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McEver Arts Academy students get fit with African dance steps
McEver Arts Academy kindergartner Iovani Navarro claps his hand to the beat Friday while learning an African dance from a professional instructor. - photo by SARA GUEVARA

About 400 children tested their African dance moves Friday during a presentation by professional African dancer Mo Diakite of French Guynee.

"In Africa, we dance everyday," he explained to students at McEver Arts Academy. "If there's a job in a village, everyone comes to help. As we work, we sing and it makes us go quicker."

The kids jumped to their feet to dance along with Diakite as he showed them West African dances such as "sabar," which is typically danced at weddings. The assembly was held in the school's gym.

"It felt like it brought you to Africa with the rhythm," fifth- grader Genesis Reyes said.

Fifth-grade teacher Nina Idol, who invited Diakite to perform, said that dancing is an increasingly popular activity at the arts academy. Last year, McEver introduced "Zumbatomic," which is taught by Idol, for a fee, after school. The class is just like the dance and exercise program, Zumba, for adults, but the music and moves are catered to children.

About 50 students are enrolled in the program and school officials are looking at ways to make it a part of the in-school curriculum.

Idol believes that physical fitness has changed since she was a child, when dodgeball was the norm. Activities such as Zumbatomic promote lifelong fitness and keep children more engaged, she said.

"It helps build their self esteem and it might light a fire for their future when they get older. It could be a lifelong love," Idol said.

Fifth-grader Alexis Aldaco said the music is her favorite part of Zumbatomic class, which includes radio hits with safe lyrics.

"It makes it more fun," she said.

The students learn about two new dances a week, and she said it helps improve their flexibility, endurance and cardiovascular health.

"The kids are having fun and sometimes they don't realize they're getting a workout," Idol said.

As she teaches, Idol says students learn the history and culture behind the dance. She invited Diakite to give students a different cultural perspective since Zumba uses Latin rhythm, she said.

Diakite said he hopes the children will find ways to include dance in their everyday lives as well.