Our founder Tracy Straus reflects on her time teaching in Alaska
I am just back from two weeks in Sitka, Alaska where I taught daily Celebrate The Beat (CTB) classes to local children at the Sitka Fine Arts Camp. Having had this wonderful, intense experience, I am more grateful than ever for the invaluable life lessons children absorb through the CTB system and for the system itself: National Dance Institute, begun by Jacques d’Amboise 41 years ago.
The students in the community were new to CTB, and for the first week they did not crack a smile. I think they were in a state of shock. They were taking five classes a day that included choir, jazz band, mural-making, photography, just to name a few of the 40 arts offerings at the camp. For our dance classes, they were being invited to reach this high or try this hard and remember this much and move this quickly. And this was all new to them. Really, really, REALLY new. Finally, after me persevering and never giving up on them, the smiles on their faces when they finally GOT IT were so bright it brought sunshine to the rainiest place on earth. (I was cold and drenched for the entire 2 weeks.)
Those who have not experienced CTB quickly come to realize that live music is integral to the program, taking our classes and the final performance to a level of vibrancy that awakens the core of potential. Tim Ribner accompanied me on the trip, and his musical selections were beyond compare. Tim put together a huge (and extraordinary) band for our performance that included two trombones and a trumpet, sax, bass, guitar and drums. Because Sitka is a high-level performing arts camp, the musicians teaching at the camp were truly fantastic, and their camaraderie supporting our dancers was magical. You can hear (and see) the energy below:
After the show a row of moms cheered me so loudly I turned around to see who they were cheering for as I did not know a single one before I had introduced myself on stage. They were so grateful to see their children pushed to succeed at the highest level.
The journey we take our students on shows them that they can learn anything and, for that matter, to accomplish anything. The grit it takes to make your body remember steps to music, with a group, to push yourself physically, and then to joyfully collapse after running the piece - breathing so hard you think your heart will explode - all builds character. I saw this with my own eyes. I am still overwhelmed with the satisfaction of knowing these children accomplished things they never dreamed possible.
Now, I’m back in Denver to work with our All Stars in our Summer Institute and to teach our Joyful Arts Camp. We are hosting two fundraisers in the next two weeks; one in Denver and the other in Aspen. I have never felt better about asking people to support this program. It is unparalleled in its effectiveness to motivate children to push themselves to succeed, and the joy in building that kind of character is profound.