In one corner of the hall, a group of kids was practicing a dance number, while in another corridor a larger group spontaneously broke into “Somewhere Over the Rainbow,” followed by a family-friendly version of Cee Lo Green’s “Forget You.” Still another group gathered around a piano in the rehearsal room finalizing its number.
The students were participating in the Music Outreach Program from the Young Americans, a group of musical performers who travel the world performing and teaching classes.
“The original purpose of the Music Outreach program was to keep music in schools,” said Sarah Ramaker, 23, and a five-year member of the Young Americans. “But now we’re also focusing more on teaching kids that music is a great way to express themselves whether it’s through song or dance.”
Over the course of three days and 14 hours of instruction, more than 100 Chicago area students in 2nd through 12thgrade participated in the program, learning dozens of songs and dance numbers. The workshop culminated in an hour-long performance Tuesday night at Naperville North. More then 40 Young American members were on hand, teaching and serving as the crew of the show.
“We all take turns teaching the students the different songs and dances. If we see someone struggling with a dance move one of us will work next to them, encouraging them along the way,” Ramaker said.
“My favorite part of teaching is the look on a kid’s face when they finally get it. … When they master a dance move and it all clicks into place.”
Erica Dawson, 16, a student at Naperville North, signed up for the workshop looking for a new opportunity.
“I wanted to step out of my comfort zone and try something different,” Dawson said. “I thought I would be overwhelmed but they teach you in a way that was easy to remember. I am so happy I took the workshop. I feel much more confident in my abilities and realized what my strengths are.”
Garett O’Brien, a 4th grader at signed up for the workshop because he wanted to learn how to dance.
“The dancing was a lot harder than I thought it would be, but the more I practiced, the more I enjoyed it,” O’Brien said. “I also ended up singing a solo in the song ‘Never Smile at a Crocodile’ from Peter Pan.”
Bringing the Young Americans program to Naperville North was the idea of Nicholas Janssen, director, vocal music at Naperville North High School.
“This workshop is unique as the students get to learn music, dance, and performance from professionals in the industry, but they also are taught using a method of positive reinforcement and encouragement,” Janssen said. “This created a safe environment for the students to express themselves and makes their learning limitless.
"The performing arts are so much more than just performing. A performing arts education provides students with the outlets to express themselves. It teaches them personal motivation, teamwork, social skills and self-confidence. Without the arts, our aesthetic of a quality life would be lost.”