Foundation partner’s dance program helps youth on and off the stage


Boys and Girls Club Kids Jumping

A former So You Think You Can Dance Star is helping children of the Boys and Girls Club in Milwaukee dance their worries away and develop their talents and character. Programs like this one are made possible through continuous support from the organization’s community partners, like the A. O. Smith Foundation

The dance program is part of a youth arts initiative established in 2014 to provide affordable arts education to families around the country. Participation started at a modest 10 students and has risen to around 300 students this year. The goal for 2019 is 400 students.

Cedric Gardner Dance TeacherAccording to the mother of a club and dance program member quoted in a recent Milwaukee Magazine article, Cedric Gardener is the heart of the program. Cedric started dancing when he was seven years old as an outlet for his emotional trials. Now, he is well-known throughout the country and the dance industry. 

Cedric was a part of several dance groups growing up in Milwaukee, which helped him advance his skills enough to earn a dance scholarship to the University of Wisconsin – Milwaukee. He has also performed around the country with groups like Monsters of Hip Hop, a touring convention. In February 2007, Cedric traveled to Chicago to successfully audition for Fox’s hit dance competition reality show, So You Think You Can Dance.  After his final performance on the show in Los Angeles, renowned director and choreographer Debbie Allen invited Cedric to train at her non-profit dance school, The Debbie Allen Dance Academy.

After a few years in Los Angeles, Cedric returned home to help develop the dance scene in Milwaukee. Cedric joined the Boys and Girls Club dance program as an instructor in 2015, after one of his former dance students recommended him for the job. 

Cedric Gardner with dance studentsTo Cedric, developing the student’s character and leadership skills is of the upmost importance. He values accountability and discipline, as well as a celebration of successes. He serves as a resource to the students both on and off the stage. 

Cedric has fostered an environment where the dance members are always working to strive toward their next great achievement. Some achievements to date are placing second in the 2017 Monsters of Hip-Hop National Dance Competition, appearing in the Old Navy Onward! campaign, appearing on Jimmy Kimmel Live, dancing with professional recording artist Daya, and participating in a Pepsi recycling commercial.

“I believe in training kids to reach goals, to have high expectations and to meet their goals,” explained Cedric. “I am priming them for hard work, and hard work is relevant to everything.”

This focus on development of the whole person is engrained in the structure of the program. 

Dance Students Ballet BarreDuring the introductory class, Cedric teaches the children the fundamentals of dance and hard work. To be invited to join the Davis Dance Group, a traveling dance group, the children must have good character and a thirst for overall excellence. All dancers must also maintain at least a 3.0 grade-point average and are also encouraged to participate in community service projects around their homes or the Club.

“I want to teach these kids how to self-manage and adapt to new circumstances,” said Cedric. “I work with the kids on creating action plans and instilling core values.”

The program’s structure is paying off. Cedric pointed to success stories of students who had mediocre grades who are now excelling in school and excitedly sharing report cards with him after class to celebrate. 

Boys and Girls Club Dance GroupCedric’s students are representative of a trend seen in children enrolled in the Boys and Girls Club. According to the organization’s 2016 National Outcomes Report, club members aged nine to 12 are 42 percent more likely than non-club members to believe that school work is meaningful. 

Cedric’s and the children’s success is possible because of the support for the Boys and Girls Club’s team. 

“Everyone wants to see these kids succeed,” explained Cedric. “It is a family vibe, and we work together.” 

Cedric is working to expand the family-like support the Boys and Girls Club is creating for their members to children in all corners of Milwaukee. 

Boys and Girls Club girl jumping “I want to create a performing arts academy that is capable of preparing students for the arts professional lifestyle,” said Cedric. “My ultimate dream is to make Milwaukee a major arts hub.”

The A. O. Smith Foundation also has dreams for the Milwaukee community, as well as the other communities in which the company has facilities. 

“We try to make the community a better place with support from the foundation,” explained Rita Schwalbach, the foundation’s manager. 

The A. O. Smith Foundation’s almost 200 partnerships are very strong. The Foundation and its predecessor organization have partnered with the Boys and Girls Club since 1944, making it one of the longest partnerships. 

The Boys and Girls Club is a national organization which provides after-school programing for youth around the country. It relies on donations for upwards of 86 percent of its operations; the A. O. Smith Foundation is among the club’s regular contributors. 

Learn more about getting involved with the Boys and Girls Club of America.