Sunday, May 27 , 2018, 8:17 am | Fair 59º


Noozhawk Talks: Derrick Curtis Dares to Teach Kids to Dance

Busting out an ambitious move with a new TV show, the longtime dance instructor is helping youth learn the steps that will last a lifetime

There’s a new kind of D.A.R.E. program in town, with an emphasis on rhythm and movement rather than roofies and marijuana.

Santa Barbara dance instructor Derrick Curtis is teaming up with Judy Scher to co-produce 'Dare Kids to Dance,' a TV show that will help local youth find their place on the dance floor.
Santa Barbara dance instructor Derrick Curtis is teaming up with Judy Scher to co-produce Dare Kids to Dance, a TV show that will help local youth find their place on the dance floor. (Valorie Smith / Noozhawk photo)

Dare Kids to Dance is a new teen reality show, but unlike Dancing with the Stars or So You Think You Can Dance, which focus on winning a competition, this show is aimed at getting kids moving, building their skills and self-esteem, and having fun. Dare Kids to Dance will begin airing locally online and on the Santa Barbara Channels’ Channel 17 in March.

“The show will talk about healthy lifestyles, positive things that people are doing,” said dance instructor Derrick Curtis, who is co-producing the show with Judy Scher. “We also want to bring in other artists in the community who are teens, such as musicians, singers, even dancers from other dance companies, just to expose them to the community because we have the means of doing that through the television.”

Curtis’ enthusiasm for dancing is infectious. Watching him explain the show to his third-grade students at Montessori Center School — who are a little young for the program, which will feature children ages 10 to 18 — you get the feeling that they can’t wait to get up and boogie.

“This show is not about how good you are as a dancer and it’s not about winning prizes,” he explained. “It’s about daring kids to get out and learn to dance, like you guys are.”

The show will also encourage people watching at home to get up and move with the music.

“We’ll be breaking down some steps,” he said. “That’s important if they are going to be doing this to at least be able to move their bodies in a way that they know what I’m talking about.

“Once they get that basic movement down, they then don’t have to think about it.”

Curtis, who came to Santa Barbara in 1985 to visit a girlfriend and never left, began his professional career as a recreational therapist for people with disabilities and has also worked with drug-addicted teens and adults, as well as coaching basketball at SBCC. He has been a ballroom dance instructor in Santa Barbara for the past 22 years and he and his wife and dance partner, Trudie Olson, teach youth dance programs at Cleveland and Ellwood schools and at Montessori Center School, where he serves as a physical education specialist and recreational therapist.

Hearing the band Big Bad Voodoo Daddy play at SOhO Restaurant & Music Club was what really peaked Curtis’ interest in ballroom dance.

“Once I heard the music I was like, this is it,” he said. “I started to dance with a lindy hop troupe, and then from there it just kind of went on. When I was doing work at Cottage Hospital as part of the wellness program, I would offer classes in dance to the employees and their family members. We started getting a lot of these kids coming — I was getting 90 and 100 kids — so that’s when I really started working with youth and teens.

“Dancing can have such a big impact on you when you’re young,” said Curtis, noting that many of his adult students say they wish they had learned to dance when they were children.

“Each show is going to focus on a different style of dance in the partner dance category of ballroom,” Curtis said. “So they’ll learn swing, they’ll learn foxtrot, they’ll learn waltz. The first two shows, we’re focusing on swing and waltz and the show will be taped two shows at a time.”

There will be a free, two-hour workshop for youths every month at the Santa Barbara Dance Center, 127-A W. Canon Perdido. Curtis often can be found there many evenings, teaching classes in ballroom dance such as nightclub two-step, salsa, Chicago two-step, West Coast swing, the cha cha slide, electric slide, the hustle, cotton-eye Joe, Virginia reel and the Macarena.

Derrick Curtis leads dance programs at several South Coast schools, guiding his young students through the cha cha and other popular ballroom dance steps.
Derrick Curtis leads dance programs at several South Coast schools, guiding his young students through the cha cha and other popular ballroom dance steps. (Valorie Smith / Noozhawk photo)

Curtis hopes to cover many styles in the workshops, too, including salsa, fox trot, cha cha, hip-hop line dancing, hustle, tango, rumba, meringue and samba. Each class will be filmed and 10 boys and 10 girls from each session will be chosen by lottery to participate in the studio part of the television show.

He emphasizes that no previous dance experience is necessary.

“Nobody knows what they are doing and the thing that we’re stressing to the kids is that you don’t need to know how to dance,” Curtis explained. “We’re daring you to come learn how. To get on the show they have to come to the workshop that we offer once a month for two hours, and that is where they’ll learn how to dance.”

The show, hosted by local teens Blake Ladd and Sara Weiner, will focus on a different dance each time. Professionals will guest star and demonstrate the techniques, and then the kids will take over, with Ladd and Weiner interviewing them as they go through the paces of learning something new.

“The hosts will be interviewing them as they are going through the experience and just talking to them candidly about the experience; whether they like it or dislike it, but at least they are being honest,” said Curtis.

“These are the experiences we need because this is what expands us as people, as human beings,” he said. “We’re really trying to encourage kids to get away from technology and do something different. Dancing is fun, but it also is great for health, physical fitness, teaching them about manners and behaving properly, self-esteem and self-confidence. In addition, they are just going to be developing more friendships because of kids from all over the city are going to be attending this.”

Dare Kids to Dance will run from March until August, and Curtis hopes to get a core group of 50 youths to participate. Click here for more information and a workshop schedule.

Noozhawk contributor Leslie Dinaberg can be reached at .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address). Follow her on Twitter: @LeslieDinaberg.

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