ALEXANDRIA, VA–On Friday, April 8, over 300 people filled a sold out auditorium at the Nannie J. Lee Recreation Center for the Night of Stars Performing Arts Festival. The event is hosted by the City of Alexandria Department of Recreation, Parks, and Cultural Activities in order to showcase the artistic talent of students in various Out of School Time Programs across the city.
Brenda Holloway, the night’s dynamic Mistress of Ceremonies and Assistant Manager of the Nannie J. Lee Recreation Center said, “The Night of Stars Performing Arts Festival is an annual event that gives youth enrolled in the Out of School Time Program an opportunity to showcase their special talent through song, dance, poetry, and drama. Each location provides something a little different that enhances the overall program.”
The event was canceled the last two years due to Covid. Mia Parks who also works with the Nannie J. Lee Youth Achieving Greatness and Therapeutic Recreation Programs added, “This particular Night of Stars was very important because this has been the first major event the recreation centers have presented since the beginning of the pandemic.” Mia continued, “I know parents were thrilled to see their children perform and get back to some sort of normalcy.”
It was hard to tell who was more happy to be back, the Alexandria Parks and Recreation Staff, the participating children, or the boisterous families in the audience. Families were dancing in the aisles, dads were embarrassing their children, grandmas dance-battled with the host, and children sang their favorite songs into the microphone. The energy in the room was tangible as the crowd, who were a mix of masked and unmasked, joined together in joy before the performances even began.
Performances of the night ranged from the freestyle dancing of two students from John Adams Out of School Time Program, to dramatic monologues by students from the Ruby Tucker Family Center, to the inspirational rendition of “We Rise” by the students of Douglas McArthur.
The dancers from Leonard Chick Armstrong are to be commended because when the wrong song began playing they kept their dance routine going. Patrick Henry’s group of students lead by Kesha Bridges and Jametta Pettiway were by far the most professional and coordinated of the night. While the students from William Ramsay had the most audience participation with proud parents cheering on the performers as they danced the Disco. The Charles Houston dancers were a mix of younger and middle school students, and Mount Vernon performed a one act play full of favorite fairy tale characters. Charles Barrett students presented a video called “The Kidemic” that told the story of the last two years from a kids-eye view. The host students from Nannie J. Lee performed a poignant number; through poetry and dance the students celebrated being themselves.
The night was not without surprises, the city staff had not anticipated so many community members. Needing to quickly pivot, the staff delayed the show by 30 minutes while DJing popular songs to excite the crowd.
Ms. Holloway explained that the, “…fees collected for the event help to support the Out of School Time Program in purchasing and offsetting the cost of special evets and holiday celebrations, field trips, and entertainment.” Nannie J. Lee and all of the City of Alexandria recreation facilities hope even more community members can come out to support next Spring, as Ms. Holloway concluded, “The program has grown over the years, and we are looking to do bigger and better things next year.”