Celebrate the Beat returns in Eagle County schools with big energy, impact | VailDaily.com

Celebrate the Beat returns in Eagle County schools with big energy, impact

YouthPower365 program helps introduce elementary students to dance, leading to widespread growth and confidence

Avon and Red Hill Elementary had its live Celebrate the Beat performances last week.
Jace Stout/Courtesy Photo

After a brief hiatus due to the pandemic, Celebrate the Beat returned to Eagle County Schools this year — bringing with it a unique opportunity for students to move, express themselves and gain a set of valuable life skills.

Celebrate the Beat is a statewide program that introduces students to dance. While it has been in Eagle County for 14 years, in August 2020, the local chapter became a part of the Vail Valley Foundation’s YouthPower365.

“Celebrate the Beat Eagle County embodies our YouthPower365 mission,” wrote Sara Amberg, YouthPower365’s executive director, in a written statement to the Vail Daily. “Our program educates, inspires, and empowers young people. Children come alive in this program in ways they do not in any other setting. They feel confident and creative. It’s a spark that lasts through the school year and for years to come.”

This last semester, Eagle County’s Celebrate the Beat served over 400 students at three elementary schools. Typically a 10- to 12-week program, it also ran its first-ever, year-long program at one of the schools, Edwards Elementary School. Celebrate the Beat also has a Dream Team afterschool program for students that want more dance.

Students had the opportunity to perform Celebrate the Beat Pop Hop Camp at Vail Dance Festival last summer.
Christopher Duggan/Courtesy Photo

Kris Ashley is the senior manager of Celebrate the Beat at YouthPower365 and has been a part of the Eagle County program for eight years.

In describing the program, Ashley said it is just “non-stop action.”

Celebrate the Beat is invited into the schools by principals with the support of their teachers. Ashley, alongside her assistant teaching artist and a live musician, sets up in schools once a week for typically around 12 weeks.

During that one day a week, different classrooms and grade levels join Celebrate the Beat for a variety of activities. Ashley said these include things to get their rhythm going, warm ups, dance challenges, learning new choreography, with every minute “planned for success” and building toward a live performance.

Throughout these twelve weeks or so, “we really start to know the children, their names, what their needs are so that we can have class plans to meet them where they’re at and then challenge them just enough so that they have success,” Ashley said.

Last week, Avon and Red Hill Elementary both had their final live shows. Edwards Elementary’s performance is scheduled for May 10 at Battle Mountain High School.

Students perform at Avon Elementary School as part of the Celebrate the Beat show.
Jace Stout/Courtesy Photo

During her eight years teaching Eagle County students through Celebrate the Beat, she has been able to share her passion for dance and also see the widespread impact it can have.

“It’s a really special and unique program, where every child in the class comes to the program as well as their classroom teachers,” Ashley said. “It has a profound impact on everyone, from a child who might be lower academically to a child that excels in the classroom, all the way through to the teacher — everybody is learning in the class and so, it’s exciting to see the impact.”

Specifically, Ashley said the program has profound impacts on students’ confidence and self-esteem.

“A lot of them are learning to dance for the first time and they’re getting used to how their body moves and expressing themselves,” Ashley said. “And once they feel free to express themselves in the safe environment that we create, it just empowers them and it impacts their self esteem and confidence.”

These skills, she added are important for students in all aspects of their lives — whether they’re interested in dance or not.

“We’re building leaders in our classrooms and we’re building humans in our classrooms,” she said. “We just encourage them to step outside their comfort zone, try something new, and in them finding success, that really leads them to try that in other areas of their life, and with something that might intimidate them or that they’re not good at, they might be more willing to try, because they may have that success with the Celebrate the Beat program.”

This impact, Ashley added, extends well beyond the students and to herself and the community.

“Across the board, it always brings so much joy to the schools, to the community, to us as teaching artists, we missed it as much as they did,” Ashley said. “We learn just as much every year and every semester at every school, with every child because no class is alike. Every child has different feelings and emotions that they bring to school every day, which makes every day unique and special.”

With student activities and learning impacted by the pandemic, returning with Celebrate the Beat allowed students an opportunity to re-connect and work toward a common goal — a live performance in front of peers and families.
Sean Naylor/Vail Daily

The opportunity and value of Celebrate the Beat was even more important this year as the program returned and as students returned to a more normal learning experience.

“There’s definitely a need for it; you can see that the children are really wanting to be there. It was really hard to be away for a while,” Ashley said. “I definitely saw them and how they were impacted being away from each other and being away from the structure of the program.”

At first this year, Ashley said that some students were struggling to come back to the program and give the energy it requires after a hiatus from organized and extra-curricular activity. Eventually, however, students became more engaged and it brought a lot of joy back to the classroom, she said.

“The joy that we have together when we’re all working for this one common goal of putting together a big production — which doesn’t typically happen in the arts — them being able to work together in that way was unique because everything was so independent for those 15, 18 months,” Ashley said. “The community of it and the joy that it brought was really, really necessary (this year).”

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