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May 22, 2014

Arts program inspires students to strive for success

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A dance program in New Mexico engages and motivates students to strive for excellence using the arts.

The National Dance Institute (NDI) of New Mexico offered lessons this past year to nearly 8,000 children in more than 80 schools across the state.

“We really target the schools and communities that need our programs the most, so that means high poverty, rural, isolated, the cities, too, but kids who wouldn’t otherwise have an opportunity to experience this kind of program,” said Catherine Oppenheimer, the institute’s founding artistic director.

Oppenheimer once performed with the New York City Ballet and with legendary classic dancer Jacques d’Amboise. In 1976, Amboise started the National Dance Institute in New York to expose city children to ballet. He convinced Oppenheimer to teach and eventually to bring the program to New Mexico.

Many of the kids in the program are applying the skills and discipline they learn through dance performances to their other activities, including academics.

“My grades before, they were moderate, from C’s to — like C’s and D’s, but now, actually, with NDI, it’s actually improved to B’s and A’s in most of my classes,” said 16-year-old Emery Chacon.

“He’s learned through the dance… there’s rules you have to abide by…. It will help him through life when he does get a job and starts working,” said Emery’s grandfather Danny Payne. “He knows that they expect his full attention and his devotion to whatever profession he decides to get into.”

As the program celebrates its 20th anniversary, a few students have made it to bigger stages as professional dancers. But that’s not the ultimate goal.

“Whether or not they’re bound for Broadway, we don’t know,” said NDI executive director Russell Baker. “But the idea is, be bound for something. Figure out what that is and work hard and do your best and don’t give up until you get there.”


Warm up questions
  1. The Arts consists of visual, drama, music, performance and other activities. Which of these does your school offer to students?
  2. What have you learned from the arts?
Discussion questions
  1. What did the dancers learn from performance that they will apply to other areas of their lives?
  2. Why do you think that arts programs are often the first programs cut within a school?
  3. Do you think the arts are more important in elementary school or high school? Why?
  4. In the story about the National Dance Institute of New Mexico, proponents of the program state that an independent study of the program found that students who participated in the program achieved “higher test scores in reading, science and math, and improved fitness.” Imagine you were asked to do the study, how would you set it up?
Writing prompt

Imagine that your school system is making budget cuts and wants to eliminate your school’s arts programs. What argument would you make to convince the leadership in the school system that the arts are important and should not be cut? Make sure to back up your arguments with evidence from the video and text.

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