By Jane Primerano
A room originally designed for auto shop now vibrates with the sound of hip hop music.
Randolph High School is one of the few schools in the state offering a dance program and has had one longer than most, nine years.
Michelle Adriano started with the program, coming north from Somerset County where she taught in middle school. This year she has 120 students, four of them boys, in introductory, intermediate and advanced dance classes.
She teaches technique and lets the dancers pick the styles they like. They do a lot of hip hop and multi-cultural dance and also learn choreography.
As many as 25 dancers fill the studio at one time. It was actually an auto shop originally, according to Supervisor of Arts Programs Frank Perrone. It now has a dance floor, mirrored wall and curtained dressing areas.
Adriano said she has students who started dance at age three as well as some who never took dance until they reached high school. Some intro students progress to the advanced class in a year, she said. More commonly, they spend two years in intro and two in intermediate. Some who have danced since childhood spend all four years in advanced. This results in classes with a mixture of interests and abilities.
“I make sure all the kids feel proud at the end of the year,” she said.
They get to show off their talents at the end of the year in a dance showcase. The showcase draws an audience that fills the auditorium for two performances.
“We have 1,000 tickets and sell them all,” Adriano said. “We get great support from the community.”
The first chance to showcase their talent comes in October with the pep rally that ends Spirit Week. The dancers perform a hip hop number on the football field.
The most experienced dancers serve as assistant teachers, working with their less experienced peers. Students also get an opportunity to choreograph dances.
“We empower them to be creative here,” Adriano said. She explained she incorporates things that the students care about or are happening in their lives, such as body image issues, domestic violence and violence in general. “We explore grief,” she noted, especially after a car accident claimed the lives of several Randolph students. They also created a dance around Hurricane Sandy.
Juliana Hirniak, a senior, is one of the assistant teachers. She dances with a semi-professional Ukrainian dance troop in New York City.
“I love to teach,” she said. “I didn’t think I would, but I do and I love to express myself and see my ideas come to life in choreography.”
Although her eventual goal is to be a speech pathologist, Hirniak wants to continue studying dance, probably at Rutgers or The College of New Jersey.
Autumn Gioa, a junior, is in her second year of the dance program but studied hip hop and lyrical at a private dance school. She is also on the high school gymnastics team and a club team.
Samantha DiPaoli, knowns as “Small Sam” because another Samantha is taller, has been dancing since age two. A self-proclaimed “science nerd,” the senior does plan on continuing to dance in college.
Adriano herself started dancing at an early age. She is studying for her master’s degree in counseling at Montclair State University and is also getting her supervisor’s certificate. She said she may eventually want to be a supervisor of fine and performing arts.
She used to choreograph the spring musical, but after having a child gave that up. A number of her dance students participate in theater.
The arts programs all work together, she noted, including the graphic arts students creating posters and tickets for performances.