Durham students promote scholarship through song, choreography
Mar. 01, 2014 @ 08:46 PM

Backstage at the Durham Performing Arts Center, past the scrawled signatures on cement walls for shows such as “Grease” and “Book of Mormon,” 10-year-old Masiah Hodges prepared to share his dance moves with Durham.

After shoving sunglasses onto his face, he threw one hand up in the air, swaying his upper body. He was doing the Nae Nae, a new dance trend.

“They call me Mr. Nae Nae,” he said, surrounded by his yelling and laughing Pearsontown Elementary School classmates.

Hodges and about 500 other Durham students representing 34 schools were preparing Saturday for “An Evening of Entertainment,” an annual tradition of song and choreography that raises money for student scholarships.

Mary Casey, the show’s producer and the Durham Public Schools director of arts education, said high schoolers have about a week to learn the choreography. The elementary- and middle-school students take a bit longer.

The “Evening of Entertainment” tradition is 35 years old, and the act was one of the first for DPAC when the venue opened in 2008. Ticket profits go to the DPS Scholarship Foundation, which awarded 21 scholarships last year to graduating seniors.

“It’s really almost like the face of Durham Public Schools to the community,” Casey said. “… It just gives you hope for the future. It’s like, oh my gosh, the kids are ambassadors to the community. It’s contagious.”

Casey walked through the backstage lower level Saturday evening, 20 minutes until showtime. She tapped students on the shoulders, asking them to straighten their shirts or tuck their pockets. 

In one of the warm-up rooms, dozens of elementary-school students ran around, past book bags and fruit cups and drawings of cats and Cheez-Its and shoes. Teachers clapped, trying to get everyone’s attention, but the room’s decibels began to climb shortly after any terse orders were given to quiet down.

Eleven-year-old Jabriel Downey of Sandy Ridge Elementary School said when he got on stage, he would try to imagine performing for two or three people instead of 1,000.

“It was really fun,” he said of rehearsals leading up to that night, “because you get to meet new people and make new friends.”

Eleven-year-old Nicky Keith of Forest View Elementary School sat with her back to the wall, drawing and calm amid the screaming and chasing and group photo-taking. She said she already performed in “An Evening of Entertainment” last year.

“I’m just going to chill,” Keith said.

Down the hall, high schoolers checked their lipstick and twirled around, their black, knee-length dresses fanning around them while they stared in the mirror. Durham School of the Arts freshman Siara Carroll, illuminated by the bright bulbs surrounding the mirrors, said her main concern were her wedge shoes.

“I’m just like, don’t fall, don’t trip, and everything will be fine,” Carroll said.

Durham School of the Arts’ Promise Barbee, dressed in a vest and bowtie, said they learned about nine songs, representing Aladdin to Dreamgirls. He said his way of preparing for the show was chatting with classmates and taking selfies, or smartphone photos of themselves.

“Hanging out with friends,” he said.