The Boulter Middle School cafeteria served as a modified dance studio on a recent Wednesday afternoon.
Six preteen girls complete a series of stretches with music playing in the background. They bended legs, moved their torsos and sat in a straddle position on the floor.
All the while, dance educator Allyson Maranitch watched closely, correcting posture and form and encouraging them.
The experience was part of a dance and cheer class offered at Boulter through a partnership between Young Audiences of Northeast Texas and Tyler ISD.
The Boulter program is one of three dance residency programs in TISD with the other two at Dogan and Stewart middle schools.
The program offers dance instruction to students who might not otherwise get the opportunity. At the same time, Young Audiences is hoping to see it affect participants beyond their dance abilities.
Libby Shoup, education coordinator at Young Audiences of Northeast Texas, said the organization is collecting data about grades, self-esteem, attendance, discipline referrals and more from each of the participants.
The plan is to compare the data taken at the beginning and end of their participation in the program and see how it changes.
Young Audiences also will compare the data from participants to that of non-participants.
They are hoping to see positive correlation between the girls' participation in the program and their perceptions about themselves and their actions in life.
HOW IT WORKS
The dance residencies are four days a week for one hour a day at Boulter and two hours a day at Dogan and Stewart.
On Wednesday as the Boulter girls practiced, smiled, laughed and at times, complained.
"My arm muscles hurt," one of the girls said as they held their arms out in second position for what seemed like a little too long to them.
The girls said they joined the program for a variety of reasons. Some loved to dance. Others wanted to try something new.
Boulter sixth-grader Yvonnia Monroe had a few reasons.
"I just wanted to start something, be in a group, and I like to perform in front of people," the 11-year-old said.
She said she enjoys spending time with her dance class friends, and she has changed through this experience.
"I used to be ... all to myself, but when I started doing the dance, I learned how to talk to people, get (to) know other people," she said.
Through the class, the girls said they've learned how to be confident in themselves, to perform ballet techniques and to work with different people.
"At first, I didn't know how to perform for people," sixth-grader Montserrat Gamez, 11, said. "Now, in this class, I learned how to be in a group, perform for others."
George Faber, TISD's director of visual and performing arts, said when the district first offered the program six years ago, it was looking for a way to get some middle school girls excited about dance.
In addition, it wanted to give these girls some fundamental dance skills that would help them be a part of the high school dance programs if they wanted to.
Faber said quite a few students have gone through the program and between 15 and 20 girls received experience that helped them to participate in drill team and/or other dance programs at the high school level.
"We're really excited about being able to offer that, and that comes through Young Audiences," he said.
This year, the program is funded through a MetLife Learning for Life Grant through Young Audiences National and a federal grant funding afterschool programs at the three TISD middle schools.
Seven girls participate at Boulter, 15 at Stewart and about 60 at Dogan, according to the local Young Audiences affiliate.
Sallie Byrd, dance educator at Dogan, said through the classes, they aim to teach the students a variety of dance styles including jazz, ballet, hip hop and step.
Ms. Maranitch, dance educator at Boulter and Stewart, said by the year's end she wants her students to be able to make up their own dances, so she teaches them dance technique and choreography skills as well.
Boulter Principal Misti Rasure said with testing being so much of the focus, educators often forget about other things that enrich students, but this program gives students that experience.
"It (gives) those ladies a creative outlet that they probably couldn't get anywhere else," she said.
Faber said he would love to see the program offered at all TISD middle schools.
"Dance is such a creative art form, and it gives kids another dimension to look at in being able to express themselves," he said. "And I think that it's very important for us to keep the arts whether it be dance or any other art available to students."
Aushalah Yarbrough dances with other Boulter Middle School 6th graders Wednesday afternoon. (Herb Nygren Jr 112812)