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 Young Students Dance Education Program Develops Well-Being Through Creative Expression

April 19, 2024

By Laurie Hanson

Dance is making a difference in youth mental and physical health through one Orange County organization and its pilot program.

The Wooden Floor is a Santa Ana-based youth development program whose mission is to inspire and transform young people’s lives through the power of dance and access to higher education. Their long-term vision is to break the cycle of poverty through generational change.

“Since 1983, we have served nearly 100,000 young people in Orange County by helping them learn what it takes to succeed both in school and life,” said CEO Dawn S. Reese, who has been with the organization for 15 years. 

Dance Uplifts is an extension of The Wooden Floor’s award-winning dance education curriculum, which was provided at nine Garden Grove Unified School District school sites over six weeks this year through a 20-year partnership with Boys and Girls Clubs of Garden Grove.

“The program includes an hour-long movement class two days a week to 3rd and 4th-grade students where they create and learn a variety of modern dance movements that culminate in a dance presentation for their classmates,” Reese said.

Through The Wooden Floor, the program fosters developmental skills and assets known as the “5 C’s: Critical-Thinking, Creativity, Collaboration, Communication, Character, and the organization added 6th C: Courage.” 

In Dance Uplifts students develop both physical and emotional wellbeing through creative expression. The goals of the program are to increase confidence, teamwork, courage, social-emotional skills, and respect in students, according to Reese.

“Dance Uplifts was born from The Wooden Floor’s mission and strategic goals to bring our life-changing curriculum and resources to more children in our community,” explained Reese. “By taking our values of respect, excellence, community, and stewardship into schools, we can innovate and inspire the lives of even more children who need us.”

“Being an extension of our community engagement efforts called Dance Free Weeks, an in-school program held each fall, which has served more than 95,000 students through our community engagement efforts in the cities of Anaheim, Garden Grove, Santa Ana, and Tustin, and we hope to bring the same positive outcomes,” said Reese.

A teacher shared a heartwarming incident where a shy and introverted girl in their class exclaimed, “This makes me feel confident!” Another educator also reported that their students who rarely participated in class activities, were now enthusiastic and freely expressing themselves through dancing, even giving advice to each other. According to Reese, Dance Free Weeks have a significant impact on inspiring children.

“Dance is an activity that not everyone has access to, and because we at The Wooden Floor believe that Dance is the Answer ®, we want to reach as many students as possible and share the power of dance with everyone,” explained Bonfil.

Participants in Dance Uplifts increase their communication, collaboration, critical thinking, creativity, character, and courage, said Jennifer Bassage Bonfil, Artistic Director, who has been with The Wooden Floor for 18 years.

“Each of the 12 lessons focuses on a dance element or skill closely associated with a life skill,” Bonfil explained. “When the students learn about pathways and perform various locomotor movements on many different pathways, they take turns being the leader and the followers. This leads into a discussion about what it takes to be a good leader and good follower and why it is important to be able to do both.”

“We hope Dance Uplifts is fun and provides physical activity for the students, but more importantly, we want the students to leave the program with more confidence than when they started; we want them to feel proud and accomplished, we want them to be open to new experiences and ideas, and we want them to have more tools to express themselves and their emotions,” said Bonfil.  

Dance Uplifts is free of charge. According to Bonil, the Wooden Floor hopes to expand to more school districts in Orange County in the future.

Parents can learn more about The Wooden Floor by visiting their website at www.TheWoodenFloor.org or email at [email protected]. There they have information on their Annual Audition Day each fall, plus the programs they offer, specifics about The Wooden Floor, and ways to get involved.

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