AWARD-WINNING WHO'S DANCIN' NOW? REVISITS FORMER STUDENTS OF JACQUES D'AMBOISE'S NATIONAL DANCE INSTITUTE, PREVIOUSLY FEATURED IN THE OSCAR-WINNING FILM HE MAKES ME FEEL LIKE DANCIN'.
In 1976, one of the world's great dancers began a project that would change the lives of at least half a million people. That year, the National Dance Institute (NDI) was founded by New York City Ballet principal dancer Jacques d'Amboise as a way of introducing dance to students in the public school system. By exposing them to the energy, hard work and determination involved in performing, d'Amboise gave fourth, fifth and sixth graders a valuable lesson in how to succeed not only in dance but also in life.
This unique introduction to the arts was captured in the 1983 film He Makes Me Feel Like Dancin', which was co-produced by Judy Kinberg. From nerve-racking tryouts to rigorous rehearsals, determined children danced through a year of practice that culminated in a glorious event at Madison Square Garden. Dancin' won an Oscar for Best Documentary and d'Amboise's program has since gone on to teach more than 500,000 young people.
But what became of those young dancers who were seen struggling and triumphing in the film nearly two decades ago? Where are they now?
In WHO'S DANCIN' NOW?, a new production from Thirteen/WNET New York, producer/director Kinberg, a five-time Emmy winner, revisits them. Now in their mid- to late-20s, they have gone on to careers in finance, law, science, and education. The film, premiering Wednesday, June 20 at 8 p.m. (ET) on PBS (check local listings), shows them at work and play and includes a reunion - they hadn't seen one another in 15 years - at Jacques d'Amboise's home. Kinberg offers us glimpses of the young NDI participants as she sets out to discover how their lives have been affected by their formative encounter with d'Amboise. The film won the Audience Award for Best Documentary at the 1999 American Film Institute Los Angeles International Film Festival, a CINE Golden Eagle Award and a Parents' Choice 2001 Silver Honor.
WHO'S DANCIN' NOW? is not a sequel to the 1983 documentary. By intercutting scenes from the earlier film, Kinberg deftly bridges the gap between past and present, creating a stand-alone work that pays tribute to the profound impact of early exposure to the arts.
"They say 'arts in education' as if they're injecting it," says Jacques d'Amboise, who shares his insight and enthusiasm throughout the film. "Arts is education! Arts is learning!"
Todd, a rock guitarist in New York City, recounts his early experience with d'Amboise: "After about five seconds, I realized that I am the worst dancer in the world," he says. "I wasn't very happy with myself when I was that age, and I was overweight, but Jacques helped me relax and say it's okay, don't worry about it, do it again, if you fail, so what? That's something that has helped me my entire life."
"I was definitely shy as a child…I had terrible anxieties," says Jennifer, a kindergarten teacher in the South Bronx. "A lot of them I was able to overcome by performing with NDI and working with Jacques - I had to get over it really fast. He made you believe you could do anything."
Laurent, who went on to earn a fellowship as a science writer at the National Institutes of Health in Bethesda, Maryland, is also a stand-up comedian. "I was a very serious child," he says. "Jacques validated that you can be serious and smart, but you can also enjoy yourself. I'd say he didn't get rid of your fear - you never get rid of your fear. He helps you get rid of your fear of trying."
WHO'S DANCIN' NOW? reveals just how far-reaching and enriching a single arts program - and a single artist - can be. Alumni speak of the NDI community as one held together not by race, wealth or religion, but by perseverance and shared challenge and success. Such was the impact of NDI that some of the original participants now volunteer for the program. In the film, George chaperones an NDI trip to the White House where the children perform for President and Mrs. Clinton. In an isolated Native American community in New Mexico, another alumnus, Shasheen, volunteers as an NDI instructor with Catherine Oppenheimer, artistic director of NDI New Mexico. George and Shasheen's involvement long after they had left the program is a testament to the cycle of mentoring that begins when a child is exposed to a program such as NDI.
"I can't tell you how many times I've seen a child trapped in this cocoon of a body that will not work for them burst out and suddenly take on their own physicality," says Catherine. "It's astonishing! And you know that you have affected a life."
WHO'S DANCIN' NOW? culminates in a surprise visit by the cast members of the original film to a rehearsal of NDI students who had just screened He Makes Me Feel Like Dancin'.
"These children all have potential," says d'Amboise. "And when you give them this dance program that says take a chance, you can do it, well that applies whether they become astronauts or forest rangers or underwater photographers. They carry their success from an early age and that gives them a trail to follow - a guide throughout their life."
In that spirit, the companion Web site to the film invites Internet users to explore the arts education opportunities for children in their own communities. The site will be a national resource that also includes information on local NDI affiliates. The site will be online in June at www.pbs.org. WHO'S DANCIN' NOW? is a production of Thirteen/WNET New York.
In addition to the AFI Los Angeles International Film Festival, the film has also been screened at the Fort Lauderdale International Film Festival, the Newport Beach Film Festival, the Wine Country Film Festival, the Santa Fe Film Festival, the Museum of Television & Radio in New York, and the 61st Annual Conference of the National School Boards Association.
The producer and director is five-time Emmy-Award winner Judy Kinberg, who also produced and directed Bob Fosse: Steam Heat, The World of Jim Henson, A Renaissance Revisited and has produced more than 40 programs in the Great Performances/Dance in America series. Coordinating Producer is Kelly DesRoches. Girish Bhargava is editor. Tom Hurwitz is director of photography.
Funding for WHO'S DANCIN' NOW? is provided by Corporation for Public Broadcasting, The LuEsther T. Mertz Charitable Trust, The Cornelius V. Starr Fund for Arts Programming at Thirteen/WNET New York, Murray and Belle Nathan, PBS, Rita and Herbert Z. Gold, National Endowment for the Arts, Josh and Judy Weston, Merrill Lynch, Barbara Bosson, Bobbie Berkley, Capezio, and public television viewers.
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Thirteen/WNET New York is one of the key program providers for public television, bringing such acclaimed series as Nature, Great Performances, American Masters, Charlie Rose, Religion & Ethics NewsWeekly and EGG the arts show - as well as the work of Bill Moyers - to audiences nationwide. As the flagship public broadcaster in the New York, New Jersey and Connecticut metro area, Thirteen reaches millions of viewers each week, airing the best of American public television along with its own local productions such as The Ethnic Heritage Specials, The New York Walking Tours, and Reel New York - and reaching vast new audiences through its MetroArts/Thirteen cable arts programming. With educational and community outreach projects that enhance the value of its productions, Thirteen takes television "out of the box." And as broadcast and digital media converge, Thirteen is blazing trails in the creation of Web sites, CD-ROMs, educational software, and other cutting-edge media products. More information about Thirteen can be found at: www.thirteen.org.