Personality: Victoria S. ‘Vickie’ Oakley

Spotlight on board chair of Dancing Classrooms Greater Richmond

12/31/2020, 6 p.m.
Education always has been a focus for Victoria S.“Vickie” Oakley.

Education always has been a focus for Victoria S.“Vickie” Oakley.

A retired chief academic officer with Richmond Public Schools who now serves as senior adviser for University Instructors consulting group, she has aided the academic experience for years.

Ms. Oakley also aids younger generations of students through a less conventional educational method — dance.

She is chair of the board of Dancing Classrooms Greater Richmond, which helps youngsters in fifth and eighth grades cultivate life skills through tango, waltz, polka, swing and other dances.

Started in Richmond in 2012 by Maria Vysotskay, Dancing Classrooms Greater Richmond is the local network of the national nonprofit created in 1994 by Pierre Dulaine and Yvonne Marceau for the American Ballroom Theater Company in New York City. The Greater Richmond program is one of 25 networks in the United States and around the world.

In less than a decade, more than 5,000 students in 18 Richmond public schools and several schools in Chesterfield and Henrico counties have participated in the 10-week program that uses ballroom dancing to raise social awareness, improve self-confidence and build self-esteem, among other essential values and life skills.

“It instills a sense of joy and accomplishment, but also respect, teamwork and confidence,” Ms. Oakley says.

These classes culminate with The Colors of the Rainbow Team Match that brings together students and schools from the region. The competition shows off the teamwork, sportsmanship and elegance of the youngsters while it builds community among the diverse participants, schools and their families.

As board chair, Ms. Oakley’s major goal is to grow the program by meeting with superintendents and principals to share Dancing Classrooms’ mission and vision and seek their support in bringing the program to more schools and school districts.

While the COVID-19 pandemic stalled the program during the fall, Dancing Classrooms has plans to begin virtual lessons when school resumes in January.

Ms. Oakley has seen the tremendous benefits youngsters derive from participating in the program.

“Students begin the program shy and nervous about dancing with a partner,” she says. “Throughout the program, students gain confidence and enjoy showcasing their dancing skills and working with their partner.”

During this time when students are isolated and learning from home because of the pandemic, participating in Dancing Classrooms has even greater benefits, Ms. Oakley says.

“We want students and family members to engage in our program to promote wellness, happiness and joy.”

Meet an education advocate who also promotes the benefits of dance and this week’s Personality, Victoria S. “Vickie” Oakley:

No. 1 volunteer position: Board chair, Dancing Classrooms Greater Richmond.

Date and place of birth: May 15 in Baltimore, but I grew up in Alexandria.

Where I live now: Laburnum Park in Richmond’s North Side.

Occupation: Currently, senior adviser for University Instructors of Public Consulting Group Inc.; retired chief academic officer for Richmond Public Schools.

Education: Bachelor’s in elementary education, University of Richmond; master’s in education, Virginia Commonwealth University; and post master’s in educational administration and supervision, VCU.

Family: Husband, Bobby, and dog, Ellie.

Dancing Classrooms is: A 10-week curriculum based in-school program that utilizes ballroom dancing as a vehicle to teach social awareness and build self-esteem in fifth- and eighth-grade children. Dancing with a partner fosters respect and teamwork, which in turn leads to better social relationships.

Dancing Classrooms is not about teaching ballroom dancing. The dance is a tool for getting children to break down social barriers, learn about honor, respect, cooperation and to improve self-confidence and communication.

Dancing Classrooms’ mission: Our mission is to cultivate essential life skills in children through the art of social dance. Our vision is to help create schools and communities where every child is connected, respected and provided a safe environment in which to thrive.

Number of Dancing Classroom networks: 25 networks in the United States and internationally.

When Dancing Classrooms Greater Richmond founded: 2012.

Founder: Maria Vysotskaya.

Participating grade levels: Fifth- and eighth-grade students.

Participating schools: Richmond: Swansboro Elementary, Chimborazo Elementary, Cardinal Elementary, Patrick Henry School of Science & Arts, John B. Cary Elementary, Mary Munford Elementary, Woodville Elementary, J.L. Francis Elementary, Fox Elementary, Ginter Park Elementary, Linwood Holton Elementary, Overby-Sheppard Elementary, G. W. Carver Elementary, Franklin Military Academy, Miles Jones Elementary, Fairfield Court Elementary, Southampton Elementary and Westover Hills Elementary. Chesterfield: Falling Creek Elementary, Crestwood Elementary and Robious Elementary. Henrico: Highland Springs Elementary and Short Pump Elementary. Private school: Our Lady of Lourdes Catholic School.

When elected board chair of Dancing Classrooms: 2018.

Why I accepted position: To bring leadership and organizational skills to a young organization and my belief in our mission and vision. Also, my desire to support children in the Greater Richmond area.

Length of term: The term is one year. I have served two previous terms.

No. 1 goal or project as board chair: To grow the program throughout schools in the Greater Richmond area.

Dances taught: Swing, waltz, tango, rumba, merengue, fox trot, polka and line dancing.

What students learn in addition to dance: It instills a sense of joy and accomplishment, but also respect, teamwork and confidence. Students begin the program shy and nervous about dancing with a partner. Throughout the program, students gain confidence and enjoy showcasing their dancing skills and working with their partner.

How COVID-19 is impacting Dancing Classrooms: We were not able to provide the Dancing Classroom program in the fall. We currently are working with schools to offer virtual lessons in January 2021.

How Dancing Classrooms GRVA teaches virtually: Learning is 100 percent virtual — one pre-recorded lesson and one synchronous lesson per week to provide physical activity and meaningful social and emotional interaction. All lessons are 30 minutes or less, which maximizes student retention and engagement.

Why students must keep dancing now more than ever: Students are isolated, and they need to dance to keep active and engaged. Dancing heals your heart and makes you happy.

How Richmonders can support Dancing Classrooms: By providing a monetary donation so we can expand into more schools in the Richmond area.

What makes me dance: When I am happy and feeling good.

Favorite dance moves and music: Swing. I like jazz.

How I start the day: With a positive outlook and daily exercise that feeds the mind and the body.

Three words that best describe me: Supportive, persistent and assertive.

Best late-night snack: Mint chocolate ice cream.

How I unwind: Reading.

Something I love to do that most people would never imagine: Kayaking.

Quote that I am most inspired by: “Whatever we accomplish belongs to our entire group, a tribute to our combined effort.” — Walt Disney

At the top of my “to-do” list: Traveling with my husband.

Best thing my parents ever taught me: Perseverance. Person who influenced me the most: My mother.

Book that influenced me the most: “The Essential Deming: Leadership Principles from the Father of Quality” by W. Edwards Deming.

What I’m reading now: “My Own Words” by Ruth Bader Ginsburg.

Next goal: Redo Dancing Classrooms’ strategic plan and spend more time at the river.