Teaching Artist Spotlight: Ms. Patricia

Creative Classroom Engagement

Ms. Patricia at Le Gore

At Conga Kids, we believe that an exceptional education starts with exceptional teachers. That’s why we’re so proud to introduce you to our stellar Teaching Artist staff! Throughout the year, we’ll be featuring them on our blog in what we’re calling the “Teaching Artist Spotlight.”

First up? Ms. Patricia, and her Creative Classroom Management techniques.

Ms. Patricia

Patricia was born in Arkansas and raised in San Diego, CA.  She began training in music at an early age, playing violin and viola, and studying musical theatre - quickly receiving awards and recognition for her talent as a dancer and actor. She trained with Dance Theatre of Harlem, which helped launch her career in the entertainment world with several different tours and performance contracts. The rigor of long rehearsal days and daily performances inspired her to become certified in fitness and nutrition, and her passion for the arts brought her to the world of youth arts education. In her second semester as a Conga Kids Teaching Artist, she constantly strives to share her love of dance, music, and health with the young people of Los Angeles.


How many Conga Kids classes are you teaching this semester?

I have 13 classes across four schools: Stoner Ave., Le Gore, Gidley School, and Thurgood Marshall Elementary.

What is it that initially drew you to the organization?

I was already teaching dance -- mostly ballet, so very very rigorous, structured dance.

I had taken some ballroom before, and I saw the opportunity and kinda jumped at the chance to loosen up a bit and learn a little more. You know, I always want to find different areas and different genres to spread my knowledge... I always think it’s a good idea to expand your horizon, even if you’re dedicated to one subject. So I just wanted to open it up and see what could happen!

You mentioned ballet -- could you tell us a little more about your dance background?

I was classically trained as a dancer. I still train today in ballet (which I’ve been dancing now for over 22 years). I’ve trained in New York, in Spain, in Germany, and in just about every major city in the United States. I’ve worked with several different companies and different ventures: commercials, small dance companies, larger dance companies, different things. I diverted from ballet a bit in 2011, and decided to do a little more commercial dance in Vegas, and that was fun. Just trying to get a little more variety.

There’s a lot of incredible stuff you do in your classes that is not part of the standard Conga Kids curriculum. Could you talk a bit about your creative classroom management practices?

Sure! There are three main components. The first are the rhythm sticks.

Rhythm Sticks at Stoner Ave

I like to use the rhythm sticks, because they allow you to slow down the rhythm with the kids. Especially having this many classes, there are going to be several children who have learning differences. If you just put on the music, you’re almost ignoring or brushing past the fact that they might not catch up. So I just want to give them the opportunity to learn the rhythm correctly, at whatever speed they need to go at, and then we can speed it up. And then if you’re playing with the rhythm sticks during the music, it’s also like a kind of muscle memory. “Oh, I have to keep up to the rhythm, because I know it’s going to be ‘Quick, Quick, Slow’ or something.” So, they’re a little more comfortable moving forward.

The next component is the tape on the floor.

Floor Tape at Stoner Ave

I have the pieces of electrical tape that kids are spread out on. That way, I don’t have to say “Alright, I need everybody to spread out” and then wait for them to do that, I can just say “Everyone get on a piece of electrical tape that somebody else isn’t on.” So it helps them get set up faster, but it allows helps us to work out the individual steps.

I like to do it in just about every dance, because it allows the students to clean up their footwork by themselves. You can start to see the students who are really trying, but sometimes, you know, they may get a partner or two in a row that isn’t helping them out the most. So at least this gives them an opportunity to work out the footwork individually, and then go back to partner dancing.

The final component is the Five-Star Program.

Five Star Program

Every class starts the semester with five stars, which they lose or gain based on in-class behavior. So with this class in particular, they have until October 30th to keep five stars, and if they do, then I bring them a little **school-approved** treat. If they lose a star, it’s incredibly difficult to gain one back -- they have to all be working together, correctly. Synergy.

