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No life is complete until you’ve seen your elementary school custodian dance Gangnam style.
Last June, new teachers assigned to Tom McCall Elementary School in Redmond discovered that life truth in an unexpected way. Invited to the year-end staff breakfast, where they expected a meal and a feel-good tribute to staff members leaving the school, they were unprepared when the event dissolved into a full-on dance party.
“We pretty much tell people you might as well join us because we’re not going to leave you alone until you dance,” said Terri Osborne, McCall second-grade teacher.
What began five years ago as an impromptu celebration of the end of the school year by a few exuberant teachers has evolved into an annual tradition for McCall, an unabashed dance-through-the-halls-and-be-silly party, set for the day after children are dismissed for the summer.
“It started the year of the four-day workweek,” said Aaron Alldredge, second-grade teacher. “It was such a crazy year and we needed a release.”
Once she and Osborne, along with kindergarten teacher Wendy Von Seggern, decided they needed some dance therapy, the wheels were set in motion: Someone hunted down a seldom-used boombox while another searched for batteries. Alldredge ran to her car for a CD, returning with Michael Jackson’s “Thriller.”
“We started in our wing, and when people heard the noise and came to see what was going on we decided to take it through the school,” Osborne recalled. “Everyone who didn’t voluntarily join us, we went and found them. We don’t give up until they dance.”
Everyone had so much fun the first year it was decided to continue, and other than switching from boombox to iPod, little has changed — except that veteran staff know to expect it.
“After the breakfast, some people exit stage left as soon as possible, but most stay and dance, at least for a bit,” Von Seggern said. “We have to roam the halls dancing (to find the stragglers) because some of the teachers are in their rooms finishing report cards and doing other work we are all supposed to be doing!
“We acknowledge we can be a bit disruptive,” she concluded with no chagrin.
McCall staff members have had so much fun with the dance party that last year they added a new component, this one for the kids: a lip dub video starring teachers and staff that is shown to the kids on the last day of school; this year that was Tuesday.
“This year we had a ton of volunteers to be in the video, probably because it looked so fun last year,” Alldredge said. “The kids went crazy when they saw the video. We have to be so serious all year, pounding in all the academics. I think the kids love seeing us be silly and having fun. They love to see us out of our classroom role — they even get a kick out of seeing us in the grocery store, like they can’t believe we shop.”
Last year’s dance party might literally have been the last one ever. Seeking to entice Principal Drew Frank into the party, the dance train — complete with bullhorn and blaring music — snaked its way to his office, where teachers found him meeting with a parent.
“We hid in the staff room for a while after that,” Von Seggern said with a laugh.
This year’s party on Wednesday kicked off with a blaring version of “Footloose.” Someone cued colorful disco lights and fifth-grade teacher Mark Blanchard entered the circle to perform a fast-paced swing dance. Custodian Corey Ryder jumped into the fray for a short time before returning to his tasks soon after the mostly female crowd started dancing like crazed cowboys on a bronco to “Gangnam Style.”
Taking “Thriller” down the halls, the processional pried fourth-grade teacher Jason Gruetzmacher from his classroom, and he joined the group. Von Seggern, who had earlier sworn she wouldn’t perform her crowd-favorite “inchworm” move this year, did it anyway. Gruetzmacher demonstrated a move for fourth-grade teacher Valerie Grindstaff’s camera that looked as if he had been electrocuted as others shimmied with abandon to “I’m Sexy and I Know It.”
“It’s been a fun thing because we get to know people in a way we didn’t before,” Osborne said.
For most of the year, Alldredge said, it’s all about rigor and benchmarks, making sure kids are progressing and figuring out ways to help them achieve academic goals.
“We’ve thought about bringing the dance party to other tough times of the year, like Christmas,” Von Seggern said. “Because it brings laughter and joy and movement. It’s a celebration.”
— Reporter: 541-548-2186, email@example.com