Bertram Rantin

July 11, 2014

RANTIN: Columbia summer dance program boosting muscles and minds

New Columbia dance program is helping build muscles and minds at city parks.

There’s a lot of stepping, twisting, turning and spinning going on at Columbia’s parks this summer.

But be it to the sounds of modern-day hip hop or a classic ballet, youngsters in the city’s Let’s Move! Columbia Dance program have been exploring a variety of dance styles while embracing the benefits of physical fitness.

More than 60 youngsters turned out Friday at Hyatt Park for the latest installment of the free program, which combines movement and fitness with dance history.

“When they kick, step and raise their hands, they don’t realize how they’re stretching at the same time,” said Wanda Austin, coordinator of the summer program launched this year as part of the city’s broader Let’s Move! initiative.

Much like the Let’s Move! effort, the dance program aims to encourage physical activity.

“Kids like to dance anyway,” Austin said. “I think this program gets them to move in a more organized and productive way” by strategically targeting specific muscle groups.

Making sure that happens is the job of course instructor Tiera Smith, a member of the University of South Carolina dance education program and former student at the Southeastern School of Ballet.

Smith said she tries to channel the class members’ energy into creative movement.

“Everybody rocks,” she said. “It’s basically (incorporating) movements they are familiar with (to expose them to a broader range of dance styles).”

Seven-year-old Nubian Queen said she likes to dance but found some of the new moves more difficult than she thought.

Ten-year-old Olivia Hampton, meanwhile, was not nearly as daunted by the moves as she was the prospect of dancing with a boy for the first time.

“It was weird,” she said.

While focusing on various dance moves, the classes also are addressing things such as proper nutrition and hydration.

“That’s part of our Let’s Move approach,” Austin said. “They do get that part.”

Smith said her ultimate goal is for participants to have fun and learn about dance “even if they don’t like it.”

Austin said a side benefit is broadening the youngsters’ understanding of the world.

“Everybody has their own way (of dancing), but we can all be a part of it, too,” she said. “She’s trying to expose them to a little tango, a little reggae – other than what they already know.”

The Let’s Dance series is being rotated among the city’s parks to provide greater accessibility. But Austin said anyone is free to travel to a session outside his or her immediate community.

The remaining summer sessions are planned for July 18 at Martin Luther King Park, July 25 at Woodland Park, Aug. 1 at Greenview Park, and Aug. 8 at Hyatt Park.

The sessions are divided into age groups, and area residents should contact the individual park for class times.

“We encourage everyone to come out and take part,” Austin said.

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