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Columbus elementary students gain cultural experience through dance

Fourth graders at East Columbus Elementary School have immersed themselves – and their bodies – into a program called Momentum.

COLUMBUS, Ohio — Javon Ross readily admits he does not like to dance. But you wouldn’t know it by watching the way this fourth grader moves his feet to every beat.

“It taught me to be more confident and show off my moves in front of everyone,” he said. “And I just want to do a good job to make my mom proud.”

Since the start of the school year, fourth graders at East Columbus Elementary School have immersed themselves – and their bodies – into a program called Momentum.

Since 2003, the program has empowered 12,000 students in 40 central Ohio Schools through dance, music and performance.

“We’re going so beyond the dance and using the arts to where it reaches your soul,” says Jeanine Ghelarducci, Momentum’s artistic director. “So, they’re able to practice habits, the big four: do your best, work hard, never give up, and work as a team,” she added.

Ghelarducci added that it is a mission of Momentum to teach children how to respect each other and different cultures. This year’s dance theme is “Truth Be Told.” It’s based on an ancient Chinese children’s story of honesty and being true to oneself.

“I think it’s called the Ying and Yang about peace is white and the other is darkness,” Ross explained. “So, when I’m feeling bad, that’s the dark but when I’m feeling happy that’s the light.”

Zyonni Fowler-Wakefield says the dance curriculum showed students how to lean into each other’s differences.

“What I learned is that [others are] not much different than you and we’re all the same even if we have a different race,” she said softly. “It’s important that all of us are treated right and we all have equal rights.”

Ghelarducci says Momentum is the bridge that helps build respect within a community.

“If you go through all our CCS schools, there are so many cultures and to teach them to appreciate and respect that and then we learn about it, that has brought some kindness,” she said. 

East Columbus Elementary School Principal Jaime Spreen agreed, saying the transformation of her fourth graders is pretty magical.

“I’m a firm believer in the arts because every student doesn’t have strengths in the same areas,” Spreen said. “Some sing, some play instruments, some dance, and there are ways in CCS to use this gift [Momentum] and work on it to make it their career for life.

“Since I have to remember all the choreography, I have to remember stuff in class and it got me to my three honor rolls today,” Fowler-Wakefield said with a smile.

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