Community-Based Dance Classes Provide Physical, Mental Benefits for Students
August 19, 2022
Community members aiming to improve their physical and mental health and find social interaction might want to try dance classes through “Let’s Dance Gila River.”
In partnership with the Gila River Tribal Wellness Center, they are currently offering salsa, merengue and bachata classes until Sept. 30, from 6 to 7 p.m. Fridays, at the District 7 Service Center, located at 8035 S. 83rd Ave, Laveen, Ariz.
Nichole Roderick, District 5, who co-owns Let’s Dance Gila River, has been teaching on-and-off for over 17 years. She began dancing in 1998 with the Arthur Murray dance studio in Seattle.
She then moved to Germany, where she taught family members of those left behind during military deployments. She also taught in Tennessee and Washington before returning to the Community and starting Let’s Dance Gila River in 2018.
“My passion has always been dancing, even though it has been kind of a struggle here and there,” Roderick said, “We teach beginners, we teach veterans, anybody that has a breath in their lungs, even with two left feet, we’re here to help you. The largest class we taught was over 200 youth at UNITY in 2019 and the youngest class was five- to eight-year olds.”
Gary Rodriguez, District 1, started teaching classes with Roderick this year. The two met during their youth council days and took different paths in life but reunited through dancing.
Rodriguez’s father is Venezuelan, and he was born there; His mother is a GRIC member from Blackwater, where he was raised. He joined the United States Marine Corps for three-and-a-half years and he fought in Iraq, where he was wounded by an improvised explosive device (IED).
Rodriguez retired from the Marines, but began to suffer from post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).
“I was in the infantry, so I saw a lot over there—a lot of friends getting hurt, myself included,” said Rodriguez. “It’s helped me healing with my PTSD,” he added. “Having these classes and dancing with Nichole has helped me with my self-esteem and better outlook at life, and I hope I can do that for others.”
Rodriguez said dancing has helped him feel comfortable, allowed him to meet more people, and fostered better and more open communication skills.
“I feel free, stress-free, happy. And when I meet new people, they help me see different angles of how I can tackle problems that I currently have in my life,” he said.
To commemorate Let’s Dance Gila River’s initial Lead Teacher Stephen R. Susunkewa, who passed away in 2021, Let’s Dance Gila River offers two free beginner lessons to all veterans with PTSD to help them prepare for special events such as weddings, first dances, and for general well-being.
For more information, contact Nichole Roderick on Facebook or visit Tribal Recreation Wellness page for any changes or updates. And when attending, dress comfortably and bring plenty of water.
“We encourage you to come and give it a try and see what you like about it,” said Roderick, adding, “It’s an honor to come back home and teach here.”