Grand: River North Dance Company Education Outreach Program Aids Underprivileged Students

Alison Rootberg teaches a dance class of third graders at George Manierre
Elementary School. (Photo by Alaina Africano)

Grand Stop IconBy Alaina Africano 
The Red Line Project

Posted: Monday, March 7, 2011

As thunderous laughs boom from a classroom at George Manierre Elementary School, Miss Alison Rootberg quickly begins to speak, raising her voice louder and louder and louder until the sounds mimic a small city in pandemonium.

Miss Alison soon has the attention, or at least the partial attention, of her boisterous dance class. This class is learning an energetic dance to accompany the school’s production of the Whiz.Manierre School

The dance class and production is a 10-week program that is part of the River North Dance Company’s education outreach program partnered with CLASS by Chicago Lights, which is part of the Fourth Presbyterian Church in Chicago. 

CLASS is a program that has been in the Cabrini Green schools for the past 11 years, which is committed to putting arts in the schools during the Cabrini Green neighborhood transition.  Not only is dance a component added to the school programs but as well as the cultural studies around the arts, chorus, drama, foot working and drumming. 

The River North Dance Company education outreach program began about five years ago and is aimed to incorporate dance classes in schools which have had funding cut from such programs.

The dance company and church have been combining resources and partnering since last summer allowing the outreach programs to expand into four schools.  A former dancer and art advocate, Diana Anton, is the education manager of the program.  Anton has been doing community outreach programs for the past 30 years and has been working with the River North Dance Company since summer of 2010.

 “The arts provide a different method of learning,” said Anton.  “My experience of 30 years of working in the arts programming has offered me the opportunity to see students experience learning and success in a new way. It’s been found that students who have more fine arts do better in their other classes.”

On Mondays, Miss Alison teaches three dance classes in a row with the ages varying from third graders to eighth graders.  In the first class is was evident that one student was in an upset state, but after the reassurance of Miss Alison the child was grooving and all smiles about half way through their musical number.

“The work I get to do with these students is just so immediately satisfying because as a performer you know you’re affecting your audience, but who is really coming to all these shows?” said Rootberg.  “A lot of them have a background in the arts, with the outreach program we’re really reaching students who don’t have a background in the arts and exposing them to something new.”

Podcast: Diana Anton, Alison Rootberg and the children of Manierre School share stories about their involvement with the River North Dance Company's education outreach program:

River North Dance Company Education Outreach by acafricano

Alison Rootberg graduated from University of Wisconsin-Madison and California Institute of the Arts specializing in Dance and integrated media. She has been working with the River North Dance Company for about a year.

“It affects their problem-solving skills, their self confidence, the way they interact with other people and their own self esteem,” Rootberg said.  “It just makes me really happy everyday.”

The River North Dance Company was founded in 1989 and has been established as one of the leading dance companies in Chicago receiving admiration both on a national and international level, according to their website.

Frank Chavez is the artistic director at the River North Dance Company and has been incorporating his Cuban roots into the company and its education outreach program. The education outreach program attempts to embody the vision and what is a part of the dance company, from musical theater to Latin to Afro-Caribbean elements.

“I began to see the long term effects of what we were doing,” Anton said.  “We can talk about multiculturalism and diversity but when you’re in an arts class where everyone talents are respected you have the opportunity to explore and to share and to be part of a group that’s not demeaning, but upholding of who you are—then a new part of you develops.”

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