Empowering students to dance toward success


The YMCA’s Community Schools Initiative (Y-CSI) is dedicated to involving students in the performing arts, as well as developing healthy living and fitness habits. The Y-CSI’s partnership with May I Have This Dance ballroom studio combines all these goals—with a little bit of a kick.

Dancing with Class, the youth outreach division of May I Have This Dance and a Y-CSI partner since 2012, is an afterschool program where students grades 4–6 learn ballroom dances such as merengue, swing, tango and waltz from Chicago dance professionals.

The program focuses on more than dance skills; it also develops character and self-esteem through teamwork and positive peer interaction. "Students are taking these positive behaviors back to the classroom, where they then blossom into leaders and role models," says Margot Toppen, director of Dancing
with Class.

"In my first class, it was fun because I really got to express my passion for dancing," says Cecil White from Carroll-Rosenwald Elementary. "I would sometimes get frustrated because I would get a part of the dance wrong, but that didn't stop me, and when I got it right, I was really proud."

In 2015, more than 100 students from eight of the Y’s Chicago Community Schools participated in the 10-week program. The students’ hard work culminated in the 4th Annual YMCA Community Schools Dancing with Class Showcase at the Chicago Cultural Center. The award for Overall Dance Champion was received by McKay Elementary School.

"It is such a joy to bring together our Community School partners, families and supporters to celebrate the hard work and achievement of our students," says Eric Werge, executive director of Y-CSI. " This event creates such an electric atmosphere—everyone in the room wants to get out of their seats and dance!"

The Y-CSI collaborates with numerous other quality program partners throughout Chicago to provide a safe and engaging environment for youth during critical afterschool hours and to expand students’ horizons through enrichment in academics, arts, culture, health and wellness activities, and community programming.