Mixon's tap dancers

Tap dancers in Coach Debbie Mixon’s Modern Dance class learned new steps earlier this year.

New for student dancers at Gordon Central High School: 22 pairs of tap shoes and classroom ballet bars.

Students in Coach Debbie Mixon’s modern dance classes and those who perform in the school’s theatrical productions now have the opportunity to learn to tap dance, thanks to a $1,000 grant from the Ratner Foundation. Mixon, who currently teaches a range of different dance styles, from ballet and ballroom dancing to zumba, said she is thrilled to be adding tap to her students’ repertoire — and not just because her students enjoy the chance to get a little noisy.

Tap, she said, has far more educational benefits than some might realize and is extremely beneficial to cognitive functioning. It increases memory and knowledge retention by forcing dancers to remember steps and step patterns. It also promotes balance, rhythm, timing and focus.

“You have to focus and pay attention to be good at tap. You have to practice actively putting memory to work, which in turn helps improve your retention of knowledge from other areas,” Mixon said. “Repeating steps over and over to develop your muscle memory and get specific movements exactly right helps you practice those memory skills.”

Currently, 36 students are enrolled in modern dance at Gordon Central. Another 20 students are dancers in the school’s performing arts program. All 56 of them, Mixon said, have loved learning a new style.

“Tap is kind of a dying art, but the kids really love it. They put on their shoes and they’re always ready to roll,” she said. “It takes a while to learn how to tap. Most people learn when they’re very young, but I was tickled by how quickly they caught on, especially the kids in the show.”

The “show” Mixon referenced is this year’s spring musical, “Newsies.” Practices for that show have been placed on hold due to local school closures, but she said she was impressed with how well students were learning at their last meeting. They were picking up the steps quickly and seemed eager to keep learning.

The big tap number in the show, “King of New York,” is what students were practicing before closures. Mixon said a lot of the choreography had been taught already. She hopes students are continuing to practice, just as she hopes practices and the show will be able to continue without continued delays.

“Newsies was going to be our spring show, but now it’s iffy because we just started rehearsing properly when all this started. We practiced once or twice a month during the year before and had about three or four good rehearsals before school was canceled,” she said. “I am looking forward to getting back to it, and I know the kids are too.”

Asked whether she might pursue other grants in the future to aid with the dance and performing arts programs, Mixon said she thought jazz shoes might be a good ask for next year’s round of grant applications.

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