It was the end of the day on a Friday. As I stepped over students waiting for class, maneuvered around parents’ knees with computers and children in their laps in our crowded studio hallway, I had an upcoming Monday morning appointment on my mind. I would be visiting a school where, even with teacher and principal assistance to our faculty, the situation had grown out of control. One student was disrupting the entire class, running, not dancing, and yanking the phone cord out of the wall when the teacher tried to call for help.
I thought about Wanyah, a Mad Hot program alumni, and how he might be able to help mentor the student but figured it was too late in the day to try to arrange it. I walked up to the desk to say my goodbyes and guess who was there?
Recently hired as a new front desk assistant, he was already on duty and his bright smile preceded his, “Hello Miss Debbie!” We had a good chat and he agreed to meet me at 7:45 a.m. Monday morning.
We walked into the school office together and explained who we were to the principal who was there alone, answering the phone. We were soon to find out that the young man we had come to meet had been pulled out of Mad Hot and was, as of the preceding Friday, suspended.
“The only break I get when he is here in school is when I go to the restroom,” the principal said. We learned that in five years, the student had been expelled from four schools.
“We’re here to support you,” I said. “We have found, time and again, that students such as this one benefit most from our program.” (Please don’t pull him!) I asked if she would allow us to come back the following week to meet with him one on one.
“Well, that is the kindest…,” a woman who had entered the office was listening and spoke up.
“We want to help…” I continued and the principal soon agreed to give us one more chance.
Wanyah and I went on that morning to visit the Mad Hot class in progress where Ryan Cappleman already had everyone dancing.
The class ended in a circle, as they often do, a time to connect and share thoughts before sending students on with their days. Ryan asked Wanyah to share with the class how old he was when he had started dancing in Mad Hot.
Wanyah: I was eleven just like you guys and I was really, really short. I was the shortest person, at least a foot shorter than most of the girls in class so dancing with them was a real challenge. It took me forever to grow. When my teacher, Miss Sarah (DiMaggio), taught us the Salsa, she nicknamed me Mr. Hips (giggles from students) because I liked moving my hips. It felt right so I did a whole lot of hip stuff. I remember being really nervous because I had always been scared to dance. I liked to talk a lot. I wanted to be a lawyer so I would be able to talk all the time and argue. I still do (more giggles). I kept at it and pretty soon realized I was really good. The girls noticed too and wanted to dance with me. I was semi-popular for the first time in my life. When I went to the competition, I messed up and I felt so scared that after all the work it would end. But, apparently no one saw me.
Ryan: Wanyah committed to it and kept going and that’s probably what the judges saw. I want to honestly say, I taught two steps in the wrong order last year. My kids ended up winning anyway. They committed to it and they kept going. They didn’t let my mistake get in their way. They kept going and won. So, Wanyah, what made you want to pursue dancing after Mad Hot?
Wanyah: It was fun! I really enjoyed it. After you go through the program you get to take free dance classes at Danceworks. So I took as many classes as I could and one day Miss Jacqui (Lefebvre), who choreographs all the Mad Hot Ballroom dances, came into class and saw me and said, ‘You’re a good dancer.’ After that I started performing. Now I teach for the program, work at Danceworks and have a double major at UWM in Dance and Law.
So, after my visit with Wanyah that day, there is more than one success story. The suspended student was allowed to return to the next Mad Hot class and Ryan almost couldn’t contain his excitement when he told me the news.
“Deb!” he said as he joined me for a recent board meeting to help recruit Competition volunteers. “He is back and did great! He became my class leader!”
It was a great story for us to share that day and as I write, have news that the student is still doing well. From running circles around other students and pulling out cords, he is now, instead, dancing.
This blog is being posted a while after I wrote it and I need to update you that I was back at the school for a follow-up visit this week. I learned the student had been transferred to a new school, making it five schools in five years for the young man. I don’t know the details but I did find out his new school is a Mad Hot school. We will work to see if it’s possible for him to finish the program and be at the BMO Harris Bradley Center for our Mad Hot Competition.
What I do know is that the student discovered he was capable of being a class leader, that he is an amazing dancer and a strong partner. That will stay with him. So the story continues…
And if you would like to help support our Milwaukee students and cheer them on, volunteer opportunities are still available for this year’s 10th Anniversary Mad Hot Competition at the BMO Harris Bradley Center on May 21! It’s an amazing day that is sure to change your life as much as it does the students. For more information, please contact Ryan Cappleman at Rcappleman@danceworksmke.org or feel free to reach out to me at firstname.lastname@example.org or 414.277.8480, ext. 6000.
Welcome to the Danceworks blog, where we're hoping to share a little bit more about the heart and soul behind Danceworks… what made us join the dance and keeps us dancing, what keeps us inspired, and where we can share some of the stories worth telling.