Last year's NDI performance at Macey Center

This season’s fall NDI educational dance program, featuring fourth-graders in the Socorro district, pays homage to our beloved Route 66, with its myriad of music created from coast to coast through our great cities and the wild west, in “Route 66: Legends of the Road.” There are matinee school-time performances at 10 a.m. and 1 p.m., with seats reserved for adults who want to avoid not getting a seat at the typically sold-out 7 p.m. performance, on Thursday, August 29, at New Mexico Tech’s Macey Center.

Admission is $6 for adults for any of the shows and free for youth, but they must have tickets.

Now in its 22nd year in Socorro, The National Dance Institute of NM presents a hands-on dance residency where elementary school students practice daily with a professional dancer and musician in an original show, usually about cultural or scientific history; last year’s “Think! A Math-magical Journey” was all about how math is involved in so much our daily lives.  The year before was “Roots Revival,” all about the history of music and cultural diversity; and the year before Rolled with Rivers.

This year’s NDI performance of “Route 66: Legends of the Road,” is an original production conceived of and created by the NDI New Mexico staff, from the script to the choreography to the costumes and sets. One first grade class – the Tiny Tots – will also join the performance. The fourth-graders are from San Antonio, Midway, Cottonwood and Parkview Elementary; Sarracino Middle School and Socorro High Schools also are represented.

The program is sponsored in conjunction with Socorro Consolidated Schools by the New Mexico Tech Performing Arts Series (PAS), which does all fundraising and coordination. Early residencies were established in Socorro, Magdalena and Alamo; the first two remain, with Magdalena at the end of April.

“This is the best hands-on arts experience I’ve ever seen, and I’m so excited that Socorro has been a part of the NDI experience for 22 years, one of the longest residencies in the state,” said PAS Director Ronna Kalish. 

“I encourage the community to come out and support the kids – you’ll be amazed. But get to Macey early, it’s going to be packed!” she said.

NDI performances are always sold out, and every student in the district attends a school-time youth performance before fellow schoolmates and parents.

“Students from the first NDI residency are now 34 years old, some with their own children participating, which is amazing,” Kalish said. “And to see the enthusiasm and energy these elementary-aged students bring to the performance is really something.”

As the fourth-graders practice with their professional mentors, four or five students from each school will be chosen for the Super Wonderful Advanced Team, or SWAT.

“Students chosen for the SWAT are those who show a willingness to learn, to listen, to be a team player,” Kalish explained. “Sometimes they aren’t necessarily the best dancers, but they have displayed qualities that put them on the leadership track.” She adds, “sometimes amazing students do not get selected for SWAT; they can’t pick everyone!”

SWAT students stay after school to learn and practice additional dances, and are invited to return the following year, and for as long as they are willing to participate in the NDI program.

“They work really hard,” she said, adding that one SWAT member chosen in elementary school, Michaela Wilkinson, stayed with the program through her senior year at Socorro High School. “This took a real commitment on her part, because there are so many competing options in activities for high school students,” Kalish said. 

“We hope everyone will recognize the educational elements that are basic to the NDI program,” Kalish said.  This year’s show has taken our students on a historical-geographical-musical history journey through the most famous east-west route across the United States. “After singing the same songs every day for three weeks, students are going to remember some of this history, through repetition alone. Later, these same thoughts might nudge their thinking in new directions and insights.”

The National Dance Institute was founded in New York by Jacques D’Amboise, a former principal ballet dancer at the New York City Ballet, to give kids who would not otherwise have the opportunity, the chance to dance.  

D’Amboise later founded the Santa Fe program through his student, Catherine Oppenheimer. NDI is now in 34 communities statewide and has taught more than 9,000 students in 96 school programs, with Socorro being one of the oldest in-school programs in New Mexico.

 “I don’t think a single Socorro student will ever forget NDI’s ‘Core Four:’ 1. Do Your Best; 2. Never Give Up; 3.Work Hard; 4. Be Healthy – good, basic principles for all of us to live by.”

Each year, instructors travel around New Mexico conducting three-week residencies. This year’s director, Hannah Foss, has been working with local elementary students, rehearsing their routines in preparation for the public performances.

In addition to all Socorro fourth-graders, older students – NDI alumni – form the SWAT and Celebration teams.

This year, New Mexico Arts and the National Endowment for the Arts, Positive Outcomes, Wells Fargo, Socorro Insurance Mart, Walmart,  Don & Rosie Tripp and Econo Lodge provided additional support.

The Socorro residency is part of NDI New Mexico’s statewide Outreach Program which places a certified instructor and professional pianist in school classes throughout the state as part of their curriculum. It also trains classroom teachers to get their students up and moving and incorporate NDI techniques into their core curricula.

All NDI New Mexico programs are character-building and use dance to teach an important life lesson - that working hard, doing your best, never giving up, and living a healthy life equals success. 

NDI is the biggest outreach event that New Mexico Tech does in the school districts and community. The program teaches students to strive for excellence, build self-esteem, work as a team and develop almost all NM State Education Benchmarks in dance, theatre, music and physical education.

Perhaps the most exciting aspect of the residency is that students become the professional dancers when they come to Macey Center, learn all about theater, dance with a professional band, have lights, costumes, sound, learn entrances, exits, blocking and performing to sold-out audiences of their families, friends and neighbors.

For further information, call 835-5688.