Dancing with the (FCSN) Stars

by Michelle Zhao, FCSN Holiday Dance Camp Volunteer Instructor

FCSN’s first Holiday Dance Camp kicked off in 2018 with campers dancing on the familiar green linoleum tiles of the Fremont center’s multipurpose room, under festive wreaths of holly, and besides one another. I was lucky to have the opportunity to choreograph, plan, and teach the new program, and I couldn’t be more excited to dance with the campers. The program arose from an idea I had introduced to Vice President Anna Wang (known to many as Auntie Anna) and Program Director Kelly Ko several months prior. My experiences in teaching FCSN students to play piano and my own love for music and dance motivated me to create a dance camp to give kids and adults not only a chance to work on gross motor skills, but also the freedom to express themselves and experiment with body movement. 

Though I had become a fairly confident piano instructor, I was still doubtful of applying my teaching skills to different circumstances and had much to learn. Despite having thoroughly planned a curriculum, unexpected twists and turns were the norm, especially as I managed a rowdy group of different ages and needs by myself for the first time. In learning to navigate these twists, I became more adept at thinking on my feet and communicating with our campers. 

The program started small, with just a handful of campers. With growing feedback and interest, the program grew to include more campers and volunteers, as well as games and crafts. The 2019 Summer Dance Camp concluded with a recital to showcase the dancers’ hard work. Sitting just a few feet away from the dancers, the audience cheered and bopped to the fast-paced rhythm of Panic! at the Disco’s “High Hopes” with them. The campers’ newfound self-esteem was evident in their performance as their contagious energy captivated everyone in their presence. 

2020’s Virtual Holiday Dance Camp: A Night at the Nutcracker (newly themed!) gave campers a taste of two popular dance styles: hip-hop and ballet. Dancers grooved to a trap remix of “Here Comes Santa Claus” and pirouetted to “The Dance of the Sugar Plum Fairy” from the Nutcracker ballet, executing both styles with energy, grace, and fun! I had an absolute blast teaching and getting to know 20 students during this second Virtual Dance Camp of the year. Though we weren’t dancing in the decked-out halls of FCSN, we were still able to transform our virtual meetings into our own winter wonderland with activities that jogged our muscles and our imaginations. Over the course of two weeks, we decorated Christmas trees, baked cookies for Santa, built snowmen, made snow angels, and more! The dancers mastered a multitude of technical ballet skills and captured the essence of hard-hitting hip-hop, all with only visual and auditory cues to adapt for the virtual setting. I strove to keep the level of interaction high, and our campers were kind to encourage each other with cheers, rounds of applause (using both their hands and the Zoom feature), and virtual high fives (and high tens)!

Dancing with my campers has been incredibly rewarding over these past three years. I’m so thankful for the support Penny and Kelly have always given me; for the families who always support our students; for the other volunteers who have helped with this program along the way; and most of all, for the campers’ hard work, high fives, and eagerness to try new things and to dance with me! I feel blessed to have found so many resources I didn’t know I had to create a platform to help the children and adults of my local special needs community find self-expression when words aren’t enough. 

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