I put the stars on the board with velcro on purpose, because I want them to hear the sound [she rips one off the board] of a star being ripped off. And it works! This class in particular, I think they were at three or four at one point, and I ripped it, and you could just see their faces drop -- they knew it meant serious business. I tell them, “only Five-Star classes get a treat. Four-Star classes get a ‘better-luck-next time.’”

Of course you want to make sure that they get there; you’re not trying to bully them into being a perfect class. You really wanna just encourage Five-Star behavior.

Where did you come up with these techniques?

I took the [Music Center] Symposium over the summer. There was one teaching artist in particular who used a drum, and she used it to get the kids to walk around and acknowledge each other. I felt safe, being in a room with people I didn’t know, and I was like “Wow”, this will probably help students get used to moving around and listening to instruction. So you train them to listen to instruction first, and then you can kinda get them to do whatever you want, you know? [She laughs.]

The Five-Star program was an idea I had based on a book I read, Nudge, by this economist named Richard Thayer.

There’s a chapter in there where they talk about how the feeling of loss is more powerful than the feeling of gain. I started trying to figure out a way to utilize that psychology in the classroom, and that’s where I came up with the five stars. So if I could give the students something when they started my class -- this is already theirs, the prize is already theirs, they’re getting it -- then they lose it because of bad behavior, it would be a more effective incentive. And from what I’ve seen so far, it’s been very effective. I’ve done it in six classes so far, and it’s worked with all of them.

Any last thoughts?

My students are wonderful. I’ve learned so much this semester. I even have some fourth-graders mixed into some of my classes. What I’m learning more and more is that there’s nothing they can’t do.

You have to raise them up and say “You can do this. I know you can do this. I can see it for you; can you see it for yourself?” You want to push them towards their goal.

Inspired by Ms. Patricia? CLICK HERE to apply for a Teaching Artist position with Conga Kids!

Zach Davidson
NOW HIRING: Teaching Artists!
 
  CK Teaching Artist Joseph Baca with students at Cherrylee Elementary

CK Teaching Artist Joseph Baca with students at Cherrylee Elementary

Conga Kids is currently seeking Teaching Artists for the Spring 2019 semester.


If you believe in the power of Arts Education to change the hearts and minds of young people (and meet the requirements outlined below), please submit your cover letter and resume to Daniel@CongaKids.org.

Although our first round of trainings have passed, we will be adding more by the end of the month — so please keep submitting your materials!

Job Description

  • Conga Kids is a 501c3 non-profit dance arts education organization that teaches 5th and 6th grade students how to dance Merengue, Foxtrot, Salsa, Tango, and Swing.

  • Conga Kids Teaching Artists are hired under independent contractor agreements, at an introductory rate of $40/ fifty-minute lesson.

  • Our goal is to assign each newly hired teaching artist 3 or more lessons (6 hours a week) in the spring semester (Late January-May 2019).

  • All lessons occur during the school day (≈8am-3pm).

  • Lessons are taught in school, twice a week, for 9 weeks (18 teachable lessons per class).

  • In addition to lessons…

    • Each school has a “Culminating Event” in which all students perform for parents, teachers, and younger students.

    • 14 students (7 ladies and 7 gentleman) are chosen to compete in a city-wide competition against other schools.


Requirements for Hire

All candidates…

  • Must have reliable transportation and be willing to travel out of Central LA to teach.

  • Must provide at least 3 days of availability Monday-Friday 8am-3:30pm.

  • Must complete live-scan fingerprinting and provide up-to-date TB test upon hire.


    No ballroom dance experience required, though some movement or dance training is a bonus.


The Hiring Process

ROUND 1 – Training & Interviews

Training Sessions at the Hollywood Dance Center

817 N Highland Ave, Los Angeles, CA 90038

Teaching Artist Candidates will learn the dances taught in our curriculum, speak to current Conga Kids staff members about their experiences, and get to know our administrative staff. Round 1 training sessions are unpaid and serve as rolling auditions. Employment is conditional on Teaching Artist’s ability to learn and teach the dance curriculum, so please attend as many trainings as possible.

