15 elementary children sit cross legged in a large circle on a wooden gymnasium floor. They are all wearing shorts and short sleeve shirts. One youth is holding a white ball. There is string being held by all students connecting them and making a spider web type pattern in the middle of the circle.

Youth Engagement

Studies show that children who engage with the arts can experience lifelong benefits, including higher attendance and graduation rates, higher median income and lower poverty rates. When you add in the elements of social-emotional learning to arts programming, we have the opportunity to help build a community of lifelong lovers of art who are kinder, more compassionate and understand the value of arts in their lives.

After-School Programming

Our after-school youth programs serve childhood, elementary and middle school students across the metro during the school year. Our teaching artists provide a diverse array of meaningful and engaging creative arts activities during these Out of School-Time hours. These programs reach more than 3,000 students a year and are made possible through funding from The Sherwood Foundation, Collective for Youth and The Jetton Foundation. WhyArts partners with 30+ OPS schools as well as the NorthStar Foundation, Nelson Mandela School, Jesuit Academy, Kids Can, Completely Kids and others.

Dancing Classrooms

Dancing Classrooms, developed in 1994, introduces students to ballroom dance, which they can enjoy throughout life. It’s also a specific method of teaching dance that’s designed to increase social and emotional development through teamwork, mutual respect and discipline among diverse classmates. Instruction occurs in the form of a 10-week residency within the structure of a regular school day. Through the mastery and performance of six basic ballroom dances, students:

  • Develop a greater sense of confidence, civility, tolerance and patience within themselves and for each other
  • Improve their fitness and coordination as they focus their physical energy on rhythmic movement to music
  • Broaden their knowledge of the artistic, cultural, historic and geographic elements of the six dances

In 2006, Omaha became an official Dancing Classrooms location – the first city outside of New York to offer the program. Today, Dancing Classrooms operates in 60 classrooms at 33 schools throughout Omaha, serving more than 2,000 students annually. It is free to the student and is all-inclusive. If requested, students are provided with free dress clothes for the performances.

Our proprietary program develops the best of what academics call Social Emotional Learning or SEL, life skills like motivation, grit, connection and listening that help us relate, interact and advance as respectful, empathetic human beings in a coarsening world.

Year after year, school principals, teachers and families have witnessed the elevated self-esteem, shared experience and engagement of each Dancing Classrooms student that propels enhanced performance in- and out-of-school in the semesters that follow.

Even in a virtual and socially-distanced world, we’ve heard time again that our program results in better student performance and engagement in the classroom and beyond.

Cultivates Key Behavioral Skills

In 10 weeks, the Dancing Classrooms residency supports effective learning and student ownership of their learning, with 95% of students seeing increased engagement and motivation. 89% increase in self-discipline and focus.

10 Weeks to Strong Neural Connectivity

The arts make your brain grow. Participating in the arts for as little as 10 weeks has been shown to increase the resiliency and neural connectivity of the brain, making for increased self-awareness and better memory processing.

Develops Social and Collaborated Skills and Relationships

The program enhances social confidence through partnering with and supporting classmates and adults. 93% strengthened collaborative and team skills. 71% demonstrated greater social confidence.

Contributes to a More Active Lifestyle

Dancing Classroom’s program allows children to have another avenue to be physically active in addition to physical education classes. This contributes to helping children meet the necessary 60 minutes of moderate to vigorous physical activity daily and may encourage healthy lifelong activity habits.

Sources: Artresearch – researcher observations (2016)

americansforthearts.org American Journal of Health Promotion, January/February 2012, Vol 26, No.

WhyArts Saturday Academy

WhyArts’ Saturday Arts Academy is a continuation and an all-arts expansion of the 20-lesson social-emotional learning (SEL) Dancing Classrooms curriculum, designed to foster a growth mindset. 

In spring 2022, the program was expanded to incorporate visual and theatre arts, broadening its scope to attract students who are interested in those art forms. It incorporates a similar teaching model to the Dancing Classrooms program, all participants are provided with free door-to-door bus transportation, and every student is provided with a well stocked, take-home art kit with the goal of fostering diversity, equitable participation, and inclusion.

