November 2nd, 2011
06:15 PM ET
WHITE HOUSE (CNN) – Daniel Artis spends four afternoons a week after school with his friends, not on the basketball court, but in a dance studio. Yet this Wednesday afternoon he wasn’t dancing. Instead, he was at the White House receiving an award.
The high school junior at Fairmont Heights High School in Washington, D.C., is part of the after-school program, Positive Directions Through Dance (PDTD), which was honored in a ceremony at the White House with First Lady Michelle Obama.
The after-school dance program was one of 12 winners of the 2011 National Arts and Humanities Youth Program Award. The recipients were chosen from a pool of 471 nominations and 50 finalists from across the country of after-school programs that use the humanities to encourage students to live healthy and balanced lifestyles. The winners ranged from a group that teaches poetry to teen moms who have dropped out of high school to a youth chorus from inner-city New York City that has toured around the world.
Mrs. Obama praised the groups for providing a nuturing atmosphere and for teaching skills that will impact all areas of the students’ lives.
“In so doing, you’re not just teaching these young people about painting or acting or singing, you’re teaching them about hard work and discipline and teamwork,” the First Lady said. “You’re teaching them how to manage their time - something that we all need to learn how to set goals, and, more importantly, how to achieve those goals.”
Fabian Barnes is one of those mentors whose goal is to give back to their community and make a difference in the lives of children.
Barnes, a former principal dancer with the Dance Theatre of Harlem, said that dance was an outlet and had a powerful impact on his life as an inner-city teenager growing up in Seattle. He founded the Dance Institute of Washington to give others that same opportunity.
“Dance is the vehicle to teach the discipline,” Barnes said. The program is free to lower-income students and teaches life skills such as job and financial preparedness and healthy living.
His program, like most of the other 11 award winners, boasts of the successes in the lives of their students. According to Barnes, all of the PDTD participants graduated from high school or advanced to the next grade level.
“Students who participate in the arts and humanities programs are four times more likely to succeed academically than those who don’t,” said Margo Lion, co-chairman of the President’s Committee on the Arts and the Humanities.
Artis, who has been a part of the after-school dance program for the past three years, credits the program with his success so far in life.
“It means a lot to me. It gives me discipline and it helps me focus,” he said.