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Guilford Park High School Launches Dance Program, Builds Community

January 18th, 2024

A group of GPHS dancers dancing against a red screen.

Heather Haffey spent the last 18 years teaching dance at Atholton High School—a position she loved. But when the opportunity to start a dance program at Guilford Park High School opened up, she couldn’t pass it up.

“I saw it as a chance to bring dance to a new community and be involved in creating something from the ground up,” she explains.

This fall, Haffey welcomed 70 students hailing from six different middle and high schools to the GPHSdance program. Some were first-time dancers; others had danced before.

A GPHS dancer doing a dance move on the floor.

Haffey has embraced this diversity and encouraged her students to do the same. Guided by the mantra “Dream it. Believe it. Build it. DANCE it,” which appears on the bulletin board inside her classroom, she has challenged her students to not only think about what GPHS dance should look like, but also to believe in their collective ability to achieve that vision. At the same time, she has encouraged her students to put the hard work in to build and achieve their dreams through dance.

“It’s all part of us defining ‘the GPHS way’ in dance,” Haffey explains. “While we all come in with different experiences, we share a common goal for the future: to build a dance program environment that is creative, supportive, respectful, kind, non-judgmental, and fun!”

A GPHS dancer doing a flip in the air.

Students at GPHS are enjoying being part of the new dance program, and the sense of community it has built.

Ashlee Robinson, a freshman in the GPHS Junior Dance Company, says, “It means a lot to me to be a part of the first dance community. The family that I have built with these dancers is everything to me.”

A group of GPHS dancers striking a pose.

Sophomore Juliana Johnson agrees.

“Dance is my life. Being able to be in this amazing community of dancers in a company at a brand new school is amazing and fun being with my friends.”

“I feel honored to say I was one of GPHS first dancers,” adds sophomore Amani McLean, who is enrolled in GPHS’ Dance I class. “This class brings so many different people together, people you think you would never talk or hangout with on a regular day. I’ve met lots of people that I can definitely call my friends in this program.”

A GPHS dancer leaping in the air.

McLean says that being in the dance program—and learning from Haffey—has also made her look forward to going to school. As she notes, “Having dance 1st period seems like a lot, but it’s the highlight of my day, it gives me the motivation to come to school every morning. You think you know all about dance until you hit the studio, everyday she taught us new things, opening our minds to different ways to move our body, and flow to the music.”

In addition to the efforts made by her students, Haffey credits her dance teacher colleagues in the district for helping to get the dance program at GPHS off the ground.

“They have let us borrow things we needed and been there to support us all the way along,” she says.

A group of GPHS dancers leaning in a pose.

Haffey also notes that she’s received strong support for her program from the GPHS community.

“Everyone who came to work at GPHS knew that we were starting from square one and that it would take a lot of work. But from day one, we all came in with the same goal: to make a positive impact on our students.”

GPHS dance students performed together on stage for the first time in December. Their next performance is scheduled for the spring.