Dance-off for CPS students showcases talent throughout Chicago, marks end of social-emotional learning program

CHICAGO (WLS) -- CPS students from around the city competed in a dance-off at the Chicago Cultural Center, as part of a program that provided social-emotional learning through movement.

"Our mission at Dancing with Class is to energize and engage schools and communities through the joy of dance," said executive director Margot Toppen.

Dancing With Class operates its core program, 10 weeks of in-school instruction with a professional dancer, at 50 to 60 Chicago-area schools. The dance-off is always held as the culmination of those 10 weeks, in the hopes that it brings out the best of students.

"One thing that's important in any educational experience is to have a goal for students to work towards," Toppen said. "We really find that, by making it this exciting dance-off, it draws them to a higher level of performance than they even thought themselves possible."

Earlier this winter, ABC7 visited Richard Edwards Elementary School in the Archer Heights neighborhood to see the instruction in practice. After 10 years of partnership, Edwards is one of the longest-running host sites for Dancing With Class.

"We know that our students benefit from movements and social-emotional learning through dance," said Edwards dance teacher Marlin Estrada.

"It's just a part of who we are as humans. We have that need to dance and move to rhythm and to connect."

Weeks later at the dance-off - dressed in tuxedos and gowns alongside six other CPS schools - Edwards students demonstrated mastery of five dances: merengue, salsa, swing, tango and waltz.

Before handing out awards, Toppen made the students repeat a pledge: "No matter how I feel about the awards, after the awards, I will get on the floor and boogie down."

Irma C. Ruiz Elementary in the West Side Heart of Chicago neighborhood took home the overall prize. And after a brief team celebration, every student and parent gathered on the dance floor for an unstructured boogie.

"I've seen students who maybe had trouble opening up, or speaking up in class, being more confident, having sort of like that self-resilience that they can tap into suddenly," said dance instructor Amanda Lopez.

"They're whole new little people.

Dancing With Class will now start programs in a new set of schools leading up to another dance-off this spring. Visit their website for information about bringing their core program to your school.
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