Broadway Books First Class

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Year One of Broadway Books First Class came to a close with a Whoosh!, a wave and a wee bit of wisdom courtesy of Broadway dancer Oneika Phillips.

This year my students met actors, singers, dancers, directors, producers, playwrights, choreographers and a drag legend. They explored the creative process of theater from audition to performance with lessons in teamwork, tenacity and a celebration of an individual's unique talents and gifts.  They learned firsthand how the child they are now sets the stage for the adult they will become.  Each boy and girl was shown that they have value through the generous embrace of the professional theater community in New York City.  It was a brilliant outpouring of love wrapped neatly around lessons involving the importance of books and the power of words. 

Gregory Jbara (our first visitor) and Oneika Phillips (our last) were perfect book ends. Greg expressed how a lifelong theatrical spark was ignited in him when he was a boy. He shared his reminisces of that exuberant feeling of first realizing that an audience was applauding him. Oneika focused on the work that goes into maintaining a life on the stage and how grit and determination play a role in keeping your body, heart and spirit strong.

Her visit began with a...Whoosh!

Our classroom door swung open and we all turned towards our exuberant visitor.  Immediately a wave of love, energy and kindness came washing over everyone. Oneika is an undeniable force. 

Prior to her visit we had spent months deciding on the perfect book to match her theme. We happily agreed upon Franklin Goes to the Hospital by Paulette Bourgeois and Brenda Clark.  Oneika wanted to share her story of injury and recovery with the students to underscore the other side of performing. The importance of taking care of your body in order to do the things you love, which for her was dance. 

Oneika is an incredibly dynamic - and ridiculously flexible - dancer. One day in rehearsal she executed a dance move in which she basically kicked herself in the back of the head (can you imagine?). The incident ultimately lead to x-rays, surgery and physical therapy. She shared all of this with the children who, in turn, regaled her with stories of their own brushes with illness and injury. I learned a lot about the children that day. 

We kept circling back to the morale of the book, which resonated with the students.

Just because you're afraid doesn't mean you aren't brave.  Being brave means doing what you have to do, no matter how scared you feel.

Oneika's work ethic also extended into her preparation for her visit. She attended classes in American Sign Language so she could converse with the students in their first language. She happily engaged with them in ASL for introductions and allowed the students to guide the expansion of her vocabulary throughout the afternoon. Her dedication - and signing skills - were impressive!

As always, the students had some questions for our guest. We learned that her favorite Broadway experience was with the show Fela! because she was proud to bring African dance and culture to Broadway and that she loves to dance because it makes her heart happy. Dancing is joy shared with an audience. 

Oneika then turned the tables and asked the kids some questions, like "What do you enjoy doing?"  Their replies included reading, playing basketball, dancing, jumping, playing, eating, climbing on stuff, math, gymnastics, dancing on poles, playing with younger siblings and fishing.  I must admit, the dancing on poles response got me curious but we didn't pursue it. 

Our time together quickly drew to an end with gifts and hugs. We gave Oneika a copy of Franklin Goes to the Hospital signed by the class and she signed copies of the book for each student (books courtesy of the "47" Alumni Association of the Deaf). As we said goodbye I was struck once again by the willingness of folks in the professional theater community to give their time, energy and heart to a small group of first graders.

It is an outstanding testament to the character of those in the Broadway community and a wonderful promise of continuing success for the program. 

Thank you Oneika and all of our Year One visitors! 

Sharing stories and feeling brave with Broadway dancer Oneika Phillips

A Visit with Oneika Phillips