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It’s ‘Greased Lightning’ at Newhall Elementary

Young students perform a variety of dances from the musical “Grease” at school’s annual open house

Posted: July 9, 2009 4:24 p.m.
Updated: July 10, 2009 4:30 a.m.

Newhall Elementary School third-graders strike a pose at the end of their performance. They danced to "We Go Together."

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The spirit team from Newhall Elementary School rocked their school’s annual open house May 28, dancing to the soundtrack from the musical “Grease.”

The team of young dancers stayed an hour afterschool throughout the year to perfect a variety of dance moves. They learned about music, rhythm, and most importantly, teamwork.

Newhall Elementary’s spirit team is no new attraction though.

Connie Russo, the current head choreographer and dance instructor, said it was around when she joined the team of teachers at the school, but the program was under the instruction of someone else.

“I’m not even sure when it started,” Russo said. “I’ve been here (at the school) for 9 years.”

Russo, a kindergarten teacher at Newhall Elementary, also teaches ballet at Dance Studio 84 in Valencia to 3- and 4-year-olds.

The Spirit Team program fizzled out over the years, but when Tim Lankford became the Principal of Newhall Elementary in 2005, he decided the afterschool dance program needed to make a comeback.

“It’s a self esteem builder,” Lankford said. “(The children) get a chance to participate in a lot of cooperative group work, and then (they get to) perform.”

He approached Russo, knowing her background with dance, and asked if she would take up an afterschool dance program for the kids.
Russo agreed.

“It’s an exciting opportunity for them,” Lankford said of the children.

The spirit team has several opportunities to perform at events throughout the school year, Lankford said.

The dancers dazzled onlookers at two big performances while school was in session: one in December before winter break and the second at the school’s open house.

Sometimes they perform at award ceremonies and morning assemblies as well, Lankford said.

Russo invited students to her classroom four times a week to teach them how to dance.

The first year, a total of 80 students showed up.

The year after, approximately 120 students boogie-woogied with Russo after the bell dismissed them from school.

And this past year, more than 160 kids stayed afterschool to bust some moves.

“(Connie) is truly a dedicated teacher,” Lankford said. “She really rejuvenated the program.”

The program is open to anyone interested. Boys and girls from grade levels one through six are welcome.

“There are 40 boys in the program,” Russo said.

Boys typically shy away from dancing groups, she said, and 40 is a considered a high number.

Russo volunteered her time afterschool with the children four times a week.

The students were split up and assigned a specific day to come to practice. Each group received an hour of instruction.

Third-graders found their rhythm on Mondays. The group of fourth-graders followed.

Second-grade girls rocked to the beat on Tuesdays.

First-grade girls hopped around on Wednesdays and a combined group of fifth- and sixth-graders boogied down for an hour after them.

Lastly, a combined class of first- and second-grade boys moved to the music on Fridays.

Practicing their dance routine since January, the kids were excited to perform.

Naturally, they all brought their parents to see the show.

“I don’t think we’ve ever had so many parents come to an open house,” Russo said. “It was terrific.”

Each group performed a choreographed dance from the musical “Grease,” dressed up in red, white, and blue clothes, abiding by the theme of the open house.

First- and second-grade girls danced to “Rock n’ Roll Party Queen.” The party queens wore tiaras on top of their heads, dressing up the part.

“The crowns were donated by someone,” Russo said. “That’s 51 crowns for 51 girls. They got to take them home afterwards. They were so thrilled.”

First- and second-grade boys grooved to “Hound Dog.”

“Those cute, little Elvis impersonators ... they stole the show,” Russo said of the boys’ performance.

Third-graders danced to “We Go Together” and fourth-graders, both boys and girls, danced to “Rock n’ Roll is Here to Stay.”

They were taught how to do the jitter-bug, a swing-style partner dance, Russo said.

The coed fifth- and sixth-grader group performed “You’re The One That I Want.”

The grand finale consisted of the hand-jive when all grades came together and danced as one massive group.

“I had a little surprise for the kids at the end of the show,” Russo said.

While the children did their last number, 20 Newhall Elementary teachers joined their students and jumped in on the hand-jive fun.

“The students went crazy. Everything was worth it in the end,” Russo said, despite a hectic and busy year. “They were so happy.”

With about 600 students at the elementary school in total, Russo estimated one-third of the student body participated in the show.

“The kids love it,” Lankford said of the program. “Parents love it. Our school loves it. And the community loves it as well.”

After the open house performance, parents of Newhall Elementary students expressed interest in having their students join the dance group afterschool the following year.

“We’re looking at expanding it,” Lankford said regarding the future of the program.

He said the plan is to hire another teacher to accommodate the increase in students expected next year.

“We do have other programs (on campus for students), but this one we want to continue to focus on dance,” Lankford.

 

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