Veronica Cheeseboro honored with Big Apple Award for transforming DeWitt Clinton High School's dance program


Veronica Cheeseboro kicked off her pumps to dance in the principal’s office during her second interview more than six years ago. Now Cheeseboro is being praised by her school and the city for her dedication to her students in her many roles as dance teacher at DeWitt Clinton High School. 

DeWitt Principal Pierre Orbe said when Cheeseboro came into his office for her second interview, another interviewer asked her if she could show them her dancing but before she agreed he knew he was going to hire her. 

Cheeseboro said winning the Big Apple Award feels like both an affirmation and a confirmation she has put in the work to build the dance program to what it is today. When she was hired, she was starting a new level of dance program for the school, creating the rigorous four-year program that included learning things beyond just dance movements. 

The city’s education department presents big Apple Awards to a select few educators throughout the five boroughs who are nominated by students, parents, faculty or community members. Big Apple Award recipients are chosen for their dedication to inspiring their students, building students up and enhancing their school community.  

“This is a well deserved honor. I’m very proud of Ms. Cheeseboro,” Orbe said. “We are all honored to have [her] represent us.” 

Cheeseboro has been working at the school for the last six years and has become the dance teacher, step team coach, co-teacher of the dance team, as well as a mentor, advocate for her students and a shoulder on which her students can lean. 

In her classroom, Cheeseboro includes sections on wellness for freshman in which they learn about injury prevention and ways to stretch, sophomores learn about nutrition, and juniors and seniors learn anatomy through a kinesiology lens, studying how the body moves as well as the function of muscles, bones and ligaments as they support their dancing. 

Freshman and sophomore students get the chance to learn to analyze dance before they become juniors and seniors, who are told to ask and answer questions on the composition of dance and the impact of a piece. 

“I wanted to make sure for the kids here in this demographic that you have access to high-quality dance education,” Cheeseboro said. 

She brings countless styles of dance to her classroom to prepare students. In the event they choose to pursue a career in dance, they are prepared for whatever comes their way. Cheeseboro studies larger units of contemporary, jazz and hip hop, but then brings smaller units to her students on ballet, dance hall, salsa, dembow, house, amapiano and more. 

Students also get the chance to learn about choreography. During the May dance showcase, a handful of student choreographed pieces are selected to be performed. 

“She brings kids into dance not just for the sake of learning dance but they’re challenged to become choreographers, where you have to apply the theory,” Orbe said. 

Cheeseboro is always researching and looking for more styles of dance to keep both herself and her students sharp. This year, she incorporated new lessons on tap, Chinese fan dance, step and Chinese sword dance. While Cheeseboro considers herself to be a lifelong learner, she also brings in outside professionals to teach her students, including experts from the Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater, who give lessons to juniors and seniors on West African dance. 

Due to her dance education growing up she has made a concerted effort in her classroom to understand when her students need her to be tough or understanding. 

 “I’ve been training since I was four years old, there were some teachers that were honestly very mean, it made me afraid to learn, afraid to ask questions,” Cheeseboro said. “I teach with the intention to make sure everyone gets access and also to create a healthier dance environment. The industry can be very non-empathetic and unhealthy.”

In her many roles, she also edifies the students by creating a safe space for them emotionally and literally, with a room off her dance studio that she has labeled as the calm corner. The calm corner is a quiet room with bean bags, white noise, dimmed lights and posters hung on grounding techniques to assist students in gaining control of their emotions in moments when they feel they need it. She said the students frequent this spot for a good cry, silence or when want a safe space for a while. 

None of the students in Cheeseboro’s dance program are required to audition, and all are welcome, but Cheesboro holds herself and her students to a high standard. In the same fashion as most academic classes, students are required to participate and missing classes is not allowed. 

Orbe said some students enter Cheeseboro’s program with no dance training but, after she’s finished teaching them, he ends up confident in their performance level.

And no one could tell if they took up dancing a year ago or multiple years ago. 

Cheesboro studied at Rutgers and, in five years, received both an undergraduate degree in dance and a masters in education that led to her teaching to DeWitt. Her years of education and continued learning, taking house dance classes on her own and learning for her student’s sake, prepared her to receive her award. She said she has put dedication and consistency into her students and will only continue to go above and beyond for them. 

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