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Happy 25th, NDI New Mexico

It’s hard to ignore an organization that puts 500 dancing kids on stage in Española, all in one night.

Santa Feans may claim National Dance Institute of New Mexico, since it was founded in the City Different 25 years ago. But the organization that teaches kids how to dance, including as part of the regular school day, has expanded its footprint (get it?) to major programs in Albuquerque, other parts of northern New Mexico and around the state.

NDI New Mexico founder Catherine Oppenheimer teaches ballet at the Dance Barns in Santa Fe in 2006. In its 25 years of existence, the institute has taught thousands of New Mexico kids how to dance. (Eddie Moore/Albuquerque Journal)

NDI has been staging its big annual shows in Albuquerque in recent weeks. The Santa Fe performances have taken place over the past few days. Kids from Española and nearby communities will be in the spotlight this week, Thursday and Friday in the gym at Española Valley High School.

And yes, the show will feature about 500 kids, with a huge entourage of stagehands helping out with costumes and everything else. It’s called “Our Dancing Feet!” and sounds like a blast – some Motown, Batman and Robin and a “Footloose” finale (what else could it be?).

“It’s a chance to really highlight the wonderful children who are in the Valley, and it’s a chance for them to shine onstage in front of their peers and their community,” said NDI’s Northern Outreach artistic director Leslie Stamper said. “It’s really beautiful, and when sometimes there can be a lot of negativity out there, it’s a wonderful experience for them to receive all the love and outpouring they get from their community.”

From about 100 kids who participated in NDS activities in Santa Fe in 1994-1995, the organization has grown to serve several thousand participants annually. One dancer who started with NDI at Española’s James H. Rodriguez Elementary went onto Julliard in New York City.

But NDI really is about a lot more than learning to dance – it teaches teamwork, accomplishing goals, taking on challenges and simply being active. It has impressive statistics about graduation rates and academic performance among its kids, who are a diverse group across ethnic and other demographic boundaries.

A fourth-grader who talked to a Journal reporter during rehearsals at the Española gym last week gave another reason why he likes the NDI program.

Angelo Archuleta, 10, called the program “encouraging” and described it as giving him a “safe” feeling. “Everyone’s with me,” he said, referring to his friends and classmates.

That kind of feeling may more valuable than an acceptance letter from Julliard.