Fourth graders at Wakelon Elementary School might not have fully grasped the rarity of having a Kennedy Center Honors recipient stop by for a visit Thursday morning, but they certainly enjoyed his company.
Renowned dancer and choreographer Jacques d’Amboise joined the students for what was the third of a 16-session program put on by N.C. Arts in Action. The program is the organization’s first in Wake County, after nine years serving Chapel Hill and Durham schools.
N.C. Arts in Action didn’t have to pull too many strings to get d’Amboise on board for an appearance. The Durham-based group is one of 12 nationwide affiliates of New York City-based National Dance Institute, which d’Amboise founded in 1976.
“The staff here has talked about the importance of the arts and how it can impact student success,” said Wakelon Principal Tad Sherman. “We feel so fortunate that Jacques was here for the kids to see they can do something like this and it can change the course of their lives. It’s an opportunity so many of our students might have otherwise not had.”
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At age 80, d’Amboise wasn’t too physically involved in Thursday’s session, but didn’t have to be.
While N.C. Arts in Action Executive Director Marlon Torres led the dance end, d’Amboise regularly chimed in with verbal critique. His way of teaching focused less on proper dance form and more on achieving goals.
“It’s not that they become professional – in fact, I don’t recommend it unless it’s a burning in their belly that that’s all they want to do,” said d’Amboise, a 2014 Dance Hall of Fame inductee. “Then, you support them. Otherwise, you want to introduce them to an art form.”
The goal of the program is for the students to experience new things, succeed at them and become inspired to achieve more, d’Amboise said.
“How do you learn about riding a horse – in a manual? Uh-uh. You get a horse, and get on it,” he said. “How do you learn what dance is or what music is? Not by reading a book.
“This is a very simple introduction to dance and its basics. How do you move in front of you, behind you, geometry, and the control of how you’re moving, and then how you can use that to show emotions or tell stories. That’s basically what our programs are. It’s work, and get out and do, and discover and learn.”
Failure was a four-letter word during the session. Students who missed a dance step were designated by d’Amboise as “going under water.” Then, they were given the opportunity to redeem themselves and did so as what d’Amboise called the “underwater dancers.”
“Society should be dedicated to giving the best it can to children,” d’Amboise said. “Just support – I believe in you.”
For fourth-grader Camarria Thomas, the special session was a good time, but a structured one.
“We were learning a lot of discipline,” Thomas said. “I learned a couple moves that I thought were really cool. It was really fun and I really hope to continue this.”
N.C. Arts in Action workers meet with the students for an hour each week of the program. They’re building up to a dance performance set for February.