Since 1962 The Young Americans have brought hope and inspiration to the world through music, dance and the energy of youth. That energy that brought a standing room only crowd at the Renee C. Henderson auditorium in Kenai to its feet and nearly knocked the roof off.
It was the final performance of The Young Americans Global Touring Team’s tour that took their 35 members around the world.
“We’re all about music advocacy and sharing the power of music with students wherever we go,” Jordan Mantey, director of the world touring team told the Dispatch.
The Young Americans not only entertain, but they teach music and song wherever they go.
“We worked with 251 local students here in the area and at Mountain View Elementary. About 25 years ago we began our music outreach tours where we teach kids what we know about performing and it has grown greatly since then with four international tours happening right now. This is our world tour cast that is here in Kenai and it was so exciting for us to put your kids on stage tonight and make them the stars of the show. It was our final show of our tour and you were the best audience ever, we truly thank you,” said Mantey.
The music of The Young Americans has evolved over the last half century.
“From merely performing, our focus has shifted with the educational part of the program, yet we work to stay relevant and up to date with the time for the kids while exposing them to older styles of music,” explained Bree Wickland, one of The Young Americans lead dancers and teachers.
While the kids learned some old rock-‘n’-roll tunes familiar to their parents, the show included renditions of songs of America over the last two centuries.
“We keep current as well as bring back the old-school tunes that the kids may not know but when they hear them they say ‘hey this is really cool. We stay up with the new fads like the dab, a really popular dance move right now that the kids love to learn,” said Wickland.
The concert included everything from classical to hip-hop, swing to gospel, with numbers that brought cross-generational chills to the audience. While the arts are not always considered core or STEM curriculum Wickland says not so.
“Music and dance is very much math, when we ask the kids to count to learn a dance step or a song they have to engage both sides of their brain, not only the creative side but the analytical side where they are having to think ahead of what’s happening next in the show, count rhythms and steps so it’s very much mathematical as well as creative,” she said.
With only two days and 251 kids, the outcome was truly amazing.
“We have 35 Young American teachers that throughout the entire process work with the students during the dances, during the vocals everyone has the attention of a teacher at every point in the show. We move very fast and set the bar very high for the kids and they will always step up to that. We’re all about using music as a tool to help kids do great stuff like overcome fears and have the confidence to stand up and sing and before you know it they’ve learned the show. It’s pretty special to see it happen,” said Mantey.
“My kid was always scared to even stand up in front of her class and to see her tonight on stage in front of over 1,000 people was absolutely amazing and she’ll never be the same,” said a parent the next day following the show.
“Collectively kids are the same wherever you go in the world,” added Bree.
“They’re very much the same, they all want to have fun and have dreams and hopes, and aspirations that they want to do. They want work hard to go places and do exciting things and it’s no different in Alaska or Singapore, Hong Kong or Australia. Methods and cultures may be different but the basics of kids and their desires is pretty much the same,” she said.
“The mission is still to bring peace and hope to the world through our performances that include over 350 shows a year and most of them are our outreach tours where we work with the students. Every teacher knows their goal is to create future citizens so when we are learning music and dance and having fun together we’re working together and affecting the future of our world,” added Mantey.
At the conclusion of the show Mantey presented to Karl Kircher, principal at Mountain View Elementary School who coordinated bringing The Young Americans to Kenai, a check for $2,000 to the school district to support local arts programs.
Mantey said he hopes to come back and maybe do an all-Alaska tour. Following the performance he also held auditions. Student Members are accepted into the organization based upon their talent and their interest in helping other students throughout America and the world to attain self-confidence, self-esteem, and respect for others through music, dance, and performance.