EVANSVILLE — A construction crew spent Wednesday working on a present for Joshua Academy students when they return from winter break: A 28-foot by 28-foot dance floor inside one of the school’s classrooms.
For the last three semesters, Deena Laska-Lewis has taught classes to fourth, fifth and sixth-grade students at the charter school on a weekly basis as part of the school’s physical education curriculum. Laska-Lewis is also the founder of the Children Center for Dance Education, where she is currently the choreographer in-residence.
But the 50-minute sessions incorporate much more than just the physical aspects of dance.
“When you understand the dance you understand the culture,” Laska-Lewis said.
In addition to geography and culture, Laska-Lewis also incorporates math problems, projects, and life skills into her lessons. The students even learned how to sew their own ballet shoes so now every students knows how to thread a needle, Laska-Lewis said.
The new floor, which is built on top of the existing carpet for an extra layer of padding, can easily be taken down if the school decides to move it, Laska-Lewis. It is also the same type of floor built at the Children Center’s other studios, Laska-Lewis said. The organization operates studios in Evansville and Newburgh and conducts classes in Henderson, Ky as well.
But for now, the new Joshua Academy floor will remain unfinished and not ready for full use, until organization officials can raise money for what is known as a Marley floor, which is a nonskid finish for the surface. So until funding can be secure, the students will be limited in what they can do — Laska-Lewis said, noting that students will be able to use the floor as long as they’re wearing tennis shoes.
“You don’t want to get your toe caught on a seam,” she said.
She thanked Joshua Academy officials for allowing the program into the school and said the program has “just blossomed during its short time at the school, exceeding her own expectations. She also credited the school’s physical education teacher, Kevin Menke, for participating in the classes with the students.
Menke, who is in his third year of teaching at the school, called the dance classes a “great opportunity” for the students to learn a skill that many of them had not had the opportunity to learn before. The students have learned steps from several different genres — from ballet to hip-hop to the Haka, a traditional dance from New Zealand, but both Menke and Laska-Lewis agree that one of the students’ favorite lessons was their last one before break: the jitterbug.
Menke complimented Laska-Lewis for how she works with all her students, including the classes’ oldest one — himself.
“She’s an expert at it. I’m learning a lot from her,” he said. “She’s amazing with the kids and just a wealth of knowledge when it comes to dance, an extreme professional.”
Sixteen Joshua Academy students participated in one of the Children Center’s recent production’s of “The Nutcracker.” Laska-Lewis said there was so much interest in those spots that she had to hold open auditions.
Laska-Lewis called dance a valuable, creative outlet that the students have a “wonderful time” learning about.
“It’s a wonderful way for children to understand their own bodies and understand their own emotions, There are days when these kids come in so angry and you know what? They have a right to be,” she said. “Just dance. Just jump up and down for 30 minutes. It doesn’t solve the problem, but it helps them get through it.