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  • 21 Oct 2014

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Jefferson policy slams door on dancers

My View: Student: delay change until current crop graduates


by: TRIBUNE PHOTO: CHRISTOPHER ONSTOTT - This year will be Grant High School student Alyson Woolleys last pirouette  with the Jefferson Dancers. The school district is requiring Jefferson dancers to attend the school, starting in the fall. My alarm clock goes off at full volume. I sit up and my brain does a speedy scan to ensure I have everything done for the day. Math homework? Check. English paper? Done. Chemistry worksheet? In my bag. Dance clothes?

Oh, shoot, I say to myself. I scramble out of bed, open my drawers and fling clothes across the floor until I find something that resembles what I’m looking for. I throw it in my bag, run downstairs and head to school.

Fast forward seven hours and I’m nervously attempting to leave my classroom without disrupting other students. I have to yet again explain to my teacher why I’m rushing out 15 minutes early. He frowns as I race out of the room, wondering if my reasons just sound like old excuses. I run out to my carpool and jump in as the vehicle pulls away from the curb.

I take note of everything in my backpack, making sure I didn’t forget anything. When we reach our destination — Jefferson High School — I change in less than five minutes, toss my hair into a ponytail and stretch before the bell rings and the 90-minute dance class starts.

Welcome to my world as a Jefferson dance student. Whether I have modern, African, ballet or hip-hop class, this moment of my day is unique. Dance class involves expression through exercise and art, rather than plowing through a textbook or a math problem. I love pointing my feet at the barre, spinning across the floor and holding lunges until I want to cry. 

Dancing since fourth grade, I’ve always loved it. Ever since I bought my first pair of “dance pants” and a leotard, I knew it was something I wanted to do for a very long time. I love the smell of dance studios, the energy pulsing through the air, and the nervousness behind every curtain.

Freshman year, I essentially mapped out my whole high school career with Jefferson dance in mind. I had a strong desire to be included in this program. Next year, however, I won’t be allowed to go.

Jefferson is implementing a new, strict closed-door policy that prohibits students from other high schools from joining the dance program. In blunter terms, this translates to “if you don’t go here, you can’t dance here.” There’s one exception: Current juniors will be permitted to finish their last dance year at Jefferson. This leaves all the sophomores and freshmen in an unfortunate situation.

While this policy has been considered for a few years, this year the administration actually means business. Jefferson made this policy change in an attempt to attract transfers and increase enrollment. The reality, I think, will be very different. I only know a few students at Grant who are even considering the transfer. Most of us can’t really make this switch when we’re so far into our experiences at our neighborhood schools.

I understand Jefferson’s reasoning. The Jefferson dance program doesn’t really represent Jefferson. Currently, a significant number of the dance students come from other schools. Yet, it doesn’t quite seem fair that Jefferson is suddenly turning us away when we have planned our high school curriculum to include this program.

One obvious solution would be to apply this new policy to incoming freshmen next year, allowing all current dancers to finish the program. Unfortunately, Jefferson doesn’t see this.

Personally, I feel cheated of an experience I’ll never get back. Never again will I be allowed to sprint backstage, changing as I go, nervous from adrenaline. It’s going to be a hard adjustment. I’m going to miss the creative movement that’s so different from any other sport.

I’ll miss the teachers who have encouraged me to push my limits and the dress rehearsals where no costume ever fits right. Most importantly, I worry about the future of a dance program that has been around since the early 1980s, redefining how dance classes can create a sense of citywide community.

While some students may choose to stay, a large portion of that unity will still be lost.

Grant High School student Alyson Woolley originally wrote this piece for the March 21 Grant Magazine.