Building Students’ Confidence Through Dance — cce4me.org
By Jodi La Marco
Bryant “Drew” Andrews, executive director of the Center for Creative Education, has a passion for dance. In 2002, the choreographer and teacher founded CCE’s Energy Dance Company, an award-winning dance troupe helping at-risk youth explore their latent potential. “Young people pretty much conjured it up because they felt it was important to compete, not because they wanted to tear each other down, but because they wanted to lift each other up and build community,” Drew explains.
Prior to signing on with CCE, Drew had already begun a career in dance education. His own experiences, he says, are what inspired him to reach students through the arts. “I started a business called Unique Fitness in 1999, which was a creative way to connect with young people and engage them in healthy physical activity. I started it because dance is pretty much what changed my life as a young person; staying focused on the arts, and having something to do that was creative spoke to the person I was at that time,” says Drew.
Though Drew has been with CCE since nearly the beginning, the organization was founded by composer and musician Evry Mann. Before starting the nonprofit, Mann directed a program for homeless students for the Seattle Public Schools, and also founded the youth performance ensemble, Percussion Orchestra of Kingston (POOK).
“I met Evry in 2001. That’s when we combined our two organizations,” Drew explains. Andrews’ and Mann’s blend of backgrounds are what ultimately shaped CCE’s variety of class offerings. “We came together because of our interests within the arts and because we wanted to create change for the marginalized young people in Kingston. He had music, I had dance. Our entire organization is based around creative education—teaching people through dance, music, theater, robotics, computer arts, technology, visual arts, and more.”
Students at CCE are often at-risk youth from low-income families, and 84 percent of students receive scholarship assistance. As a policy, the organization never turns a person away due to an inability to pay. In spite of economic hardships, Drew insists that his students are focused on achieving “academic and artistic excellence.” Energy Dance’s creative accomplishments are apparent in the numerous awards the group has racked up over the past few years. “We are the number one team in the Hudson Valley. We’ve competed in Ohio at the Arnold Schwarzenegger Sports Classic. They’ve won four times at the Apollo Theater in Harlem. They’ve been asked to tour Germany, twice,” says the proud teacher. “That’s why I brag about our team; they put the time and effort in, they have a love for the art, and they go to places like NYC and beat out other teams from throughout the country.”
The skills students learn through dance give them a sense of confidence and accomplishment. That not only helps kids to nail steps when preparing for a competition, it also gives them the tools they need to reach other goals. More than 95 percent of the organization’s students graduate from high school, and many go on to further their education. CCE has even partnered with Kingston High School to develop a Project Based Learning program. “Real education is drawing out what kids innately have within them,” says Drew. “They learn basic life skills—how to socialize, respect for other’s differences, persistence, teamwork, discipline, focus, autonomy, and mastery. Things like that are what I want young people and adults to take away from it. A lot of young people aren’t risk-takers. What we do at CCE is create a platform and we let them know that it’s OK to take risks and to not be perfect the first time. With love, persistence, consistency, and support, everyone usually steps up and rises to the occasion. Just like adults, we all get discouraged. I think we’ve created a community to support young people in any endeavor they want to pursue.”
CCE’s successful approach to teaching has been recognized not just in the Hudson Valley but around the world as well. “I’ve been asked to teach in places such as Cuba and Dubai because of our visibility and our relevance to the community. We are student-centered and culture focused, and our curriculum is based around that,” says Drew.
The organization holds morning, afterschool, and evening classes at locations in Kingston and Beacon. “We have several studios. We have one studio where we teach dance and fitness. We have a drum room. We have a music lab with computers where we work on composition and electronic music. We have another tutoring room for young kids, with computer arts technology and visual arts,” Drew says. CCE also offers all-ages classes, such as drumming and its multi-faceted dance-kickboxing-strength training class, DFX.
Drew also hopes to extend his service to the community beyond teaching and recently announced that he will be running for alderman of Kingston’s 7th Ward. “We need to strengthen our community by bringing more jobs to Kingston. I believe the foundation of any flourishing community should include education, arts, recreation, tourism and shopping,” he explains. “I plan to bring the community together by tackling issues affecting everyday people including economic development, after school programs for youth, infrastructure, transportation, and supporting our seniors.”