by Noor Hindi

As a kid, Kara Stewart was often shy and reserved around people. But when she fell in love with dance, her confidence grew, and she felt that she’d found her voice.

Today, Kara is helping hundreds of kids in Akron and beyond express themselves through dance, like she once did. She founded ArtSparks six years ago because she saw a need for dance education. Since the beginning, they’ve worked with school districts to integrate dance into the curriculum.

“So many students don’t feel success in the school setting,” says Kara. “And if they can find that one class or that one activity that makes them feel successful with their peers, we know then that they want to come to school on the day they have that activity. They want to be at the front of the class, they want to take risks they wouldn’t have taken otherwise.”

ArtSparks teaches choreography to classrooms using a team of two professional dancers and a musician. Their programs are combined with a school’s core curriculum to provide students a unique way of accessing their learning. For example, they have a literature program called Leaping through Literature and a math program titled Marvelous Math which combines lessons about multiplication and division with dance.

Kara, who is trained in ballet and classical ballet and teaches dance at the University of Akron, says she hopes ArtSparks gives students a greater appreciation for the art of dance.

“We’re not out there to create dancers, but to give children the opportunity to experience the art first-hand,” she says.

Most recently, the GAR Foundation awarded ArtSparks a grant for a 15-week art and music program named “Ready, Spark, Kindergarten.” The program is targeted at kindergarten readiness and will focus on literature, books and bringing the lessons to “life kinesthetically” because “a lot of students need to move to think.”

Kara says ArtSparks instructors are often amazed at the growth the students show by the end of the programs.  

“We have incredible stories,” says Kara. “Often, it’s the boys. They come in the first day and they’re rolling their eyes and they’re in the back row and they’re just not sure about it. There’s a preconceived notion that if you’re a boy you shouldn’t do that sort of thing. And somewhere along the line they realize how athletic and fun and joyful dance can be.”

Right now, Kara is excited for ArtSparks’ “We are Stars” program. On April 25, about 400 third-grade students from Cuyahoga Falls City School District will perform a show about the planets, open to the public. ArtSparks has been working with the Cuyahoga Falls district since September to prepare for the performance.

ArtSparks students also have a performance at Firestone High School on Thursday, May 16 for their We are STARS: Dynamite Duos.

For more information about ArtSparks and future events, visit artsparksdance.org.

Noor Hindi is The Devil Strip’s Senior Reporter. Contact her at noor@thedevilstrip.com.

Featured photo courtesy of ArtSparks. Used with permission.

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