On Friday, Arbuckle students dressed in white shirts and black pants for their “Rojelio Dance,” a performance students at the school have done each for over 20 years.
Rojelio Viramontez has been coming to Arbuckle Elementary School since he was 19 years old, not as a subject teacher, but as a dance instructor.
Connecting the art of movement with life lessons, his motto for the students is, “If you earn it, you deserve it.” Viramontez said, “We chant that with the kids. We teach them about working hard, about the value of effort.”
The performance for students in first through fifth grade was held at the Pierce High School gym to better accommodate the massive number of people. Even then, the bleachers were packed. Grandmother Beth Johnson braved the top of the bleachers to make sure to not miss a single moment of the final performance of her granddaughter Roseita Johnson, a fifth grader, who according to her mother, has been “doing this since kindergarten.”
Families applauded, excited to see their students eloquently waltz or engage in a dance fight (ala modern West Side Story with a hip-hop flavor) or the merengue.
Viramontez said that by the time students reach the fifth grade, they will have gone through eight different types of music that not only cross cultures but time signatures.
“First, and second grade are basic calisthenic movements to teach them timing, and counts, and 4/4 breaks in the music,” Viramontez said.
“Then as they progress – depending on the style – it becomes like math. You always keep a couple of steps that are pretty basic to get them to do it on the beat, then you graduate.”
Tanner Miller, a second grader, practiced every night with his mom, teaching her the moves. Miller’s hard work earned him the title of “Captain” which he explained includes having to“teach the other kids”; and he helped his dance mates with his signature, “Kick-cross-kick.”
Viramontez said that the schools frequently insist on keeping the waltz as a part of the repertoire. Fifth grader Alexis Ambriz, 11, said the waltz was his favorite. Reported to have encouraged another student who was afraid to perform, Ambriz reassured the apprehensive peer that he, too, was once “scared” but he learned to love it, citing the fact that he “just grew up” as the reason for overcoming his anxieties.
In the second grade group, Tomas Corona, 8, despite his proclivity to shyness, was brave enough to perform for his mother. Another second grader, Francis Sweet, 7, remembers performing last year. Her favorite move this year was “bumping,” a good cardio activity for her physical education.
Teachers were also afforded the same opportunity, and six of them performed on Friday afternoon.
Viramontez claimed his purpose behind the dancing is setting a higher standard.
“If you teach them how to work hard, they’ll know the value. So in a nutshell, if you earn it, you deserve it. It is about work, and it is about understanding the value of knowing that you worked for it,” Viramonez reiterated. ■