Wing Luke Elementary's dance instructor choreographs a unique

Meg Mahoney, dance specialist at Wing Luke Elementary School, was the recent recipient of the KCTS Golden Apple Award, which is given to a top Washington state educator and valued at $1,500. According to Mahoney, the award was a huge honor particularly because it recognized the importance of dance in the curriculum.

She is the only full-time dance specialist in the Seattle Public School District. She plans to use the funds to upgrade the dance program's sound system.

Mahoney beams when she talks about dance. She beams when she talks about her kids - the students of Wing Luke - and she beams, albeit modestly, when she shares her delight in receiving this prestigious award. The award further cements Mahoney's conviction that dance has a place in education. Get Mahoney talking about the kids, parents, and staff at Wing Luke and she positively glows

"This is such a great place to teach. It gives me the opportunity to work with all kids and all ability levels. The kids are wonderful. They have a wide range of languages from around the world and they are very warm, loving, and enthusiastic.

"We also have wonderful parental support. The parents of these kids are great. They really care and regularly show up for their kids' conferences and school events. Then, when you add in our staff who is so supportive, it makes it such a great place to work. I feel very blessed."

Mahoney is quick to add that Wing Luke's program is unique not only because of the kids but because of a decision to fund a dance specialist 10 years ago instead of an art/music specialist.

"The school made the choice about 10 years ago to focus strictly on dance," stated Mahoney. "They had a high percentage of very active kids and English language learners ( ELL). The staff and principal felt that it would give the kids an outlet and help incorporate them into the school community.

"The new ELL students can instantly feel part of the group even though they don't know the language. They can copy movements without understanding and therefore fit in."

Mahoney is enthralled with her work as the dance specialist at Wing Luke Elementary. She teaches six classes of dance a day and co-teaches with Lavern Loud, the school's physical education (PE) teacher.

"The kids at Wing Luke get some form of physical exercise each and every day either dance with me or PE with Lavern. We set physical activity as a priority at this school. Lavern gets skates and bikes for the kids and I do dance," Mahoney said. "You know there is research that physical development is a great foundation for academics. It helps kids become more capable of conceptualizing, an important cognitive skill.

"Today we have too many kids plopped in front of the TV. Families are afraid to let their kids outside these days so the kids don't get the physical activity they need. There is a correlation between movement and participation in academics, and I am very excited by this."

Mahoney focuses on modern dance for her program. To her, modern dance is defined as any movement mad consciously for the purpose of communication.

"I teach very little technique. My big goal is to get the kids to feel confident about using their whole bodies and their imagination. I want them to feel confident of thinking of themselves as artists, to have the experience of expressing ideas through movement. Since artists communicate ideas, I want each child to see themselves as artists," Mahoney said. "You know, the most important thing for people to understand is that dance is a fine art.

"We need to get rid of the stereotype that dance is only for some people and not for everyone, that it is just for girls when both boys and girls can easily do it. Dance is a part of so many cultures all around the world. It is something where everyone participates in it. It is an integral part of the community."

Mahoney leaned forward and in a conspiratorial tone remarked, "To me, we'll all be a much better world if everyone danced. Dance is critical for us to be able to get along with each other, it's a critical form of self-expression. It enables us to be all together and to be part of a sharing community."

Mary Sanford may be reached[[In-content Ad]]