Light on her feet, heavy on fun

Cathy Isaacks makes dance class a joy for students

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Jessica Pisana

Cathy Isaacks shows her 5th period class a new part of their hip-hop routine in the dance gym Jan. 19. In the four years since Isaacks arrived to teach dance at Red Oak Middle School, the program has exploded in popularity. The first year, she taught three classes; by the next year, she had a full schedule of dance. Currently, she has about 160 students.

It’s 7th period, and Cathy Isaacks’ dance students are learning a new hip-hop routine.

All eyes are on Isaacks as she explains the steps. After she finishes explaining, the music comes back on and the girls spread out to practice the moves. They move in close together to finish the routine.

In the four years since Isaacks arrived to teach dance at Red Oak Middle School, the program has exploded in popularity. The first year, she taught three classes; by the next year, she had a full schedule of dance. Currently, she has about 160 students.

“One of my favorite things is to have someone who has never danced before be in class because it helps to grow their confidence,” Isaacks said. “A lot of students, when they’re really new at this, they’re nervous about what to expect, and I really like to see those moments where they realize they can do it and they can perform and build that confidence and just have a good experience with it.”

Much of the class’ success has to do with Isaacks, which her students — like 8th grader Kylie Sutton — are all too happy to tell you.

“She’s a very inspirational teacher, and she never gives up on anybody,” Sutton said.

For some dancers, the class is a chance to be who they really are. This is the case for 8th grader Abby Ceballos.

“I think it’s fun, and I just get to be myself because nobody can judge me,” Ceballos said.

That’s exactly what Isaacks wants to hear. She said she tries to make the class a fun environment.

“I think … I hope … that it’s a place where my students feel accepted and loved. That they can be themselves but they can still learn,” Isaacks said. “I have very high expectations for them, and they know that, and when they do well, they are rewarded with fun performances and activities. I think it’s a good release from the everyday of having to sit. They get to participate and get up and move.”

Isaacks said one of her favorite things about getting new students in her dance class is seeing them gain confidence in themselves. Isaacks, who has been teaching dance since she was 18, wants to be a role model to her students and help them become the kind of dancers they hope to be. Last year, those efforts were noticed, as Isaacks was named “Teacher of the Year” for Red Oak Middle School.

“I was very honored and excited and surprised,” Isaacks said. “It just was very humbling to think that my efforts had been noticed.”

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