By Mark F. Gray, AFRO Staff Writer, mgray@afro.com

The sixth annual Roc the Runway talent competition continues to give Prince George’s County and D.C. middle school age and high school students a chance to display how after school activities can develop their ability, while giving them confidence to perform in public such as at its annual event at Wise High School.

Students representing eight schools displayed the talents they were coached on during extra-curricular activities throughout the school year. The participants represented six middle schools and two high schools and competed in dance, step and modeling performances.  While the talent competition was the climax of the experience, the practice and development of the participant’s skills and building of self-esteem was the most important part of the process.

Walker Mill Middle School won first place in the Dance competition during the Roc the Runway talent showcase at Flowers High School. (Courtesy Photo)

“The transition of the students is amazing,” says Ashleigh Demi, one of the hosts and coordinators of the event.  “Not only do the kids develop their potential to become performers, the kids learn to face their fears and they gain confidence and positive self-esteem.”

The pool of performers represented Wise and Gwynn Park, high schools in Prince George’s County.  It also featured middle school students who participated from Thomas Johnson, Isaac Gourdine, Eastern Middle School, Walker Mill, and Excel Academy.  There were also performances by students representing D.C.’s Kelly Miller as well.

Separate teams practiced and were prepared to perform before a live audience in the dance, step and modeling competitions. The weeks of practice and training leading up to the event was used as a foundation to prepare them not only to be at their best on the night of the show, but to develop skills that may help them in college and beyond.

Each team was personally evaluated by Eric Smith, President and CEO of Cultural Communications, during a group of advanced auditions to qualify for the event.

“I personally visit each team school during their practices and if they aren’t ready to perform, I will refund their registration fees,” Smith told the {AFRO}.

The step teams worked on their choreography to help the students develop a skill set that may serve them effectively should they decide to participate in African-American fraternities and sororities when they get to college.  Step shows are often part of the pledge process, in addition to raising funds for their community service endeavors and the intensity of the training regimen and discipline are byproducts of their participation.

Poise was a major component of the practice and training for the modeling competition also.  The experience was also structured so that the students could learn to move quickly through wardrobe and scene changes while learning other nuances of the fashion industry.

However, the dance teams were being groomed behind the scenes in hopes of preparing them for opportunities in college and beyond.  With college scholarships available for HBCU marching band dance teams and background opportunities to perform with artists who tour the world, the participants have already gained a perspective on what it would take to help perform successfully at the time of their auditions.

The teams competed for trophies and shared cash prizes based upon judges scores and audience response.  Organizers of the events literally collected donations from those in attendance and a pot of $1,440 was split amongst the winning teams.

Gwynn Park won the fashion competition while Kelly Miller won the step portion for the third consecutive year.  Walker Mill’s dance team was victorious for the second straight year. The winning teams were also guests of WPGC’s Tony Redz radio show.

“It has a mind blowing impact the people in the community when people hear the kids they just watched perform,” Smith added.