Sounds of music erupt from the Española Valley High school’s gym as children dressed as insects — and others costumed in matching overalls — jump, clap and raise their arms in the air for their end-of-year dance production, part of the National Dance Institute (NDI) of New Mexico’s Dancing to Health Outreach Program.
“If you do this, you can express yourself and let all your energy out and have a good day,” said Natalya, a participant of NDI New Mexico’s end-of-year production.
The program focuses on children who may not have access to resources and tools that advocate health and wellness to prevent or decrease childhood obesity, chronic illnesses and the many negative health impacts associated with poverty. To aid in NDI New Mexico’s program, Blue Cross and Blue Shield of New Mexico (BCBSNM) awarded the nonprofit a $20,000 grant from its Healthy Kids, Healthy Families® initiative, an ongoing commitment to invest and partner with nonprofit organizations that offer sustainable, measurable programs in nutrition, physical activity, disease prevention and management, and supporting safe environments.
The Dancing to Health Outreach Program is a six-month initiative that serves nearly 500 kindergarteners and third through eighth graders in the Española and Pojoaque Valley school districts. Students attend weekly classes taught by Teaching Excellence®-trained NDI New Mexico instructors, accompanied by professionally trained pianists. The high-energy lessons feature movement and choreography, including warm-up and at-home exercises.
“It’s really looking at bringing classes into the school each week where students are motivated to get up and exercise, work as a team and learn about healthy substrates of living, good nutrition, social and emotional learning and the importance of activity,” said Jennifer Venegas, the grant manager for NDI New Mexico.
The program includes education on healthy foods and emphasizes positive behaviors and attitudes, such as self-discipline, confidence, tenacity, focus, teamwork and personal excellence.
“Fundamental to NDI New Mexico’s mission is the understanding that the arts can engage and motivate children,” said NDI New Mexico Executive Director Russell Baker. “Our health-building, academically engaging, inspiring programs are designed to build character, confidence and a resilience that carries over into all aspects of children’s lives. We’re grateful to Blue Cross and Blue Shield of New Mexico for its support and look forward to having fun with the students as we encourage them to embrace NDI New Mexico’s Core Four: Work Hard, Do Your Best, Never Give Up and Be Healthy.”
NDI New Mexico started in 1994 and served 100 children at one school; now the institute reaches 7,500 children annually in 87 schools across the state. Grants help expand the reach of such impactful programming for children in underserved communities. BCBSNM’s partnership with nonprofit organizations like NDI New Mexico creates a healthier environment for the next generation.
“NDI New Mexico’s innovative program provides engaging dance-based physical activity to children who may not otherwise have access,” said BCBSNM President Janice Torrez. “Blue Cross and Blue Shield of New Mexico believes that by investing in the health and wellness of our children, we are creating a better future for all New Mexicans.”