While the war on the arts continues to be a hot topic in public schools across the nation, programs like National Dance Institute have become more important than ever. Founded in 1976 by New York City Ballet principal dancer Jacques d’Amboise, National Dance Institute seeks to open the door to the world of the arts for children from 41 public schools across the city. On June 17-19 these students will showcase a year’s worth of learning, hard work, and talent at NDI’s event of the year, “Harlem Night Song.”
Founded under the belief that the fine arts should be a part of every child’s education, current artistic director Ellen Weinstein hopes to achieve that goal through teaching thousands of children every week. “Our goal isn’t to train professional dancers, but to motivate children towards excellence through music and dance,” says NDI alum and director of “Harlem Night Song,” Bianca Johnson.
National Dance Institute encourages learning by selecting a centralized theme for students to study in school throughout the year and learn more about from guest teachers. This year’s theme, inspired by the 5th anniversary of NDI’s Harlem headquarters, pays tribute to Harlem’s rich history. “I started research back in January of last year and once I started I couldn’t stop,” says Johnson. “I realized through NDI’s in-school program that it’s so important to learn about the world outside of your community and that a lot of children don’t have that opportunity.”
“Harlem Night Song” will bring to the stage music and dance inspired by legendary Harlem performers such as Billie Holiday, Duke Ellington, Florence Mills, and many more. In addition to learning about the rich history of the area, students were also able to meet with significant elders of Harlem including people who danced at the Savoy and a historian whose grandfather was a Harlem Hellfighter. “This was a really special opportunity for our dancers because I don’t think they made the connection that the things we were dancing in the show were things that people actually lived,” says Johnson. “It really moved the children to know that there are still people alive that are related to someone they’re dancing about.”
National Dance Institute works throughout the year to bring music and dance to kids from all neighborhoods no matter their physical capabilities. “We believe children have infinite potential. We teach them that no matter how challenging the situation, with hard work, compassion, and determination, we can all transcend and transform our circumstances,” says Johnson. “Harlem Night Song” allows these students to show off their talents and will bring to the stage a lively show filled with fun and excitement. “Children will stomp at the Savoy, salute the Harlem Hellfighters, cheer for Joe Louis, and shuffle along at the Hoofers Club,” says Johnson. Bringing the whole family to the NYU Skirball Center for the Performing Arts this weekend will mean a night of enjoying and experiencing the history of Harlem.
Show times and ticket prices vary see website for details. For more information on National Dance Institue or “Harlem Night Song,” visit nationaldance.org.