When Success Academy Midtown West fifth grader Julian Durio found out that he was selected to participate in Dance the Day Away, he was filled with more than just excitement. “Coming in with so many other talented dancers, I was nervous,” admitted Julian.
In May, over a hundred Success Academy elementary and middle school scholars gathered at Ripley-Grier Studios, the largest rehearsal studio in the world. This was Dance the Day Away, Success Academy’s first day-long immersive workshop where passionate dance scholars, hand-selected from 435 applicants, had the opportunity to dance alongside four professional choreographers: Miles Keeney, Chio, Michaela McGowan, and Charlie Kolarich. Scholars learned choreography in dance styles such as jazz funk, hip-hop, modern, and contemporary.
Choreographer Charlie Kolarich taught Julian and the rest of the scholars a combination to the song Tadow by FKJ and Masego. His teaching technique was all about laying a foundation to establish confidence as well as body and spatial awareness. “I focused on establishing different modern techniques — like ‘releasing,’ ‘catching,’ ‘recovering,’ and ‘refinding their center.’ We built on that skill then combined everything in a final, grand combination,” Charlie said.
“Contemporary is really challenging for me. I didn’t know if I would be able to get the routine,” said Julian, who initially found this class to be one of the hardest of the day. And he wasn’t the only one. SA Ditmas Park Middle School scholar Demauli Griffith was one of those nervous scholars. “I started the day dancing in the back of class. It can be kind of intimidating dancing in front of professionals in this space where you know the best of the best performers, but I know I belong here.”
Over 10,000 scholars take dance at Success Academy. The dance program is more than just classroom lessons; it’s also a training ground for rising professionals. Scholars learn the physicality of dance, the history of dance, and various dance concepts, while igniting a passion for movement, which is done through a precise mixture of classroom instruction and studio instruction, such as Dance the Day Away.
Joseph Powell, Leader of K-12 Visual and Performing Arts, believes that workshops like these are important because dancers have to be exposed to the multitude of environments that they will experience as professional dancers in the future. “The ability to learn and adapt to new technical skills and how different teachers and choreographers deliver instruction will ultimately make them better dancers and prepare them for professional opportunities.”
During the day-long experience, Julian and the other scholars focused on sequencing, flow, performance quality, high-energy routines, and speed. Despite their nerves, the dancers made the most out of this experience, giving every ounce of their energy and attitude to step, slide, and glide to the beat with precision and intention — or as Dance Program Manager Gabriella Di Giuseppe put it, “dancing full out.”
Finally, it was Julian’s time to shine. Both intermediate and advanced scholars had only 20 minutes to learn entirely new routines before performing them in smaller groups. As groups of dancers shuffled in front of the big studio mirrors, they shook off nerves and stretched. When the music began, it was show time! Each group captivated onlookers as they moved through the choreography. And when they were finished, scholars and teachers yelled and cheered. The group of dancers smiled bright, noticeably happy about what they just accomplished.
“I broke the routine down and focused on the footwork and eventually I nailed it! Now I feel really confident that I can do any contemporary piece.” The nerves that filled Julian at the beginning of the day faded away as he danced bigger and bolder, filled with energy and emotion. By the end of the day, he was dancing boldly in the front of the class.
Demauli also won big during the day. Demauli was surprised when she was one of the only two scholars called to the floor to perform for choreographer Miles Keeney. “I was shocked, but I chose to just go with it and take the opportunity to give it my all. I am excited to be here because it’s hard to find spaces to dance outside of SA, and I know that I can take these dance techniques and grow so I can one day be a professional dancer. Demauli shined as she danced alongside her peer and Keeney, dancing full out to the selection while being cheered on by her surrounding peers. “I cannot believe that happened!” (That’s her on the right, below)
As the day wrapped, the timid attitudes of the scholars seen in the morning were no longer. Much like Julian and Demauli, our dance scholars went on a journey of confidence. Though tired from the rigor of four masterclass dance sessions, scholars ended their day giddy with pride and confidence, evolving as dancers and taking with them tools and lessons that they will use to dance more days away.