Ava Olivero, a second grader at Tara Elementary School, had no problem showing attitude in her dance routine.
She wagged her finger in the air, saying “no” and puckered her lips a little.
Olivero went on to dance in sync with the other members of the Tara Elementary School dance team as they learned a new routine.
The girls did their best to pick up the new moves quickly and to dance in unison.
The dance team has been learning new routines since November when the extracurricular activity returned to the school as provided by the Parent-Teacher Organization.
Bunni Roberts founded the Tara dance team 24 years ago when she was a teacher at the school, but after the COVID-19 pandemic and Roberts' retirement, the team was disbanded.
The team started with 14 students when the program first began and grew to having approximately 60 students.
Lisa Jobst, the president of Tara Elementary’s PTO said one of the main reasons she wanted to have her daughter, Gloriana Jobst, attend Tara Elementary was the dance team.
“I thought it was such a unique opportunity,” Jobst said. “It stood out to me as something special.”
Jobst said Roberts fostered a sense of community and gave opportunities for the students to bond and build relationships. Although not a competitive team, students worked together as a team, dancing in unison and supporting one another. They performed during big school events.
When the team disbanded in 2020, Jobst, the students on the team, and their parents were disappointed, so when the school brought back extracurriculars as the pandemic subsided in the 2021-2022 school year, Jobst started working with Dannin Grosso, a co-secretary on the PTO, to bring the team back.
The PTO only charges $38 per month per student. The organization rents the cafeteria every Wednesday for practice.
“The girls have fun,” Grosso said. “They learn a new dance every time and the progress they make each week is amazing. I love seeing the smiles on their faces. It brings them so much joy to the school and to each other.”
Fourth grader Valentine Inda said she looks forward to Wednesdays because she knows she has dance practice.
“I like getting to hang out and make new friends,” she said.
Savannah Grosso, a fourth grader, loves to learn new dance routines. Although she gets a little nervous performing in front of others, she’s always excited. The team performed during the holidays and before the school’s sweetheart dance Feb. 10.
“It was cool to perform in front of everyone,” she said. “We are dancing in a place we know, so we’re more comfortable.”
This year, the team only can have 30 students, and there is a waitlist of about 25 students, so the PTO is hoping to expand next year to have classes offered two days per week.
Jobst said the PTO wanted the dance team to be available as an after school program so it doesn’t interfere with other activities and parents can pick their students up from school at a later time. Students also have the opportunity to get to know others in the school.
“There aren’t as many extracurricular activities that kids can do with their classmates,” Jobst said. “It’s extra special to be able to continue building that sense of community with an after school activity. You won’t find that as much with a separate dance school where the kids would come from lots of different schools.”
Michelle McCord, the owner of Ovation School of Theatre, leads the dance team, teaching them new techniques and routines.
“I’m incredibly impressed with them,” McCord said. “I see so much of a difference in a short period of time. They focus, pay attention and are very disciplined. I love seeing the smiles. They are laughing. It’s wonderful.”
McCord said now that the team is working on its third dance routine, she’s noticing students are picking up steps quicker and learning more of how to have control over their movements.
Second grader Piper Miles said she loves learning from McCord.
“We love our coach because she’s sweet, does sassy faces and is nice and good,” Miles said.
Liz Ramos covers education and community for East County. Before moving to Florida, Liz was an education reporter for the Lynchburg News & Advance in Virginia for two years after graduating from the Missouri School of Journalism.