance training track, which serves students in grades 3 through 12 with dance training, master classes, performance opportunities, academic monitoring and family engagement, but space is opening up.
Quinn said approximately 30 spaces will be available for students interested in becoming part of the DREAM program, students interested in dance and willing to audition.
The auditions for CityDance DREAM will take place at the DREAM Center for Dance at Garnet-Patterson (2001 10th St. NW) from 10 a.m. to 1 p.m. Saturday, September 30th. Auditions are open to students in 3rd to 8th grades. Email email@example.com or go to www.citydance.net to find out more.
This story also appears on the East of the River site.