A Friday morning assembly beats sitting in class, but the kids who filed into Emerson Elementary School’s gym never expected a breakdancing spectacle.
It was a hip-hop surprise for students at the Everett school, who also were honored with reading awards at last week’s assembly. “Good morning, Falcons,” said Principal Paul Edwards. “We’re here to celebrate all the reading.”
End-of-week good spirits turned to boisterous cheers when Edwards announced the surprise: a special guest, championship breakdancer Jerome Aparis.
A 34-year-old professional dancer and breakdance teacher, the Seattle-area man has performed his gravity-defying moves at competitions around the world. He has appeared on MTV’s Video Music Awards, “The Ellen Show,” and on tour with Macklemore &Ryan Lewis. Aparis, who performs as the B-boy Jeromeskee, and with his hip-hop crew, Massive Monkees, danced in the 2015 Macklemore video “Downtown.”
When Edwards told the kids all that — even grade-schoolers are fans of Seattle rap phenom Macklemore — their cheers grew even louder. Then came the boom of hip-hop beats, and Aparis hit the gym floor.
Aparis stunned the student body with lightning-fast back spins, head spins, windmills, handstands, fancy steps, flips and freezes — “all the cool moves,” he said. Later, he picked 10 volunteers from the crowd seated on the floor, and had the kids try breakdance steps, rolls or their own fancy footwork.
Along with teaching at Cornerstone Studio in Bellevue, which is owned by his dance-instructor wife ,Lea Aparis is a motivational speaker who works with Extraordinary Futures. The Seattle-area nonprofit, established in 2012, uses dance and the arts to help young people be healthy and embrace their leadership potential.
At Emerson, Aparis did more than breakdance. He told his story, relating it to his young audience. “I see a lot of diversity here, different backgrounds,” Aparis said, before shouting out “diversity is powerful.”
He shared that he is an immigrant, like many in his audience. His family came to the United States from the Philippines when he was a toddler. “We were pretty poor,” he told the kids. “I’d look in the refrigerator wishing there was food. I couldn’t wait to go to school.”
Aparis recalled shopping at thrift stores, a habit later made famous by the Macklemore &Ryan Lewis song “Thrift Shop.” He said that though he was shy and “didn’t have the cool clothes, I still made it cool, made it trendy, made it hip-hop.”
“I found my passion, which was breaking — dancing,” Aparis said.
His Friday appearance was arranged by Gwendalyn Papenhausen, Emerson’s teacher-librarian, with the help of Lina Hodkinson, a third-grade teacher. Hodkinson, who once taught dance at Cornerstone Studio, is a friend of Jerome and Lea Aparis.
In her three years at Emerson, Papenhausen said she has seen a doubling in the numbers of books read at the school, which has 642 pupils. There are 21 languages spoken by Emerson students, she said, and 70 percent qualify for free or reduced-price breakfast and lunch.
“We do a lot of celebrating,” Papenhausen said.
Earlier this year, the Kamiak High School drum line was enlisted to surprise Emerson readers. Students were also wowed at a recent Jedi Math Assembly. “The principal dressed up as Darth Vader,” Papenhausen said. “Working hard has its benefits.”
Aparis, who asked for no payment to perform at the school, left kids with more than snappy dance moves. He told students to have goals. “Maybe you want to be an athlete or a dancer or a teacher,” he said. With a goal, he said, they need a plan.
“Then go out there and have fun. Take action. Tell your own personal story,” Aparis said.
In unison, hundreds of kids echoed Aparis when he shouted words to live by: “Unity is powerful. Reading is powerful. Diversity is powerful.”
Julie Muhlstein: 425-339-3460; firstname.lastname@example.org.