Dancing toward confidence and success in Vail Valley | VailDaily.com

Dancing toward confidence and success in Vail Valley

Lauren Glendenning
Vail, CO Colorado
Dominique Taylor/Vail DailyEagle-Vail, Colorado fifth graders Jake Borel, front left, and Luis Juarez, front right, take front row during the Celebrate the Beat dance class Wednesday at Meadow Mountain Elementary.

VAIL VALLEY, Colorado ” Single out a Vail Valley, Colorado fifth grader in a room full of peers, and you’ll likely see red cheeks accompanied by a look of sheer terror.

When the teachers of the Celebrate the Beat program do it, however, children shine in the spotlight and look like they’re right at home.

“We’re really build a base of trust,” said Tracy Straus, the program’s founder. “We teach them the importance of being a team player.”

The program, which teaches dance and music to Eagle County elementary students, is a statewide nonprofit that began in Aspen in 2000. The Vail Valley Foundation fully funds the Eagle County portion of the program.

“It’s an amazing program,” said Jennifer Reid, manager of the foundation’s Vail International Dance Festival. “It’s amazing to see how kids from all walks of life can be extremely successful.”

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At first glance, the program looks like a dance class, but it’s really so much more. Reid went to New York to train for the program last year ” she saw the impact it’s having on students there and said it changed her life.

Celebrate the Beat teaches and builds confidence and team work. The children help each other and cheer each other on. When someone is singled out for making a mistake, the other students don’t point fingers or laugh ” they help.

At Meadow Mountain Elementary, which had its ninth class Wednesday, the fifth-grade students were as lively could be, especially for 8:30 a.m.

Angelo Nieves was having some trouble getting down the rhythm of the dance steps. He remained calm, and classmate Gavin McNeil took him off to the side of the gymnasium to help him work on the moves.

The boys worked together and each had patience and respect for each other ” the exact kinds of lessons Straus wants the students to learn from the program.

“We teach the joy of really respecting each other,” Straus said.

The program has little rituals the children get comfortable with. From the introduction routine, the tempo of the music or the good-bye song at the end of class, they find familiarity interspersed through new routines and lessons each day.

“The class creates a safe place for them,” Reid said.

And while dance and music are the main themes, children learn about trust, support, socialization, memorization and so much more. “If they have success in here, hopefully that translates into their classes,” Reid said.

Heather Kratz Malcuit, the Eagle County teacher for the program, said the exercises and challenges students have in the class help them strive for other goals in every aspect of their lives.

“It’s instilling excellence in them,” she said.

Straus likes to call the classes “joyfully rigorous,” and they are. Watching the children for the one-hour class and you’ll see nothing but smiles, energy and a little bit of sweat.

The program is currently in Avon Elementary, Meadow Mountain Elementary and Edwards Elementary. Straus and Reid hope to have expand into four more Eagle County schools by March ” Eagle County Charter Academy, Vail Mountain School, Red Sandstone Elementary and Eagle Valley Elementary.

The Vail Valley Foundation has agreed to pay for it because it’s a huge benefit for local children, Reid said. The foundation wants to make the program permanent in all Eagle County Schools, she said.

“I am so passionate about this program,” Reid said.

For more information on the Celebrate the Beat program, or to donate, visit http://www.ctbeat.org, or http://www.vvf.org.

Lauren Glendenning can be reached at 970-748-2983 or lglendenning@vaildaily.com

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