- December 25, 2022
On March 26, the Ormond Beach Middle School Advanced Dance Team was a blur of black and gold as they opened for the Orlando Magic at the Amway Center.
It's an experience the 21 students are not going to forget anytime soon.
"Not everyone will get the chance to do that, and that's really a big opportunity, especially for a middle school dance team," eighth grade OBMS student Madison Wilson said.
It was an opportunity over a year in the making.
Last school year, the team applied to be an opening pre-game performance for the Orlando Magic, but due to the uncertainties caused by COVID-19, only those associated with the competing basketball teams were allowed on the court to protect the player. OBMS' performance date kept being pushed back, said Amanda El Shemi, former director of choir, theater, and dance at the school.
So, they decided to try again this year, and were contacted around the start of the first semester that OBMS' acceptance was still valid. They were welcome to perform, and since El Shemi later accepted a position as an arts education specialist for the Florida Department of Education, it would be her last performance with her students, making it an emotional moment.
"I've watched them grow up in my eyes," El Shemi said. "I've had most of those kids since they were in sixth grade and just to see the growth that they've had from sixth grade all the way now to eighth grade, they've become such beautiful dancers and just beautiful young women and men."
The team began planning for its performance around October, El Shemi said. They raised funds to get brand new uniforms and pompoms, and enlisted the help of choreographer Kiara Swint from Kinetic Expressions Dance Academy to add a special hip hop flair to the routine.
"We worked together on the project and she was all in," El Shemi said. "She came to all the rehearsals."
Including the final four-and-a-half hour rehearsal the Friday before their performance. It was the first time the team got the chance to space out the dance in the school gym, as previously, all rehearsals had taken place in the dance room.
Not everyone will get the chance to do that, and that's really a big opportunity, especially for a middle school dance team." — Madison Wilson, OBMS eighth grader
The students were nervous as they waited to go out on the court. Eighth grader Wyatt Moore, the only boy on the dance team, said that when they started dancing, he felt like there was a rock in his stomach.
"While we were performing while [people] were cheering and stuff, that made me feel good," he said. "And at the end, when we were done with the whole thing, they were just clapping and cheering really loud, and it made me feel proud of myself."
Sometimes he gets comments about being the only boy on the dance team, but he doesn't pay them any mind. Wyatt said he loves to dance.
Being in dance has been a "big confidence booster" for Wyatt, said his mother Erin Moore. She wishes more people could understand the impact the arts have on students.
"Wyatt hunts and fishes with his dad and his grandfather, and that's great — thats a great hobby," she said. "But this has taught him ... teamwork. You work as a team."
In addition to Wyatt and Madison, the OBMS Advance Dance Team includes Bree Johnson, Ava Kastner, Chloe Van Leuven, Lilly Degennaro, Izzabella Porter, Summer Lockheart, Ciera Shirley, Riley Chapman, Aliyah Spar, Emma Robinson and dance captain Lauren Wilkins.
Madison said she used to be quite shy when she was in sixth grade. She wasn't the kind of student to volunteer to do a dance in front of everyone.
But this year, she had the confidence to try out for solos, including performing solo tricks for the OBMS performance at the Amway Center. And she did them with an injured foot. She didn't want to let her team down.
While we were performing while [people] were cheering and stuff, that made me feel good. And at the end, when we were done with the whole thing, they were just clapping and cheering really loud, and it made me feel proud of myself." — Wyatt Moore, OBMS eighth grader
"I was just thinking about how this is a one time opportunity and I just needed to make the best out of it," Madison said.
Her mother, Amy Wilson, has also seen her daughter gain confidence through her participation in El Shemi's dance class. While Madison is a great student, her experience wouldn't have been the same without dance, Wilson said.
"I think the arts and dance and everything just has taken her middle school experience to a whole new level, which has a lot to do with her teacher," she said. "... I just think without that, she wouldn't have had the experience she had in middle school."
Wyatt said El Shemi was one of the best teacher's he's ever had. She inspired him in a lot of ways, he added.
"She got me out of my comfort zone a lot," Wyatt said. "She got me to do All-State [Choir] ... and I made it the first time."
Madison said El Shemi was nice and a fun person to be around.
"She always made everything more fun," she said. "And she was a really good teacher throughout the years."
El Shemi, who worked at OBMS for three years, said she hopes her former students walked away from their performance knowing that they can accomplish anything. It's very easy nowadays, she said, for kids to feel unworthy, particularly when comparing themselves on social media platforms.
It's also important for parents and the district to see what can happen when the arts are supported — that opportunities like this exist. Many students lost an elective when the district went to a six-period school day, and that reduced student participation in arts programs, El Shemi said.
"As somebody who I think the arts saved my life personally, it's just so important," El Shemi said.