Community Voices

Friends and Neighbors: Hammocks Middle School dance teacher retires

Hammocks Middle School dance teacher Wendy Lee Schwartz, who will soon retire, and her students strike poses at their recent visit to see the Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater performance.
Hammocks Middle School dance teacher Wendy Lee Schwartz, who will soon retire, and her students strike poses at their recent visit to see the Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater performance. Photo provided to the Miami Herald

Martha Graham famously said, “Dance is the hidden language of the soul.”

That creative communication is exactly what Wendy Lee Schwartz has inspired throughout her 35 years as a dance teacher in Miami-Dade and Broward public schools.

Schwartz is retiring after 30 years at Hammocks Middle School and hundreds of her former students, and their families, came to South Florida to thank her at three special performances.

Celebrating through “A Time to Remember,” the teacher and her students danced down memory lane to remember their many shows and competitions. Schwartz and her talented students have won numerous national, state and regional titles over the years. Her three groups are the Tornado Dancers, the Hurricane Dancers, and the Electric Dancers.

“Together, they make the Storm Dancers,” Schwartz said.

There were more than 100 who performed in the shows. One dance was dedicated to three of Schwartz’s students — Melissa Marcano, Tuly Gonzalez and Melissa Kaplan Mutzman — who passed away during her time at Hammocks Middle School.

Dozens of dance teachers she inspired in their youth were in attendance and the show also included choreography by former students Kelly Vasquez and Karina Penate. Amanda Gonzalez, a former Hammocks dance student, performed a special vocal arrangement.

Schwartz, a resident of Pinecrest and a graduate of the University of Florida with master's and bachelor's degrees in fine arts and dance, previously taught at W.R. Thomas Junior High School and Dillard High School for the Performing Arts.

She is known for writing personalized poems, often late into the night, for every eighth grade dance student when they graduate to high school.

“I write pages and pages. It’s a tradition. I personalize every one,” Schwartz said. “These are my girls. They’re my babies.” And she makes every one feel special.

She has taught them about the iconic Graham and Isadora Duncan, and inspired them with her wisdom and positive outlook. Recently, she took her last class of girls to see the Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater perform at the Adrienne Arsht Center.

And her “babies” danced at the West End Art Fair in March. They posed for a photo with Schwartz doing the Gator “chomp” out in front while some of her students did the University of Miami “U” behind her.

Schwartz is so dedicated, she sends her students emails of dance ideas at all hours and they ask her if she ever sleeps.

“I am lucky to have so many young lives touch my life, and that I have influenced them in a positive way through my love of dance and my unique way of teaching,” she said.

“I’m also blessed to have my parents and the love of my life, Tony, here with me at my last performance.” Her parents are publicists Gerald and Felice Schwartz.

The final number in “A Time to Remember” was Schwartz’s signature dance, DIN DA DA!, which she has taught her students since 1986. It is the one they always look forward to performing.

And then after the shows, and the after-party, and watching the videos of past performances of 35 years, the dance teacher who has given so much will officially retire on May 31st.

YOUNG MUSICIANS

Make a difference in the future of talented young musicians by attending the “Sing the Future” benefit concert to support student scholarships for the arts at 4 p.m., April 17, at Trinity Cathedral, 464 NE 16 St. The event is hosted by the Miami-Dade College Kendall Campus and the Civic Chorale of Greater Miami.

Featured will be the premiere performance of a Lee Kjelson choral piece. Tickets are: adults $10, seniors $8, students $5, and children six and under admitted free. For more and to buy tickets, visit www.civicchorale.info/.

The chorale has been a musical force in South Florida since 1970 when Kjelson, a University of Miami music professor, organized it. Each year it hosts a free Messiah Sing-In that is open to all singers in the community.

FLOWERING TREES

Wagner Vandrame of the University of Florida Tropical Research and Education Center will speak on “Caesalpinia Pulcherrima in Outerspace — Propagation in Zero Gravity” at the next Tropical Flowering Tree Society meeting at 7:30 p.m., April 11, at Fairchild Tropical Botanic Garden, 10901 Old Cutler Rd. in Coral Gables. Use the south gate entrance and meet in the Corbin Building next to the GardenHouse.

This group meets the second Monday of each month with programs that include speakers, rare flowering tree auctions, bloom table, and refreshments. Visitors are welcome at no cost and you can become a member for $30. For more call 305-389-5404, or visit www.tfts.org/.

CHILDREN’S ADVOCATES AWARDS

Florida’s Children First advocacy organization will recognize persons in our community who focus on the legal rights of at-risk and foster care children at the annual awards reception 5:30 to 7:30 p.m., April 14, at Sabadell Financial Center, 1111 Brickell Ave., 30th Floor.

State Sen. Anitere Flores will receive the 2016 Champion for Children Award. She has been an advocate since her teen years and in public service since 2004. Receiving Child Advocate of the Year Awards are Miami-Dade State Attorney Katherine Fernandez Rundle and Miami-Dade Public Defender Carlos J. Martinez.

This year’s Youth Advocate of the Year is Edward Cody who has been active in Florida Youth SHINE (FYS) for the past six years serving as the Miami chapter vice president. He also is serving on the FYS statewide board and has spoken at the dependency summit and with many legislators.

Community and business leaders, and many others concerned about the future of Florida’s abused, abandoned and neglected children will be in attendance.

A $100 contribution is suggested, with all proceeds to benefit Florida’s Children First. To RSVP, call 954-796-0860, send an email to fcf@floridaschildrenfirst.org or visit www.floridaschildrenfirst.org.

MIAMI MUSIC PROJECT

The public is invited to experience the Miami Music Project Leaders’ Orchestra at 4 p.m., April 17, at the Herbert and Nicole Wertheim Performing Arts Center Concert Hall at Florida International University.

This group of advanced music students ages 9-18 will perform a side-by-side concert with the FIU Symphony Orchestra under the direction of Maestro Maximiano Valdes as part of the Distinguished Conductor Series.

Miami Music Project helps students improve their social and emotional well-being, and behavioral development, through music. The after-school program has four chapters in Liberty City, Little Haiti, Little Havana, and Doral through which students receive musical instruction and instruments at no cost.

Tickets to the FIU program are $5-$13 and can be purchased online at https://miamimusicproject.org. You also may call the box office at 305-348-0496.

MYSTERIES OF THE SUN

Everyone is invited to hear Southern Cross President Lester Shalloway at 8 p.m., April 15 when he presents “Mysteries of the Sun” at an event hosted by Southern Cross Astronomical Society. This will be the last program before a summer break. Events will begin again Sept. 16.

Bring family, friends and future astronomers to the free public program held at the Florida International University Physics Lecture Hall CP-145 at the Modesto Maidique campus. You can park in the campus garage in faculty/visitor spaces on the west side of Southwest 109th Avenue and Southwest 8th Street and follow the SCAS signs across the patio.

To learn more call the SCAS Hotline at 305-661-1375 or visit http://scas.org.

If you have news for this column, please send it to Christina Mayo at christinammayo@gmail.com.

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