WEST ORANGE, NJ – The inaugural year of the West Orange High School Dance program “raised the barre” for students and dancers, and even more is planned in the 2017-18 school year.

Dance teacher Melissa Sande is more than up to the task of developing the program, which completed its first year of Dance I.

Sande received a Bachelor of Fine Arts from Montclair State University and her Masters in Education from Rutgers University. She is certified to teach dance K-12 in both New York and New Jersey.

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“The Dance I program content incorporated the four cornerstones of dance as art in education,” said Sande. “Students learned Dancing and performing (technical training), creating and composing (building a dance), knowing history, culture, and context, and analyzing and critiquing (developing a critical eye). As we begin the second year of the program we will have Dance I and Dance II, and students in Dance II will see the elements of performance skills and stage craft integrated into the program.”

For the 2017-18 school year, Sande expects nearly 80 students to participate, with two Dance II classes and four Dance I classes. Next year, the Dance III program will be developed as Dance II students move on.

Students interested in pursuing dance after high school comprise the bulk of students interested in studying dance—but athletes, artists and fledging dancers also took the courses. Jazz, step, ballet, hip-hop and modern dance were studied.

Two 2017 graduates, Cameron Bridgers and Kennedy Fort-Foske, were instrumental in the first year of the program. Bridgers represented the State of New Jersey at the NJPTA Reflections Art program, choreographing her own dance. She will be attending Temple University, majoring in Dance and studying Kinesiology.

“I am so grateful to Mr. Quagliato (Supervisor of Fine Arts) and Ms. Sande for giving me a place in the school where I could nurture my art and truly express myself in a comfortable setting,” said Bridgers. “I cannot wait to see where the future takes me, and wherever it does I know I’ll be dancing.”

Fort-Foskey will attend Drexel University and major in design and merchandising. She will minor in dance and perform with the Drexel Dance Team.

Rising Junior Jonathan Najera, who has studied dance for years, worked with Sande during the Summer Enrichment program and also choreographed his own dance performance. Several dance students worked with the cast of “The Little Mermaid” and interned during the Summer Enrichment program.

Sande and Quagliato represented West Orange at the “Making a Case for Dance” presentation at the Mason Gross School of the Arts at Rutgers-New Brunswick in December. Sande credits current Graduate Program of Dance Education and Acting Head of the Dance Department, Director Barbara Bashaw, with imparting a true love of dance education to her while working towards her Masters at Rutgers.

Like all fine arts programs at West Orange High School, the Dance Department will hold its first-ever Dance Recital in the coming school year. Sande said she is excited to begin her second year as dance teacher and thanked Principal Hayden Moore for the opportunity to teach.

“This is such a special place,” said Sande of the high school. “It already feels like home.”