Although our first round of trainings have passed, we will be adding more by the end of the month — so please keep submitting your materials!

Interviews

5858 Wilshire Blvd Ste 301, Los Angeles, CA 90036

Teaching Artist Candidates will be invited to interview with Conga Kids Artistic Director, Daniel Ponickly. From here, candidates will be notified whether or not they will move forward to the second round of our hiring process, paid school visits.

ROUND 2 – School Site Visits


School-Site Visits – Shadow a Current Teaching Artist (Paid)

Teaching Artist Candidates must complete two School-Site Visits in November 2018, in order to shadow a current teaching artist. Each visit is 2 hours (2 lessons), and compensation for each visit is a stipend of $50.

Competition (Paid)

Teaching Artist Candidates must assist at one of our end-of-semester competitions in early December.

The Phone-Call (Mid-December)

All Candidates will be officially notified on employment status in mid-December. Advanced paid trainings will be held in January up until the start of program.

Lesson start dates will be staggered throughout February 2018 – school site assignments and schedule will be distributed in late-January/ early-February.


A Message from the Artistic Director: 

“Welcome to the Conga Kids training program! Our mission at Conga Kids is to provide a dynamic partner dance program that develops students’ creative potential, and sets a foundation of respect, teamwork, confidence, leadership, and a sense of accomplishment, while teaching critical inter-personal communication skills.

The Conga Kids program is successful, in part, due to the versatility of our teaching artists. Each of you will undoubtedly bring your unique style and experience to your ballroom classes. We thank you for your enthusiasm, and we are thrilled you are interested in our team.”

Daniel Ponickly
Artistic Director, Conga Kids

To apply, please submit a cover letter and resume to Daniel@CongaKids.org. Thank you!

Zach Davidson
What the Merengue Can Teach Us (About What We Think We Already Know)
  (All smiles at 109th St. Elementary)

(All smiles at 109th St. Elementary)

“Ladies and Gentlemen, do any of you know why we’re here today?”

It’s the first day of ballroom class at Melrose Elementary. Daniel Ponickly — or Mr. Danny, as he’s known in the Conga Kids world — is standing in front of twenty-five nervous students, awaiting his answer. At Conga Kids, the first lesson of the semester is always co-taught by one Teaching Artist and one Senior Liaison — in this case, our Artistic Director, Mr. Danny.

“Why are we here? Any guesses?” he asks. A few hands raise slowly. He pauses, building anticipation.

“We are here to talk about MORTGAGE RATES! The housing market is very confusing, and it’s never too early to get you started.” He pauses again. “I’m kidding, of course. We’re here to DANCE!”

You see, if you’re a fifth-grader in Los Angeles, there are exactly THREE THINGS you know with absolute certainty:

  1. Dancing with a member of the opposite sex is not only gross, it is probably dangerous.

  2. All Latin music comes from Mexico.

  3. Mr. Danny has terrible jokes.

Over the course of this initial 50-minute class — the first of our ten-week, twenty-lesson program — it is our job to correct those preconceived notions.

Except for the third one, which is, objectively, correct.

“All they need is an opportunity to shine.”

Conga Kids was co-founded in 2016 by Brad Gluckstein, Apex Realty CEO & Conga Room Founder, and Daniel Ponickly, the former Artistic Director and Creator of Ballroom Madness. In its first two years, the program reached over 9,000 students across 7 school districts, quickly establishing a reputation as Los Angeles’ premiere classroom-based dance program. Conga Kids’ mission is to provide a dynamic partner-dance program that promotes creativity, teaches critical inter-personal communication skills, and sets a foundation of respect, teamwork, confidence, and leadership.

“It means the world to them,” says Ms. Lemus, a teacher at Estrella Elementary (one of our competition-winning schools from the Spring semester).

