Before long, the class is hooked. The kids look to Fion for guidance as they try to mirror dance steps like throwing their arms up, leaning into the flying airplane stance, and they count after him as he ticks off the rhythm in Spanish. “Uno, dos, tres, quatro.”
The kids, a pretty even mix of boys and girls, follow directions and run to their places on the floor -- or they jump, or they twirl in grand style.
Before long, the kids are rocking out to Miley Cyrus’s “Party in the U.S.A.” and dancing in the room. They’re break-dancing, playing games and posing confidently for photos. Curious onlookers hear the blaring cavalcade of pop song after pop song, they hear kids laughing and dancing, and they peek their heads into the doorway of the Duzine Elementary School classroom.
Fion, the founder and teaching artist from NY Dance Residency, wrapped up his four-lesson residency at Duzine teaching kids hip-hop dancing last week. The program, which he developed over the period of about a decade, busts kids out of their shells and gets them dancing.
One part of the lesson that gets kids thinking is a simple and profound message: Do not take the past with you and make sure to live in the now. Mimicking a sad expression, Fion tells the first-graders at Duzine about how bad moods and troubles at home can follow people around all day if they’ll let them. With a flash and a wave of his hands, the dancer’s bad mood and frown vanish into a warm smile. It’s that easy, he tells them.
What would have happened if they’d let the nervousness of that first day of dance class consume them, he asks the kids. Would any of them have had fun?
“No,” the kids answer in unison.
“Your choice was to be open,” he tells them.
In the process of the dance classes, the lesson also cues his students into body language and learning the subtle clues that make up most of human communication.
“It’s a guaranteed success,” the dancer says with a smile. One of the biggest difficulties in teaching dance to kids is getting the boys as invested in the fun as girls are -- that’s one thing Fion is proud he’s been able to achieve with the program.
“The most important thing is that they trust me,” he says.
Even as he tries to move into a different lesson, the kids goad him back toward playing their favorite game from the NY Dance Residency program -- The Smile Game.
Telling the kids to freeze where they stand, he gives them a bizarre instruction: “Do not move. Do not smile -- ever in your life.” Fion moves around the room from child to child, daring them not to smile. “Look! I can see one there. It’s coming. It’s a little smile.”
All but two of the baker’s dozen of first-graders failed Fion’s game last week, much to the delight of pretty much everyone in the room.
For more information, head to www.nydanceresidency.com.