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For a Can of Food, Teens Teach Dance to Kids

Sandburg students Jennifer Coners and Viktoria Rekasius combine their passions for dancing, working with children and helping people in need into a dance class for kids. A canned food donation is all that’s needed for entry.

Editor's note: This story has been selected for Huffington Post's Greatest Person of the Day. See this story and others on the Greateast Person page.

Viktoria Rekasius takes three quick steps ahead of a group of kids watching, and then leaps into the air, landing lightly and with balance back on her feet.

With the forward momentum, Rekasius jumps twice more before turning around and facing the children, ages 6 to 10. One girl already mimicks her movements.

“OK, everyone line up, and let’s see if you can do what I just did,” Rekasius said.

One by one, the 12 kids gathered at the  building eagerly run to the other side of the room, taking small hops into the air, trying their best to copy Rekasius’ movements.

“This isn’t about getting the steps perfect, especially not at their ages,” said Jennifer Coners, who teaches the with Rekasius. “But if they can remember enough to build on it, they really progress and quickly. We also want them to have fun with it.”

Rekasius and Coners, both sophomores at , were looking for a way to put their passions for dance, working with children and community service together. Both have been avid dancers since age 4, when they took classes in Oak Lawn together in between homemade performances for their families.

Now as teenagers, the two have each earned the Cook County Sheriff’s Office Medal of Honor for putting in more than 100 service hours apiece in their community.

“We both knew we loved working with kids and we loved dancing,” Rekasius said. “This was a way we could put that together and give something back while we’re at it.”

The weekly, hour-long class is free, though families are encouraged to bring a non-perishable food donation for the Orland Township Food Pantry.  The children will learn dance moves, eventually building to choreography to put on a performance for their parents.

Dancing leaves out a lot of the competitive aspects found in other sports, while still giving children an opportunity to be physical, Coners said. And supporting the pantry only fueled more parents to enroll their kids, Coners said.

“Doing community service taught me that people always do need help,” Rekasius said. “It’s not fair to have so much in your community and not give back.”

Friends, Not Bosses

Coners and Rekasius are perpetually busy. It is common for both to work three jobs each while tending to schoolwork, teaching the weekly class and still participating in the .

Both found they also liked interacting with young children while babysitting.

“I decided I wanted to become a teacher because I just love working with them,” Rekasius said. “I don’t think everyone can connect with kids. It’s sad to say but plenty of people don’t really have the patience or kindness. Working with them reminds me of growing up.”

Coners was a self-described “shy child” growing up, and can relate to the children who have a harder time opening up and joining group activities.

“You have to put yourself in their shoes,” Coners said. “People would try to talk to me, and I wouldn’t say anything back. So if you talk to them like you’re one of them it helps them get through and open up.”

It can be challenging to hold the attention of at least 12 children and teach them the dance moves, but as Rekasius said, patience is key.

“Not everyone will get the moves at first, and that’s fine,” Rekasius said. “You’re going to have to go through it a couple times. Some will want to just do their own thing, but eventually you can bring them in. I think acting like their friend works instead of trying to boss them around. It helps build a connection.”

Synchronized Steps

The response was overwhelmingly positive after the first February class.

“Everyone was laughing and smiling,” Rekasius said. “The parents too. They were taking pictures and asking about more classes. It was such a blast.”

While the goal is to teach the kids enough dance steps to choreograph a performance in the summer, both Coners and Rekasius want the students to have fun in the process.

“They were all having fun and that’s what counted,” Coners said. “And this is just the start. We were just showing them the basic skills.”

Giving back to a community that has given much to them is another added bonus, Rekasius said.

“I think knowing that someone in society will give back is a big comfort,” Rekasius said. “I’m grateful for what the community can offer me. This is our way of saying thanks.”

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