Rachel Handren began working for the Parks and Rec Center daycare program about six years ago. As a child, Rachel’s family moved around a lot. As a result, she made friends with children from many different cultures. Her childhood also included being involved with dance. She began lessons in fourth grade, participating in dance competitions and public performances. Rachel’s Northwest Como Rec supervisor, aware of her dance background and her ability to connect with children from many different cultures decided she would be the perfect person to develop and direct a dance program for children at this center.
Rachel began with creative movement classes for children aged 3-5; for elementary aged children she created jazz, ballet and hip hop classes. Classes were held once per week from September through May. As the program grew in popularity, Rachel expanded with more classes. During the summer when classes aren’t typically held, she began holding dance workshops to keep the momentum going. Last year, she added a dance competition league. This league competes in local competitions against private dance studios. Their competitors come from studios that are designed for dance with mirrored walls, ballet bars, etc. as opposed to the Rec Center gym used in Rachel’s classes. To help cover the cost of competition entrance fees, they have a fund raising booster club, set up snack tables, etc. They plan to have a fund raising chair for next season. There are 90+ students now involved in Rec dance classes and the competition league.
Besides teaching children to dance, Rachel’s goal is helping them become more fit. The competition league dancers took a baseline fitness test at the beginning of the year and then set their goals. Each class spent 15-20 minutes on strength, conditioning and flexibility exercises. They were required to practice routines and exercise outside of class as “practice makes progress”. By the end of the first year, every single dancer beat their own personal goal while also growing in the intricate skills it takes to be a competition dancer. The valuable skill of working as part of a team was also learned.
Rachel says she is so incredibly proud of how hard her students work especially on their own personal fitness goals and how they encourage each other to do better. She has dreams of having a real, dedicated space for the dancers in the future. We recognize Rachel for sharing her enthusiasm in bringing the joy of movement and fitness to so many kids, making a difference in their lives.