Heads up, shoulders forward, some of the dancers laughed as they zombie-walked toward the audience to Michael Jackson's “Thriller.”
A man dressed in a wizard costume had just fixed the audio, ending an uncomfortable silence that had left the young performers standing in a quiet dance hall.
The Life Change Ballroom Dancers were in the midst of an exhibition for the Ballroom Dance Club of OKC's Halloween Party. They tore through a tango before gliding to the music of Frank Sinatra and Adele. They were focused and rehearsed, and even though they'd done it many times before, no one was bored.
Sharon Hoover, president of the Ballroom Dance Club, said they enjoy Life Change performances because club members get to see some very talented kids, and the young dancers get applauded for their hard work.
“We have them here as often as we can get them,” she said.
Life Change's Youth Empowerment and Leadership Program offers scholarships to 21 teens and preteens. The students come from neighborhoods with gang activity and other societal problems.
“It's a leadership program in disguise,” said Celeste Cotton, a sophomore at Casady High School. “We're all really close here, and we're a family.”
The students first encountered dancing in the fifth grade when a separate Life Change program brought instructors to their elementary schools.
That's how they learned basics such as the fox-trot, salsa, meringue, rumba, tango, cha-cha and swing. Teachers identified a few who seemed especially interested, and those students were considered for the leadership program, Director Cindy Pipkin said.
The dancers range from sixth-graders to high school juniors.
From the first practice it's a sink-or-swim environment. Every Saturday during the school year they meet for five hours to rehearse at Britton Christian Church. When the school year is done, they will be there three days a week. Many also come to tutoring on Tuesdays and Thursdays.
“All these little life lessons are in dance,” Pipkin said.
“They just learn these social skills that are going to serve them for the rest of their lives.”
D'angelo Eason, a junior at Centennial High School, joined the crew six years ago when YELP was just getting started. He couldn't dance at this year's Halloween party because of an injury, but he showed up to cheer on his friends.