For 25 years, the National Dance Institute of New Mexico has embraced one overreaching goal — to get kids dancing.

And, oh, how it has succeeded; bringing the love of dance to children big and small, and in the process fulfilling all sorts of other goals. The four core values of NDI-NM apply in dance and life — work hard, do your best, don’t quit and be healthy.

Dance through NDI-NM helps children develop discipline, improves school performance, supports healthy living and has even produced artists so accomplished they have moved on to professional careers. For schoolchildren in Santa Fe and across New Mexico, it is no exaggeration to state that NDI-NM is, and has been, life-changing.

Once more this May, parents and community members can see the dancers in action, with the 2019 end-of-year performances in Albuquerque, Española and Santa Fe. Some 500 children from local schools are performing in each location.

The end-of-year shows are eagerly awaited; this year, they are extra-special as they celebrate NDI-NM’s 25th anniversary of sharing the joy of dance with young people. The shows wrap up this weekend in Albuquerque and Santa Fe, with Española finishing May 16 and 17. In all three locations, expect special guest-performances by public safety personnel, including firefighters and police officers.

One special performer, Josh Gonzales, is both an NDI-NM alumnus and current firefighter. He says of the NDI-NM that, “Having gone full circle — from being a dancer in the program at Kearney Elementary in 2004 — to volunteering as a firefighter to dance in the shows, I now get to encourage the values I learned from NDI New Mexico in the young people I dance with today.”

While Albuquerque’s show focuses on Route 66, the shows in Santa Fe and Española feature premier performances of Our Dancing Feet, a new piece written by NDI New Mexico’s North Program Artistic Director, Leslie Stamper, to spotlight the joy of dance and this special anniversary. From 1994, when founding Artistic Director Catherine Oppenheimer worked with 100 children, to the current outreach to 8,500 children a year, NDI-NM has kept its focus on helping children soar.

In its 25 years, the program co-founded by dancer Jacques d’Amboise and Oppenheimer, along with founding board chairwoman Valerie Diker, has reached more than 110,000 children. That’s impact.

One measure of its success is the willingness of NDI-NM backers to measure what taking part means to students. With more than 10 years of independent evaluations made, there’s a record that links participation in NDI-NM with better academic success. Dancers are bringing home higher grade point averages, while NDI-NM students appear to have higher scores on New Mexico Standards-based Assessment tests in writing, math, science and reading.

What’s important about these results is that NDI-NM serves diverse students all over the states, with 81 percent of students qualifying for federal free or reduced-cost meal programs. Some 66 percent of students are Hispanic, 10 percent Native, 2 percent African American, 1 percent Asian and 21 percent Anglo. This initiative reaches across the state, too, all the way from Raton, to Dulce, to Hobbs, to Las Cruces and across to Deming, with many points in between. It’s a testament to the belief that all children can excel.

The next 25 years are starting now. Current executive director Russell Baker, the staff of NDI-NM, board members, community supporters and most of all, the children who dance, are continuing the tradition of excellence. That’s just the NDI-NM way.