“These kids don’t really have opportunities like this. Maybe after-school, but that’s it. And these communities — although they’re often looked at to be poor communities or violent communities — they have a lot of good in them. A lot of diamonds in the rough. All they need is an opportunity to shine.”

“And now, for our first trick…”

Believe it or not, on the path to helping those diamonds shine, the first day of class is almost always the most difficult.

This consistently happens, semester-after-semester, for one singular reason: this first lesson is when these young ladies and gentlemen must overcome their fear of making physical contact with one another. It’s nothing serious — palms touching and a hand on the shoulder blade — but in the fifth-grade, it’s enough to prompt shrieks of terror, nervous laughter, and uncontrollable blushing.

So after laying down some expectations for ballroom class (shoelaces tied, hands out of pockets, treating each other with respect), we set out towards this first hurdle, taking the students through a series of dance positions designed to smoothly transition them from anxious schoolchildren into seasoned ballroom veterans.

We begin in what we call “Flat Pancake Position,” with the gentlemen’s hands extended as an invitation, and the ladies’ hands resting respectfully on top.

  (Flat Pancake Position, courtesy of Eastman Elementary)

(Flat Pancake Position, courtesy of Eastman Elementary)

After a little practice, we move the arms into “COOKED Pancake Position,” with hands and elbows touching.

  (Ms. Kirsten demonstrates a proper Cooked Pancake Position)

(Ms. Kirsten demonstrates a proper Cooked Pancake Position)

From here, it’s a straight shot into our traditional “Ballroom Position” -- feet together and pointed toward your partner, hands and elbows touching, standing up straight, and “chicken wings crisp.”

  (Ballroom Position — look at that technique!)

(Ballroom Position — look at that technique!)

Now that we’ve reached ballroom position, it’s time for some music. We turn on Loco de Amor by Grupo Mania (obviously).

“Ladies and gentlemen,” asks Mr. Danny, “who has heard this type of music before?” Hands shoot up. “What is it?”

“Salsa!” “Bachata!” “Cumbia!”

All great guesses, all incorrecto. The first student who correctly identifies it as “Merengue” gets a high five.

“And can anyone tell me what country the Merengue comes from?”

“MEXICO!” “Cuba!” “Um…Russia?”

Again, solid guesses, but not quite on-target. We lead the students on a verbal tour of the Caribbean, ending with our Merengue country-of-origin, The Dominican Republic. All of the sudden, twenty-five kids tell us that this was the next thing they were going to guess.


“Why do we dance?”

Just like that, it’s time to wrap up our first lesson; time flies when you’re corralling fifth-graders.

By this point, these young ladies and gentlemen are not only able to make physical contact without groaning, they’re absolute pros. They’ve danced with several partners in full ballroom position, AND, as a bonus, have learned how to execute a proper “job interview handshake.” And thanks to the Merengue, their view of dance, culture, and geography has expanded as well. Their opinion of Mr. Danny’s jokes, however, remains the same.

“Why do ladies always begin with the right foot?” He pauses. Anticipation. He smiles. “Because the ladies are always right.”

And in true Mr. Danny fashion, he finds time to sneak in one final, beautiful lesson.

“Ladies and gentlemen...why do you think you’re taking dance class?” Hands go up, and he calls on them one-after-another. “To build confidence.” “To work better with others.” “So that we can win a trophy!”

“Well,” he says, “Just because you learn MATH does not mean you are going to grow up to be a mathematician. Just because you learn to WRITE does not mean you will necessarily grow up to be a writer. And just because you learn to DANCE doesn’t mean you have to grow up to become a dancer. But all of these things combined make you a stronger, better, more well-rounded person who has more options in life.”

At Conga Kids, there’s one thing we know for certain: empowering every student with the opportunity to explore the arts is the fastest, most effective way to expand their world-view. And when we, as a community, as a society, make that a priority — beautiful things can happen.

Zach Davidson