Taking the Stage

How the JCC Helped My Child Discover Herself

By Deborah Harburger

“I’m going to perform at the talent show this year.” “You are? With friends?” “Nope, by myself.” “What are you going to do?” “I’m going to dance.” 

That is essentially how the conversation with my 9-year-old daughter, Molly, went earlier this fall. For the first time, she wanted to be part of the annual K-8 talent show at The Mount Washington School.

She quickly selected the song and immediately began choreographing her dance. Although she asked her JCC Hip Hop Instructor, Ms. Grace, for some guidance, she did not reach out for help until after she had already choreographed the first minute of the dance herself.

Other than the recommendations from Ms. Grace, Molly choreographed the entire dance without any assistance. Her father and I repeatedly asked to see her practice her dance, but she refused to let us see it until the talent show.

The night of the talent show, she went up on the stage in the Poly-Western High School auditorium. We held our breath as the music began. She launched into her dance with poise, confidence, talent and skill, and we (as well as her 12-year-old brother, Jack) could not have been prouder!

Molly’s love of dance is part of a larger story of engagement in children’s programming at Baltimore’s Jewish Community Centers. Both of our children are alumni of the Meyerhoff Early Childhood Education Center at the Weinberg Park Heights JCC and are JCamps’ campers every year.

While in preschool, Molly had the opportunity to take ballet during the day at the JCC. Later, she would go on to take it on Sundays at Park Heights and, for the past several years, she has taken dance at the Rosenbloom Owings Mills JCC. One of the clear strengths of the JCC’s children’s programming is their focus on core values. Although she benefited from the skills taught by instructors over the years, when asked what she likes best about taking dance at the JCC, Molly’s response was, “I like that they tell you that you don’t have to get it right the first time.”

Molly’s confidence in her own abilities has been strengthened by how the classes are taught and how the children are treated and encouraged to treat each other. Whether it was her wonderful introductory experience to the JCC’s Children’s Theater program this winter (she played Storyteller 1, a bird and a knight in Shrek’s Fairytale Friends) or amazing times she has at JCamps every summer, Molly is supported to try new things, expand on her skills, have fun and be a kind and helpful friend.

Every year, our challenge is figuring out how to squeeze in as many different camps as possible through JCamps before she heads to Capital Camps, always making sure to get at least one session of Habimah (the arts camp) in every summer. Our whole family appreciates the variety offered by JCamps—there’s something for everyone.

Molly and Jack both love Live it Up! (offered at the beginning of the summer with a variety of cooking, nature, and athletics) and Molly had a great time out at Pearlstone’s Tiyul Adventure Camp last year. Jack has always been a fan of Sports Camp and Tennis Camp and is excited for his first year as a TNT (Top Notch Teen).

Molly is already planning how she might do things differently in next year’s school talent show and is adamant about being part of the Children’s Theater again (in addition to her dance classes, of course). Maybe, if we are lucky, some of Jack’s JCC Maccabi Jr soccer practices this spring will coincide with Molly’s hip hop classes or Mini Maccabi Soccer practices. If not? It is worth it. We have definitely become a JCC family and would not want it any other way.

Deborah Harburger, her husband, Noah, and their two children, Jack (12) and Molly (9), live in Mt. Washington in Baltimore City and are members of Chizuk Amuno Congregation. Deborah is on the Board of Jewish Volunteer Connection (JVC) Baltimore, serves as a yoetzet (member of the camper care team) at Capital Camps, and is on the Mount Washington School Family Council. She is a faculty member at The Institute for Innovation & Implementation at the University of Maryland School of Social Work.

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