5 Steps to Start a Dance Program at Your School
We met Mr. Mendoza through our good friends at After-School All-Stars and he danced his way into our hearts! Mr. Mendoza started his school’s very own dance program – from scratch – and it’s been life-changing for his students, his school, and him.
Check out how he did it below!
Guest Blogger: Mr. Mendoza
Bio: Jose J. Mendoza is Mayor Pro Tem of Bell Gardens, California where he grew up and now teaches at Bell Gardens Intermediate. Mendoza started his dance team with only 13 students, and today, his program teaches dance to more than 150 students daily.
Visual and Performing Arts are a crucial part of a child’s education and are too often left out of the daily core curriculum. Hence, it is up to us to fight for the right to be: creative innovators, risk-takers, and most importantly, share the love and passion for theater, music, art, and dance. Furthermore, it has been through my tenacious heart and my love for dance that persuaded me to bring the performing arts to the students and community that I love. I am proud to say that I am the Director of an award-winning dance program (6 elective periods during the core day and for After-School All-Stars, Los Angeles) at Bell Gardens Intermediate School. Here are some tips for all those who share this dream, in hope that it may help you on your journey to success.
Have a clear vision of the goal and program you wish to create within your community. Every “dream” begins with a dreamer, work hard and focus on what you want to accomplish.
Getting a degree from an accredited institution is crucial for teaching in a public school setting. There are various options to obtain a credential to teach dance (e.g. single subject in PE/Dance) or adding a subject matter authorization to already existing multiple subject credentials.
Creating relationships with school principals, teachers, board members, district officials, and parents is essential if you wish to engage the community and students in your vision. Your administrator should see you at every rally, open house, fundraiser, etc. You or your parents should engage the support of local business, entrepreneurs, district extension programs (e.g. Afterschool All-Stars, Los Angeles), and elected officials.
Demonstrate your creativity by creating shows and attending competitions that amplify the talent, commitment, and dedication of your students. Volunteer to perform at school and community events etc. to gain exposure and name recognition. Have a strategy in place to raise money outside any district or school funding so that you can invest back into the program (i.e. equipment, uniforms, and supplies). Collaborate with your parents and students on various fundraisers.
One of the most difficult tasks is to obtain adequate space to dance. Ideally, every dance teacher’s dream is to have a studio that includes: mirrors, dance floor, ballet bars, and sound system. These resources will help your student learn choreography and master skills necessary to pursue the arts as an everyday aspect of life. However, if resources are not accessible start in whatever space is available: multipurpose room, gym, and empty classrooms.
If you have the opportunity and the interest in starting a dance program at your school, I can proudly say, that it has the power to transform your most “at-risk” students well beyond the walls of your school. Over the years, Bell Gardens Intermediate Dance and After-School All-Stars, Los Angeles has changed the lives of thousands of my students; many of whom were considered “at-risk” and managed to graduate high school, attend a four-year university, and even continue to dance professionally.
It was through arts education that these students transformed and found: self-esteem, motivation, determination, and a passion. One of the most rewarding moments was seeing one of my former students perform at Debbie Allen’s “Beauty and the Beast.” I will always remember his words, “Mr. Mendoza, if it was not for you and All-stars, I would not be here. Thank you from the bottom of my heart.”