Black girls at Lake View Elementary School have a new bounce in their step thanks to a dance team piloted this semester.
Ten girls in third through fifth grades learned step dancing in Black Girls Step, one of eight after-school clubs at Lake View in the areas of science, technology, engineering, art and math. It aligns with a priority area identified by the school to foster healthy relationships between students and staff.
“Our school is pretty diverse, and I wanted something that was culturally relevant to the African-American and black girls at our school that they can kind of relate to,” said Lake View social worker DeShala Walker, who started the club. “I just wanted to bring something into the school that I knew these girls would enjoy and so they could be around people that look like them.’
After practicing the step dancing, the team’s first performance was Thursday at Mendota Elementary School as part of a Black History Month event. On Saturday the girls performed and received awards at the Progress Center for Black Women in Fitchburg at a ceremony to celebrate their participation in the club.
The girls will perform two more times at the school, including in a showcase for the after-school clubs on May 6.
As part of the six-week club, each of the girls received a T-shirt with her name on the back in shiny silver lettering, black pants, black boots and a water bottle.
“We get to put on the cool outfits and go to different places and show the kids what we can do,” third-grader Kameelah Woody said.
Third-grader My’Love Kinsey said dancing in front of people makes her feel “strong and brave.”
“I feel good. I feel free,” said fifth-grader Zenasia Murry.
As part of the dance, groups of students perform a brief solo and third-grader Taziar Price does splits — not surprising from someone who said she wants to be a cheerleader and fashion designer.
“I like how the coaches push us,” fourth-grader Amara Crawford said.
The other members of the group are third-graders Trinity Collins, Cherish Onyezuluba and Avayah Turner, fourth-grader Lillie Etchin-Eubanks and fifth-grader Jamyia Jordan.
Walker, who is in her third year at the school, has been coaching the team along with Quin Cruz, school secretary, and Tanisha Milligan, special education assistant. Walker said she was impressed how far the girls had come when they performed at Mendota.
“I really care about the girls and I really want them to thrive not just in the after-school program but in their classrooms as well,” she said.
Walker said she has never stepped a day in her life but she was able to get a lot of help from YouTube, and Cruz also has some experience.
The students also worked on social and emotional skills, which included discussions about topics such as black girls’ empowerment, self-esteem and different textures of hair and shades of skin color.
Walker said she intends to bring the club back next year with more performances. The after-school clubs are a collaboration of Lake View Community School and Madison School & Community Recreation.
She said she hoped the girls’ participation in the club would influence the way they conduct themselves at other times and by their actions they would demonstrate how much they have grown. She stressed to them that they are representing the Black Girls Step team.
“One thing we reminded the girls, whether they were third-, fourth- or fifth-graders, they were all leaders,” Walker said.