Margaret Rozga, poet, civil rights activist and professor emerita of English at UW-Waukesha, praises the students who participated in the Danceworks competition, and all those who helped organize it.
Milwaukee, we can be proud of our young people. Over 1,000 fourth- and fifth-grade students from 46 Milwaukee area schools danced in the annual Danceworks Mad Hot Tap Dance competition held at the BMO Harris Bradley Center on Thursday, Jan. 25. They danced their hearts out. In the process, they danced away with mine.
I attended this event to watch the fourth-grade students from the MPS Milwaukee French Immersion School dance. All of them were participating, including one of my granddaughters. Not wanting to miss their performance, I arrived before the 1 p.m. start of the competition.
Small groups of dancers clustered in the hallways and filled them with the clicking of their tap shoes as they informally practiced their routines. They may have enjoyed and wanted to savor as much as possible this newly discovered joy of having their feet do their talking, but they were also serious about wanting to do their best for their school, for their partners and team, and for their own sense of accomplishment.
During the opening ceremony, the students were asked to shout out one or two words that described why they were participating,what they were learning. A group of boys sitting near me looked at each other, nodded, and then called out in unison, “Teamwork! Teamwork!”
The competition began in earnest with Latin, the first of three dance categories. Funk and swing would follow. Ten dance circles were outlined on the concrete floor. One team with as many as six couples took each circle. Emcee Van McNeil called out, “Dancers, take your positions,” and they did. In pairs they stood back to back, waiting for the count to eight and the signal to begin. The students then gave it their all, too intent on the music and the routines they had practiced for weeks to pay attention to the five judges, all dance professionals, circulating on the floor taking notes.
During the intermission between the first round and the semi-finals, students had the opportunity to see in performance the dance teachers who had worked at their schools. Not only did they see that their teachers can do at a very high level what they teach, but they had the opportunity to return a favor, cheering their teachers on as their teachers had cheered and encouraged them.
This event required a network of collaborators all contributing their energy: all the energy of the students working individually and together to do their school proud; all the many sponsors and volunteers investing their time and resources in these wonderful young people who are too often unjustly written off by people who know nothing of Milwaukee firsthand.
The organization required to create this opportunity is amazing, much of it invisible, except for the fact that the program runs so smoothly. Someone had to show guests where to find the school they came to see. Some committee had to choose music and determine an order of procedure. Others had to find judges, invite dignitaries, line up sponsors. Still others contributed and delivered snacks for the dancers. I could go on and on. What particularly impresses me is the work of many people to keep the tap shoes that are loaned to dancers in good repair, an important factor because without those shoes, many students could not afford to participate and would miss out on all the benefits.
This is the Milwaukee where I live. This is the Milwaukee where I want to live — a city that believes in, supports, encourages and invests in the talents of our young people.