By Anthony Birritteri, Editor-in-Chief of New Jersey Business Magazine
Training for a ballroom dance competition isn’t a usual exercise for enhancing one’s business skills. However, the experience of moving out of one’s comfort zone via dance is what five business leaders did recently as they participated in the “Dazzle: Mad Hot Ballroom” competition to raise money for Young Audiences, the Princeton-based organization that, since 1973, has been helping children throughout New Jersey and Eastern Pennsylvania prepare for success in school and life through participating in the arts.
New Jersey Business & Industry Association President and CEO Michele Siekerka was one of the VIP dancers who took to the Princeton Hyatt ballroom floor with a dance partner and instructor from Fred Astaire Dance Studios in Princeton, where all Dazzle participants learned to professionally … “cut a rug.”
Talking about her experience and how learning an art form can help anyone, especially young students, enhance personal and professional growth, Siekerka explains, “The art form of dance, especially ballroom dancing, requires physical and mental focus, and dedication. My instructor, Ilya Abdullin, and the other Fred Astaire instructors, all exhibited a passion to excel towards perfection.
“Ilya took the time to get to know what makes me tick. As result of that, he was able to tap into my strengths and help me overcome my weaknesses. The whole evolution [of the training] was incredible, and it made me physically and intellectually much stronger,” she explains.
Commenting on Young Audiences, she says the organization, in the same way, brings that experience to students. “Bringing art, whether performing, visual, written or auditory into the educational process delivers a personal experience that causes you to reach deep inside yourself. It taps different parts of your psyche and builds up your confidence,” she says.
Last year, Young Audiences reached some 463,000 school students via 3,844 programs. Whether it is a school assembly program, a workshop or long-term residence, the hands-on experience that students receive is what impacts their minds and souls.
According to Young Audiences President and CEO Michele Russo, “When students work on projects in the arts, they learn how to collaborate with others – taking ideas and concepts to work in ways that are meaningful and respectful as they advance with a team.”
And the projects are fun, as seen through program titles such as: Jazz for Kids; Journey Through Mexico; Mime Over Matter; Occupation Illustration; and OperaWorks, to name a few.
The programs also give students a view of other cultures, such as when Japanese Taiko drummers performed at a school assembly. “If you know nothing about Japan, and you are suddenly experiencing this meaningful art form through your whole body – because these are big drums – you are not just learning about it, you are experiencing it through all of your senses,” Russo explains.
Denyce Mylson, director of marketing and public relations at Young Audiences, adds, “Many people put value on STEM (science, technology, engineering, math) education, but the value of what the arts teach is tangible and transformative. I see the magic spark that occurs in school students, how it builds their confidence and how they apply what and how they learned in the arts to other types of learning.”
As for the Dazzle VIP dancers that night – who also included Joanne Canady-Brown, owner of The Gingered Peach Bakery; D.A. Graham, vice president, global integrity leader at Nielsen Company; Lew Gantwerk, former executive director, Center for Applied Psychology at Rutgers University; and Mark Murphy, president of Lead New Jersey – dance instructor Ilya Abdullin calls them all heroes. “They did something that is sometimes impossible for others. For me, it’s like going skydiving for the first time. It’s something crazy, but they did it for the kids. They are heroes.”
Fred Astaire dance instructor Tara Barakov, adds, “The VIP dancers enjoyed the whole process and each other’s company. This year, they were all very close to us. It felt like we really bonded.”
As for Siekerka, the experience was one not to be forgotten. “Through this opportunity, I experienced a sense of pride I hadn’t felt in other ways.”
Young Audiences delivers this same exuberance to students throughout the state. Bravo!
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