By Kasumi Okabe
After school at Admiral Kidd Park in Long Beach, 22-year-old Walter Brown blasts pop music for a group of excited kids. The students learn a new routine from Brown each time he plays a new song. Some follow his moves; some enjoy their own free styles.
Brown, a dance teacher since 2012, teaches students hip-hop, Latin, modern, breakdancing, and contemporary dance to boys and girls aged 5 to 14. He said he teaches his students the historical and cultural background of each dance style in addition to the steps and does his best to enhance students’ fitness, social harmony, and knowledge.
“I help kids to be more interactive with each other through dancing,” Brown said about his dance class. “It helps you develop yourself as a person, so I encourage them to explore dance.”
Brown’s dance class at Admiral Kidd Park is just one of Long Beach’s twenty six after school park programs, most of which provide some kind of arts education such as crafts, paint, music, and dance.
The programs are funded by the City of Long Beach Parks, Recreation and Marine. The city’s after school programming is helping fill in for the Long Beach Unified School District, which has been forced to offer fewer courses in visual arts, music, dance, and drama.
At Lee Elementary School in Long Beach, students wanting to take a music class must put their names on a waiting list. Having good grades is also mandatory to participate.
“Every child should have access to standard arts education at school,” said Lee Elementary parent Mami Yamagishi, whose daughter is on the music class waiting list.
For the students at schools like Lee Elementary, who can’t take music classes and can’t afford private dance class tuition, which can range from $60 to $150 per month, the free afterschool dance classes are key.
Arlene Davis, a sixth grader at Admiral Kidd Park, decided to take Brown’s dance lesson because it’s free. “If this program wasn’t free, I wouldn’t be able to participate because my mom is not that type of wealthy person,” Davis said.
“Kids much appreciate this dance program,” said Cassie Dalisaymo, a student volunteer at Admiral Kidd Park. “Every time I come in here, I always see them so active. They’re filled with joy, they’re all friendly, and they come here to have fun.”
Joaquin Bautista, an eighth grader who has been dancing with Brown since the summer, said he loves dancing because it’s active. “I’m more active than I used to be,” said Bautista. “If I didn’t come here I would just sit around at home doing my homework and watching TV.”
Another student Breanna Aguilar, a fourth grader, has been dancing for two years with Brown. “Walter has been showing me a lot of moves. Since I was 4 I had a little bit of problems with my legs, but now that Walter showed me how to dance, I’m getting better at doing dance moves.”
Lucky for Aguilar, the dance class at Admiral Kidd Park will likely continue. Admiral Kidd Park’s dance program sustains itself both through city money and community fundraisers, according to Dalisaymo.
And the students still on the waiting list for music courses might get their wish as well. According to LBUSD music curriculum leader James Petri, arts education is returning to the district.
“We’ve turned the corner with the budget, and arts education in Long Beach is reemerging,” said Petri. “This year we actually have started to add music back into the schools which we have previously suspended some programs…It’s much healthier than it has been in the last six years. “