It wasn’t quite “Dancing with the Stars”, but for the twelve 4th through 6th graders from Irma C. Ruiz Elementary who recently performed at the state convention of the Illinois Association for Health, Physical Education, Recreation and Dance (IAHPERD), the roaring applause was just as thrilling.
As seen in this video, students from Ruiz performed a combination of merengues, tangos and waltzes as part of the 2012 Dance Gala, which featured students from around the state.
“This was our second year performing at the convention,” said Dana Butler, principal at Ruiz, “and it has been a phenomenal experience for our students.”
IAHPERD provides professional support and guidance to educators and community leaders who create programs that promote a healthy lifestyle. Ruiz was introduced to IAHPERD by Margot Toppen, Education Director for May I Have This Dance, which provides dance instruction to Ruiz Elementary students as part of an afterschool program. Toppen, who annually presents at the IAHPERD conference, encouraged students from Ruiz to audition in 2011.
“We humbly submitted our audition tape and were selected,” said Principal Butler. “This year, we were invited back.”
Ruiz was pleased to participate for a second year, both to support the work of IAHPERD – the school’s two Health and Physical Education teachers attend the conference annually to hone their skills – and to provide students with a unique performance opportunity.
“It was really fun,” said Kathy Lopez, a seventh-grader who performed at the conference. “A long drive from school, but totally worth it.”
Natalie Salinas, also in seventh grade, liked watching dancers from other schools almost as much as she enjoyed being on stage. “It was fun to see what the other schools could do,” she said. “They had some really different styles and were very good.”
Both girls laughed over their preparation for the convention. “The dances were pretty easy to remember, because we’d been working on them for a while, but we only got to have one practice before the performance, so we were a little nervous,” said Kathy Lopez.
“We had this really small room where we were able to practice before going onstage,” said Natalie Salinas. “It was full of tables, and we kept crashing into them while we were dancing.”
Both girls used the same word to describe their arts education at Ruiz – “awesome”.
“There’s something for everybody, and it gives us a chance to concentrate on what we love,” said Kathy.
Ruiz maintains a strong commitment to integrating art, music and theater into the curriculum, particularly the Common Core Standards.
“There are wonderfully transferrable lessons between the arts and Common Core,” said Principal Butler. “An arts education builds focus, expands critical thinking and problem solving skills, and builds student confidence and self-esteem while also creating a well-rounded love of literacy.”
A neighborhood school focused on the arts, Ruiz is located in the heart of the culturally rich Pilsen neighborhood – a community that provides no shortage of artistic exposure and opportunities for its students.
Ruiz also is focused on the overall wellness of its students, and has been nationally recognized for its health and nutrition programs, including one of CPS’ original learning kitchens and community gardens. This in addition to the many performance opportunities at the school, which allows its 930 students to show off their talents in music, art, dance and theater.
“They are hams,” said Butler of his student performers. “They love performing.”