MASTERING DANCE MOVES
Story and photos by Dick Mason
It is sometimes said that dance is a universal language.
If so, it is a language that students at Stella Mayfield School are speaking fluently after only two weeks of lessons.
The students proved this recently during a Dance Showcase performance in the school auditorium. They danced to everything from jazz and pop music to songs such as "The Bear Necessities" from the movie "Jungle Book."
All numbers were performed under the direction of Patricia Sandlin, who taught dance at Stella Mayfield for two weeks as an artist in residence. Sandlin was asked if the students had surpassed her expectations.
"Totally. They did a beautiful job,'' she said.
Her students often surprise her on performance day.
"When people are on stage and under lights, they always do their best.''
The Stella Mayfield auditorium was almost packed March 24 with several hundred students, parents and teachers. Sixth-grader Justin Harris said that performing before a nearly full house did not bother him.
"I just blank out all the people and dance,'' he said.
Sixth-grader Shelby Smith said she enjoyed being in front of a crowd. When asked which portion of the experience she liked best, she relied, "Probably all of it.''
Andrew Naughton, also a sixth-grader, had a similar sentiment.
"It was pretty cool,'' he said.
Sandlin said that it was gratifying to see the confidence of children grow as performance day approached. It was particularly rewarding to watch students who initially were reluctant to dance master moves and steps.
"It's always neat to see someone do something they didn't want to do at first and then change,'' she said. "Before you know it they are the ones who are shining.''
Sandlin said that teaching a large group to put on a performance in such a short time is a test of time management.
"I get very organized before I do it,'' she said.
One of Sandlin's objectives is to show children that dance is not an intimidating art.
"I try to take the mystery out of it so that it becomes fun instead of stressful. Dance is for everybody.''
The students practiced all their numbers on the school stage, the same one they gave their show on. This helped them appear more confident during their performance, Sandlin said.
A professional dance instructor, she teaches people of all ages. She also is the coach of the La Grande High School dance team. Sandlin describes teaching children as invigorating.
"Their excitement is contagious,'' she said.
The intellect of children never ceases to amaze the dance instructor.
"They are so much smarter than most of us realize.''
Sandlin's work as an artist in residence at Stella Mayfield was sponsored by the Eastern Oregon Regional Arts Council, the Oregon Arts Commission, the National Endowment for the Arts, the Elgin School District and the Elgin Parent Teacher Organization.
Her passion for dance is obvious, and she hopes that some of the Stella Mayfield students pick it up. Still, the most important thing Sandlin hopes she left with the students is an understanding of the importance of discovering and pursuing their own passions.
"Find that spark, your passion, and go for it,'' she tells students. "If you find your passion and carry it through life, you will do well. Do what you love.''