WEST ORANGE, NJ — A longtime dream of both the West Orange School District’s department of visual and performing arts and the West Orange Arts Council became a reality when the Board of Education approved the first dance class at West Orange High School during its Nov. 9 meeting.
“Elements of Dance,” open to students in grades nine through 12, will be offered starting in the 2016-17 school year, with interested students encouraged to sign up when registration for the class opens. Director of visual and performing arts Louis Quagliato explained that the foundation-level class will teach basic dance movements with a focus on jazz, ballet and modern dance.
Though only one course with a probable cap of 18 to 20 participants has been confirmed so far, Quagliato said he hopes the program is successful enough to expand in the future.
Right now though, Quagliato said he is just excited that dance will f
inally be included in the West Orange’s arts portfolio considering what it will mean for students.
“It gives them an opportunity to be able to participate in any one of the visual and performing arts,” Quagliato told the West Orange Chronicle in a Nov. 25 phone interview, pointing out that the school system can boast all four of the major art forms now that it will offer dance along with music, art and drama. “This really just completes the visual and performing arts program by enabling students to participate in dance.”
The district is currently in search of a certified dance instructor to teach Elements of Dance, according to Quagliato. Once the teacher is hired, he said the district will work with that person to craft the specific curriculum for the course. In the meantime, he said the school system is looking into transforming an available room near the WOHS gym into a dance facility, complete with mirrors, ballet bars and a sprung floor, which is especially suitable for dancing since it absorbs shocks. Quagliato said it is not known how much this will cost — the district is still in the process of getting quotes — but the expenses will be included as items in the school budget next year.
But preparing a dance studio is not the only work the district has ahead of it, WOAC member Frank Niccoletti pointed out. Niccoletti has championed the addition of a dance program to the West Orange arts curriculum in recent years, and stressed that WOHS needs to raise awareness for the class if the course is to be successful.
Without promotion, he said, not nearly enough people will register for it to warrant an expansion into the middle and elementary schools, which he would eventually like to see.
Having dance flourish within the school district is paramount for Niccoletti. After all, it was this WOAC member who led the push to raise money to send dancers from West Orange and surrounding communities to the Jersey Moves! Festival of Dance at the New Jersey Performing Arts Center for the past three years, and it was he who helped bring the Carolyn Dorfman Dance Company master class to WOHS during the past summer.
All of those efforts were an attempt to show the district that a dance program is necessary for students, Niccoletti said, which is why he is thrilled that Elements of Dance has come to fruition. Having seen students perform in WOHS musicals in the past, he said he knows the district has plenty of good dancers. Now they have a way to hone their craft while bettering themselves, he said.
“The talent is there — what it needs is a regular, consistent opportunity to develop that talent,” Niccoletti told the Chronicle in a Nov. 27 phone interview. “The program will give kids an opportunity not just to rev up for an annual musical, but to continue the development of their talent in a consistent fashion, which is what kids should have when they pursue any art.
“This is yet another way for young people to explore themselves, explore their feelings, explore their thinking and express themselves,” he said.
Niccoletti commended Quagliato and the school district for listening to the residents who have been calling for a dance program for some time now. The former educator, who even supported the South Orange-Maplewood School District’s own establishment of a dance program when he worked there, said West Orange schools represent what learning institutions should be — committed to their students and open-minded in finding ways to benefit them.
“West Orange seems to me to be always ready for possibilities,” Niccoletti said. “Sometimes it initiates the new program. Other times it notices a momentum in the community and marries itself to it. And that says that the West Orange school system, unlike other school systems, doesn’t let all of its bureaucratic duties interfere with its eye on the future.”
The future of the WOHS dance program looks bright, with Quagliato and Niccoletti expressing hopes of hosting additional master classes and benefit shows, partnering with dance organizations, and sending students to exhibitions. While nothing is definite, Quagliato said one thing is certain: This first dance class can lead to a lot of good for West Orange students.
“Having a dance program opens up the door to many, many opportunities,” Quagliato said.