News from the Field: Springfield Urban League 21st CCLC Teaches Dance and Cultural Awareness

High school students have more say than their younger colleagues as to whether they participate in 21st CCLC programs. This is especially true in the summer, when youth may opt to sleep in and hang out with friends instead of getting up early to catch a bus and attend a summer learning program.

To keep high school students involved in the summer, Springfield Urban League 21st CCLC offers a summer camp with a variety of themes planned around student interests. One of these themes is music and dance. In 2018, for example, students learned about rap and hip-hop music and dance from different decades. Activities included weekly dance competitions with guest judges and student presentations on the artists and music. Recognizing that students also like variety, the Springfield Urban League 21st CCLC team has continued to explore new musical genres with their students. In summer 2019, the program offered Latin music and dance lessons.

The 21st CCLC program partnered with Julio Barrenzuela, a Latin dance instructor known as the Salsa Ambassador. Originally from Peru, Barrenzuela uses salsa dancing to help people learn about other cultures and see themselves as part of a larger “salsa community.” He also uses his classes as a form of inclusion for people of different backgrounds and all levels of physical abilities, teaching at nursing homes and rehabilitation centers in addition to youth-serving organizations like Springfield Urban League. 

At first, many of the students at the 21st CCLC were reluctant to try the dancing, but Barrenzuela began playing music that the students listen to, and, as they began dancing, he started teaching them Latin dance steps. Once students learned a few moves, it didn’t take long for the whole group to join in. The 21st CCLC staff also participated in the dance classes, showing the students they could make mistakes and still have fun. In addition to learning dance steps, students learned some of the history and culture behind the music and dance, as well as some Spanish vocabulary related to the dances. Soon, students were part of Barrenzuela’s salsa community, which was even featured in Springfield’s Illinois Times.

Ashley Moore, project director at Springfield Urban League 21st CCLC, notes that the Latin dance classes were some of the more popular activities this past summer. “During camp we had some students who were quieter than others and not always excited to do the performing activities,” she says, “but the salsa dancing was a time when we had our greatest participation.” Moore also says that the dancing was so popular that students asked to incorporate some dancing into their morning affirmation during summer camp. Beginning the day with some dance moves became a tradition for the summer and helped set an energetic and positive tone for the day.