Sharing ideas for a cheerful and inclusive season

Manhattan maids decorate the tree in Roxanne Claire’s unique Nutcracker.

Holidays are a festive time for studios and schools. But, as student populations diversify, it becomes harder to be inclusive. Whether focusing on certain holidays or taking religion out of the equation altogether, it’s important to consider your location and cultural demographic when planning festivities. You may choose to celebrate the snowy season with generic decorations, or plan a holiday show that’s welcoming to all. From gifts to special events, there’s a lot to keep in mind to make all students—and their families—feel a part of the merriment. DT spoke to six teachers about their approaches.

 

JAZZIN' IT UP

Roxanne Claire

Claire School of Dance

Houston, TX

As a student, Roxanne Claire performed in the Omaha Civic Ballet’s Nutcracker year after year. And now, just hearing the “Waltz of the Flowers” music brings her back to the excitement of those holiday shows. “But everyone does a Nutcracker,” says studio owner Claire. “So we looked for a way to make our show different.” Claire produces the New York Nutcracker, based on her favorite childhood book, Eloise at Christmastime, about a little girl living in The Plaza Hotel. “The characters are all New Yorkers: shoppers, city girls, hotel maids,” she says. “We do include some classic Nutcracker characters, such as Spanish and Flowers, but with an NYC sophistication.” Eloise is set to Duke Ellington’s jazz arrangement of Tchaikovsky’s Nutcracker score, and students love it. “They wear the T-shirts long after it’s over,” she says. “The show generates an esprit de corps within the school.”

 

A KWANZAA EXTRAVAGANZA

Lula Washington

Lula Washington Dance Theatre

Los Angeles, CA

Kwanzaa, not Christmas, takes center stage during the holidays at Lula Washington Dance Theatre, which heads into its 21st annual Kwanzaa celebration December 29 and 30 at Nat Holden Performing Arts Center in L.A. “Kwanzaa is a cultural celebration, not a religious one,” says Lula Washington. “It’s open to people of all ethnic origins.” Audiences look forward to this annual celebration, which consists of music, dance and spoken-word performances by the professional company, students and invited guests. Since each day of Kwanzaa has its own meaning, performers focus on different themes every year. This year’s focus is Ujamaa (cooperative economics) and Nia (purpose). “People leave the show feeling rejuvenated and uplifted,” says Washington.

 

MULTICULTURAL HOLIDAYS

Jamee Schleifer

The Magnet School of Multicultural Humanities—PS 253

Brighton Beach, Brooklyn, NY

With 62 languages spoken at PS 253, and religion a taboo topic in public schools, celebrating the holidays can be complicated. “The school’s lobby is decorated with a Christmas tree, menorah and Kwanzaa lights,” says dance teacher Jamee Schleifer, who incorporates dances from Mexico, Russia, Israel and China into class. “Teaching about different cultural holidays is an important way for kids to learn about the world around them."

Although she doesn’t put on a show, The Nutcracker factors into Schleifer’s dance class festivities. “I teach about the ballet by playing Tchaikovsky’s music and teaching short combinations,” she says. “I also read them the Nutcracker story, and show video clips of Mikhail Baryshnikov and Gelsey Kirkland performing the ballet.” As a special in-class activity, Schleifer has students make their own versions of a nutcracker doll out of paper.

 

A STRESS-FREE NEW YEAR

Jane Weiner

Hope Stone Center

Houston, TX

Jane Weiner, of Hope Stone Center, prefers to celebrate without decorations. “The studio is too small,” she says. “And there are too many religions.” Weiner likes to stay clear of the holiday hoopla and focuses instead on giving her students a stress-free season.

But she’s not against a little holiday fun. So each year, former Houston Ballet principal Dawn Scannell teaches “Bah Humbug Ballet,” a class with festive music that’s focused on reducing holiday stress. “During the holidays, we all need to stop and take care of ourselves,” says Weiner. “And Dawn is very funny, so there’s a lot of laughter.” To add a little extra holiday fun, the class is followed by a cookies and cider party, which Weiner finds fitting for her eclectic student population.

 

PUT ON A SHOW (OR TWO OR THREE)

Phyllis A. Balagna

Steppin’ Out—The Studio, Inc.

Lee’s Summit, MO

It’s all about Christmas at Steppin’ Out, Phyllis Balagna’s studio near Kansas City. “Our entire population celebrates Christmas,” she says. “So we are very festive, with a tree in the lobby, stockings for each teacher and lights framing the front desk.” And the decorations are just the beginning. Students perform a special holiday program with the Lee’s Summit Symphony Orchestra, which includes both classic ballet selections and holiday numbers. “It sells out every year,” says Balagna. Younger students, who don’t get the chance to perform with the orchestra, throw their own holiday performance called “Snack Time with Santa,” and the musical theater students put on a vocal recital in Kansas City.

 

A TIME FOR GIVING

Danie Beck

Dance Unlimited

Miami, FL

On the last day of classes before the holiday break, Dance Unlimited students perform holiday-themed combinations for each other, play games and receive a small gift. And the staff is always game for donning reindeer antlers and elf hats. “The children love it,” says owner Danie Beck. Iridescent snowflakes, glittered Christmas ornaments and foil stars jazz up the lobby. “Our enrollment is 90 percent Latino, so we put up ‘Feliz Navidad’ signs as well,” she says. “But the decor is mostly the standard Christmas look with no strong religious leanings. And I ask our staff to use the phrase ‘Happy Holidays,’ so no one is offended.”

In lieu of teacher gifts, the studio holds a toy and food drive for nearby migrant labor camps. “We gather quite a few large baskets,” says Beck. “This time of year, it’s essential to stress the importance of giving.” DT

 

Photo: Manhattan maids decorate the tree in Roxanne Claire’s unique Nutcracker (by Jayne Maltbie, courtesy of Claire School of Dance)

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