University City

University City YMCA dance program grows to one of the region’s largest

Jenny Griffes, coordinator of University City YMCA’s dance program, hopes students learn more than just dance steps during their time in class. “I invest a lot in them, and I want them to be successful,” said Griffes. “It’s not just about dancing. It’s about setting goals, teamwork, managing their time, and being responsible for their costumes.”
Jenny Griffes, coordinator of University City YMCA’s dance program, hopes students learn more than just dance steps during their time in class. “I invest a lot in them, and I want them to be successful,” said Griffes. “It’s not just about dancing. It’s about setting goals, teamwork, managing their time, and being responsible for their costumes.”

Most dance moms and dads don’t want their kids to learn how to twerk. In fact, the idea of watching their little ones gyrate on stage to risqué-themed songs makes them want to cringe.

That’s one of the reasons Jenny Griffes thinks the University City YMCA’s dance program has grown to be one of the largest in the region. The program, which serves about 500 students annually, strives to create the kind of entertainment and atmosphere any family could enjoy.

“There’s no twerking involved,” said Griffes, the program’s coordinator. “All of the music is age appropriate and very clean.”

Griffes, who trained as a dancer in her youth and as a dance instructor as an adult, has led the program for 18 years, shortly after her own daughters signed up for dance classes there.

Back then, the program was so small it occupied one group exercise room. “It was just 30 kids at the time,” said Griffes. “You could line them all up down the hallway without much trouble.”

She worked to grow the program, hiring instructors with a diversity of skills to teach all kinds of children to dance, not just those with the stereotypical dancer’s body.

Anne Robinson, 21, took her first dance class there when she was 5 years old and stayed for the next 14 years. She credits dance lessons with helping her overcome a physical disability that affected her gross motor skills.

“I had delayed myelination as a kid, so it definitely helped me physically,” said Robinson. “Jenny was really good about working with me to make sure I was accomplishing the goals that they had set and making sure I was having fun.”

Ellen Halka has watched her children, Victoria, 13, and Ashley 9, benefit from the classes in ways other than just dance techniques.

“Outside, it helps them manage their time, manage their homework and brings to the classroom the ability to read and talk in front of others,” she said. “It’s always been a very positive experience and it goes beyond teaching the children to dance it. It teaches them to build self-confidence.”

Today, the program has 11 instructors and offers more than 40 different classes throughout the year. Griffes makes sure those without financial means can participate in any of them through scholarships. A costume and shoe recycling program also helps cut costs for all children in the program.

Griffes has watched plenty of students grow up in front of her eyes inside the dance studio.

“You have these individual moments when they’re on stage and you see them be so confident,” she said. “It’s not necessarily about nailing the routine, but seeing them have fun, be confident and feel good about themselves.”

Robinson outgrew the program a few years ago, and like most seniors, her exit included a solo dance at her final recital. It was an experience she said served as a culmination of all she had learned, both as a dancer and an individual.

“Finishing my solo, and the feeling that I had walking away from it – it’s just this feeling that I’ll always remember,” she said. “It’s a wonderful, warm feeling, and it’s something that no one can take away from me.”

Lisa Thornton is a freelance writer: lisathornton@followmylede.com

Learn more:

University City YMCA dance program is held at the YMCA, 8100 Old Mallard Creek Road, Charlotte and includes ballet, tap, jazz, hip hop and acrobatics. The program is for 18 months to 18 years. Registration ends Dec. 15. For information, contact Jenny Griffes at 704-716-6780 or jenny.griffes@ymcacharlotte.org or go to www.ymcacharlotte.org

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