So noone was more surprised than myself that I became intrigued with a group of teenage dancers performing at the Halloween bash a couple of weeks ago. The members of "Destiny Chains" looked so professional, I couldn't help but be impressed.
I guess it doesn't hurt to have a talent for something or other. But 99% of the formula for success in anything is just persistence, practice, and following directions. In dancing, posture, attitude, and a big smile are essential. Students are always taught that, but few take the instruction to heart. Well, the Destiny Chains kids have obviously been listening to their teacher, and practicing a lot to get their moves down and coordinated with each other.
This week, I was writing an article on the Lower Liberty Heights Youth and Teen Center, where Destiny Chains practices. I went over to the Center and talked to a few of the kids, trying to get something quotable out of them.
"There's nothing to do around here but get into trouble," said one 17-year-old boy. "If it weren't for this place, I'd probably be locked up."
"I got kicked out of the dance group; I don't know why," said a 15-year-old girl. "Because you missed two times," said her older sister, who never misses a session. And that's when it hit me. These kids come for the rap and the hiphop, and before they know what's happened to them, dance instructor Marisel Montes has instilled a measure of discipline in them. When they're not practicing, kids might get involved in other activities at the Center like pool or foosball or Leaders Club. With every activity come rules for behavior that need to be followed.
The Center is different from school. The Center is someplace they actually want to be. So what if they get thrown out of school? But nobody wants to get thrown out of a climate-controlled hangout with music and pool tables and free snacks. A hangout run by cool, laid-back types like Zena Smith and Rob Ackilli and Manny Gomez.
I wasn't exactly born with a silver spoon in my mouth. But I did have college-educated parents, someone waiting for me when I got home from school, and a quiet, clean, and orderly home. For kids who have none of these things, any organized activity run by caring adults has got to be a good thing. I'm not talking about some saccharine Disneyfied teen talent show. I'm talking about a troupe that gives kids the tools to stay in school and out of jail.