The undead came to life in the YWCA’s gym last week.
With Michael Jackson’s “Thriller” playing from a boom box, a dozen kids writhed, shimmied, stomped and danced. The children are part of the YWCA After-School Program which serves children enrolled in Spokane Public School’s Homeless Education and Resource Team program.
For most of these kids, private dance classes are beyond their reach, but thanks to Cindy Hamilton, they are in the midst of rehearsing for their debut performance at the Bing Crosby Theater.
In the early ’90s Hamilton founded HYPER-Formance Jazz Dance Club, a nonprofit organization whose guiding principle is that dancing should be for everyone “regardless of age, gender, financial status, physical or mental disability.” The organization was the recipient of the Chase Youth Commission award for Creativity in 2006.
“I’ve been dancing since I was about 5, and teaching since I was 10,” Hamilton said. “Everyone should be able to dance.”
Hamilton has no studio; instead she teaches at several locations including Libby Center, West Central Community Center, Edgecliff Community Center and the 4-H building near the fairgrounds. HYPER-Formance is an official 4-H club.
Her students are diverse in background and age. “We’ve got dancers from 4 to 74,” she said. Many of her adult performers come from the South Hill Kiwanis Club. Hamilton said, “You don’t stop dancing when you’re 18.”
Megan Weishaar agreed. She started taking lessons from Hamilton at age 8. Seventeen years later she’s still dancing with HYPER-Formance. “Dance classes can be so expensive,” Weishaar said. “I think it’s great that Cindy gives a lot of people a chance to dance they wouldn’t ordinarily have.”
For Anecia and Nathan Tarbert, dancing is now a family experience. Anecia said when their oldest daughter was 4 she began taking lessons from Hamilton. “I drove in from Loon Lake to the West Central Community Center,” she recalled. This year she and her husband, as well as two of their three daughters, will appear in the big show. “You really can’t say no to Cindy,” said Tarbert with a laugh. “She grabbed Nathan and me, and it was just so much fun. She’s crazy and silly and a fantastic choreographer.”
But Hamilton offers more than dance instruction. “I teach a drama class on Sundays, where the kids write their own stories,” she said.
Each year she brings her classes together for a combined performance. “It’s community theater on a shoestring budget,” she said. “I describe it as Ham on Regal meets ‘Spanky and Our Gang’.”
The show is more musical theater than dance recital, but the YWCA class focused on perfecting their dance moves.
“Booty out, bend your knees. Booty bounce, close it. Five, six, seven, eight,” Hamilton called from the front of the room. Across the scuffed, taped gym floor, the children shuffled and stomped.
“C’mon, it’s fun!” Hamilton coaxed.
“Actually, it’s funny,” said one preteen boy with a sigh as he worked hard to master the routine. Others were more enthusiastic.
Eleven-year-old Shaena Tyree said she enjoys the class. “I like the moves!”
In addition to “Thriller,” the group practiced Aerosmith’s “Walk This Way.” Damian Montclair, 9, preferred that number. “It’s more easier,” he said.
Eight-year-old Desire Scott has never taken a dance class before. Her brown eyes shone and she flashed a wide grin. “We’re gonna dance in front of like, 700 people!” she said, referring to the upcoming performance.
“It’s going to be really scary,” asserted 10-year-old BriAnna Offt. “But I like scary things.”
As the lesson concluded, Hamilton had to hustle out the door in order to make it to her next class. She isn’t paid for her time or for her mileage, but her reason for teaching the classes is simple. “I do it because no one else will.”
Thanks to HYPER-Formance, many kids will get their moment in the spotlight – kids like Shaena Tyree who said, “I’ve wanted to take a dance class since fourth grade.” She paused and looked down at her scuffed shoes. “But I haven’t been able to before.”