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California Music Group Teaches Newark Students Song, Dance

Three-day workshop made possible by $20,000 anonymous donation

On a day when Christopher Williams normally pored over books about literature and mathematics, the Newark fourth grader instead pushed his studies aside for an opportunity to dance.

"It was the best fun I've ever had," he said.

Williams, 10, joined nearly 400 city public school students Wednesday from Sussex Elementary School and Central High School for day one of a three-day, free music and dance workshop hosted by The Young Americans — a California-based non-profit comprised of musically talented men and women aged 17 to 23.

The all-day "International Music Outreach Workshop" was made possible by an anonymous Los Angeles family who donated $20,000 to the group with the requirement that they teach the program in Newark, according to Brooke Robinson, the organization's spokeswoman.

"The family wanted to help and provide this opportunity in an area unlikely to afford it," she said. Robinson said the workshop normally costs roughly $47 per child.

The program is part of the group's East Coast tour, which ends at the two Newark schools.

On Wednesday, hundreds of students crammed the stage and aisles in Central High School's 900-seat auditorium with The Young Americans' instructors. The fourth through tenth graders learned a choreographed, hip-hop dance as an instructor yelled steps through a microphone. After roughly two or three dance moves, the instructor played music and the students intertwined the moves with the song as their hands waved back-and-forth in the air.

"Their energy was perfect," said Emily O'Connor, 22, one of the 43 instructors. "We taught a whole dance today when it normally takes two days."

Williams, who said he practices freestyle dancing, was in the first of a dozen rows on the stage and mimicked every move almost perfectly. "I didn't know it was going to be as cool as this," he said.

Jim Sheeley, director of the Office of Visual and Performing Arts at Newark Public Schools, said the workshop is an opportunity for students to learn outside a classroom.

"We want them to get an idea of what it's like on the professional side," he said.

But the workshop isn't just to entice students, according to Robinson.

The spokeswoman said she's hopeful the program will catch the eyes of Newark Mayor Cory Booker and other officials with the Foundation for Newark's Future — the philanthropy group charged with doling out Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg's $100 million donation to the city's public schools.

"We are going in to be an example of how they can spend the money wisely," she said. "We want to show what the school can become by adding music to curriculum."

Kerri Lyon, a spokeswoman for Foundation for Newark's Future, would not say if the organization plans to hand out money for music or dance programs.

"We will partner with organizations that can help us achieve our goal of preparing every student for college, careers and successful futures," she said. 

Sheeley said all Newark public schools have "art or music components in some capacity."

The workshop ends Friday with a two-hour, free public show at 6 p.m. in Central High School's auditorium.

As for Williams, he said he's already got the show's dances down, "I've been practicing dancing since I was five."

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