Just after taking the stage at the Festival of Families, Jafar Thomas couldn’t lose his smile.
“I knew I had to give a good performance to everyone who came here,” he said.
He is one of 40 eighth graders from the Jesuit elementary school Gesu School in North Philadelphia who had been preparing for weeks to dance on the festival stage in Logan Square—broadcast for thousands on the 40 Jumbotrons set up along the Parkway and other places throughout the city.
First, they danced to the Pope’s favorite, the tango. Then, as a nod to Philly, they swung to “American Bandstand.”
While the Pontiff was not on the Parkway at the time (he was in the midst of a breather at St. Charles Borromeo Seminary), student Eric Davis said he was glad to a part of it.
“I was just so energetic. It was so much fun to be a part of history and to think that, out of all the places in the United States and the world, he chose Philadelphia,” he said.
“They nailed it,” group leader Susan Martinelli Shea said afterward, beaming with excitement. “We danced the Philadelphia way.”
Shea is the president and founder of Dancing With the Students, an organization that goes into low-income urban schools and teaches the art of dance. About one in three of Gesu’s 450 students come from families living below the poverty line.
“Some of their lives are very difficult,” Shea told Religion News Service. “I want them to feel special and I want them to feel talented—they are all those things.”
Follow @RobDiRienzo on Twitter.