The program is open to students grades 4-12 from our current roster of participating Omaha metropolitan schools. The classes are separated by age group. The program consists of six three-hour workshops held on Saturday mornings. It is offered three times per year in the fall, winter, and spring. Classes are held at an accessible partner site bringing together students from all over the district to meet and work as a diverse group.

Students rotate through the following classes:

Dancing Classrooms

This established ballroom dancing method for students was incorporated into WhyArts’ program lineup after a successful merger with Arts in Motion. Dancing Classrooms is not all about teaching ballroom dancing. The dance is a tool for getting children to break down social barriers, learn about honor and respect, treat others carefully, improve self-confidence, communicate, cooperate, and accept others even if they are different. The Saturday Academy Program takes students into more challenging territory in regards to both dance steps and social interaction. More is expected of students in terms of responsibility, leadership, and teamwork, and the group has more performance opportunities.

Theatre Arts 

Through collaborative theatre games and exercises, the students develop their creative thinking and problem-solving skills. The class exposes students to different cultures and ideas while helping them develop empathy. The students learn to appreciate and respect people from all walks of life. The workshops help build confidence. The very act of getting up on stage and performing in front of an audience helps improve presentation and communication skills.

Visual Arts

The main unit themes are art media exploration (paint, pencil, color pencil, and pastel), design principles (value, line, color, shape, space and texture), and design elements (movement, contrast, balance, focal point, rhythm, unity, and scale). The class fosters curiosity and develops a future mindset. Students in these workshops learn how to use the arts to express their feelings, uncover abilities they didn’t know they had, and discover new aspects of their personal creativity.

Saturday Academy aligns perfectly with each point of our mission and value statements. The method used to teach ballroom dance empowers young people to break down cultural barriers by gently moving dancers into respectful physical contact and encouraging respectful communication between partners and other dancers. Dance formation is a circle, everyone is equal, and dancers constantly change partners so they learn to treat everyone with equal respect. Communication, both verbal and non-verbal, is a constant necessity to achieve success in the dance. Each dance begins with, “May I have this dance?” to which the partner replies, “With pleasure,” then young dancers learn to trust physical cues from their partners as they lead and follow. Critical thinking and cooperation are constantly required to solve problems, analyzing performance and figuring out how to fix problems or improve. Children from varied backgrounds, origins and abilities can find familiarity in the multicultural dances and music, and each child can contribute his or her own unique understanding and style to each dance.

Similarly, the visual arts and theatre arts components focus on respectful communication, self-expression in a safe and welcoming environment, and inclusion of all students regardless of their abilities.

Saturday Academy is designed to eliminate economic barriers, allowing a broad spectrum of children to take advantage of the experience. All classes are completely free for students, and we plan to host them at the University of Nebraska at Omaha, which is easily accessible. Students who lack transportation are bussed for free from their door to the campus, and back to their door at the end of each session. They are also provided with a free healthful snack at the end of each session. Finally, each student receives an art kit valued at $100 that they use throughout the program, leaving the kits on-site during the program as it encourages them to return for every session. At the end of the program, after a newly-introduced closing ceremony, they get to take their kits home so they can continue to practice their skills outside of the program.

WhyArts teaching artists are trained in teaching the Social and  Emotional Learning (SEL) competencies of self-awareness, self-management, responsible decision making, social awareness, and relationship skills. SEL develops positive behavior by teaching a range of communication and social skills to interact effectively, cultivates constructive relationships with others, and Identifies and demonstrates approaches to addressing interpersonal conflict.

Additionally,  our artists receive diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI) training with the goal of building bridges within and among communities to foster a culture of respect, trust and understanding, centering on people’s lived experiences and culture, helping them become their best and most authentic selves.

To develop positive caring adult relationships, the same WhyArtist will be at each session to build trust and foster mentor/mentee relationships. Our staff understands that students are then less likely to have externalizing behavior problems (e.g. bullying) and internalizing problems (e.g. depression). They are more likely to complete tasks they start, remain calm in the face of challenges, show interest in learning new things, volunteer in the community, engage in physical activities, participate in out-of-school time activities, and be engaged in school.

For more information on any of our programs, please contact info@whyartsinc.org