When dancer Palmer Davis placed her first child in kindergarten at St. Cyril of Jerusalem in Encino eight years ago, she never thought it would lead to becoming the school’s dance instructor. Her professional dance card was quite full, having performed in the first national tour of “The Will Rogers Follies” with Keith Carradine and as a Radio City Rockette in their Los Angeles-based Christmas show. But after choreographing St. Cyril’s eighth grade musical, she found herself on tap to create a dance for the eighth grade graduation, the Christmas program and an occasional PE class; a few years later she joined the faculty. “Listening, sequencing and following verbal directions is a huge part of my teaching,” said Davis. “Learning self-control, to keep quiet during class time, is one of the hardest things to do. I know it was for me and my kids. With dance we take auditory and visual commands and then repeat them back kinesthetically. Spatial awareness, etiquette, rhythm, and exposure to world music and dance styles are also great benefits of dance.” Davis choreographs a separate dance for each grade to perform at the annual Italian Family Dinner Dance and the Hootenanny. This year’s students have danced to David Guetta, Barry Manilow and the “Can Can.” According to Davis, the students “are the You Tube surfers — they tell me what videos are hot and what music is in or out.” She admits she spends more time researching music on iTunes and listening to 102.7 (FM radio) than is probably healthy. But she never duplicates videos. “I’ll take elements from the video and make it our own,” explained Davis. “The class gives me different dance moves and I help them choreograph it together, giving them ownership of their dance. Teamwork and the creative process have become a big part of our classes. It’s amazing what you can learn by just choreographing two counts of eight: patience, leadership, listening, counting, courtesy, teamwork … then finally the dance.”Family dance events mean a lot to Davis, who lived in Rio de Janeiro as a high school exchange student. The integrated family festivities that are such a strong part of Brazilian culture stayed with her. “I was surprised that at almost every party siblings and parents intermingled with the teens,” said Davis. “Dance was a natural part of the parties and there was no barrier sheltering us teenagers from the view of our Brazilian families. I always longed for that comfort and sense of community in the United States. But it just isn’t in our culture or upbringing.” With Davis’s help, St. Cyril has created a community “where we can come together as a family through dance. It didn’t happen overnight, and it wasn’t always easy, and sometimes I wondered what the heck I was trying to do. But when a group of seventh grade boys took over the stage with terpsichorean abandon, I know it was all worth it. From high school dances, to college formals, to weddings and golden anniversaries, I wish all of my students the freedom to dance.”In many ways, it’s all come full circle. Davis is currently playing the lead in a dance film, “Stepping UP.” Her character is a high school dance teacher bringing cultures together through dance. “The benefits to teaching kids how to dance have proved to be greater than I ever knew,” said Davis. “Not only does dance build confidence and increase agility for sports and other physically related activities, but dance actually can organize a child’s brain and help them in school. Cross lateral coordination is a huge obstacle for at least 20 percent of the students. The earlier these issues can be addressed the better.” {gallery width=100 height=100}gallery/2012/1116/stcyril/{/gallery}