Dancing in the morning

Sam Green/Cortez Journal

Taylor Pope and Alex Abeyta twist during dance class before school at Mesa Elementary.

By Journal staff writer

Twist and shout.

Mesa Elementary students can kick up their heels and do a jig every morning, thanks to physical education teacher Beth Domenichini.

Domenichini got the idea for the “Wake Up Academy” two winters ago when it was a frigid 11 degrees below zero outside.

She noticed children waiting outside in the freezing weather, called them inside and brought them to the gymnasium. Domenichini turned on some music, and the rest, as they say, is history.

Today, Mesa Elementary students begin arriving around 7:30 a.m. thanks to an earlier schedule. Some eat breakfast, while others go to the computer lab or library. And some dance.

Domenichini plays songs such as Thriller, Cupid Shuffle, Cotton-Eye Joe or Any Turkey Can Tango.

It’s “massive chaos” in the early morning hours at the school gym, she said. “But it gets them motivated.”

Half of those in the gym are eating breakfast while the other half are dancing. Those eating breakfast get some “free entertainment” while watching their classmates twirl, twist and shout.

Some of the teachers have mentioned that the children seem more awake, said Domenichini, now in her ninth year at Mesa Elementary and 17th in the Montezuma-Cortez School District.

She uses the dancing to incorporate teaching about the body’s mid-lines, i.e. right vs. left, front vs. back, and top vs. bottom.

The students take “grapevine” steps by crossing one foot over another side-to-side. They also move forward and backward. Other steps, such as touching opposite knees to elbows, are done in their regular P.E. class.

“We have a lot of kids who will watch and jump in for a song or two. Kindergarteners are really open to it,” she said. “We’re just there to have fun. If you mess up, it’s not a big deal. Just laugh and smile and keep going.”

Domenichini noted that a sixth-grade student she taught last year, Ayanna Silas, has returned this year to volunteer with Wake Up Academy. She walks with her third-grade brother Alvaro Silas to school, helps with the dancing, and then walks to Cortez Middle School.

“Other sixth-graders are coming too,” Domenichini said.


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