Yvette Martinez of ¡Retumba! leads children from the Bronx Children's Museum’s summer program in a rehearsal for their gala afternoon performance.
Yvette Martinez of ¡Retumba! leads children from the Bronx Children's Museum’s summer program in a rehearsal for their gala afternoon performance.

Bronx Children’s Museum holds third annual Big Dream event

Inside the gym of the East Side House Settlement in Mott Haven, dance instructor Fatima Logan turned off the Latin music playing on a small boom box, and addressed her class of 30 6- and 7-year-olds.

“Ok, let’s try this again” she said. “Now when you guys turn around, put your arm up over your head like this, and everyone should be at the same level.”

When Logan, 29, of the dance group ¡Retumba!, turned the music of Grammy-winning percussionist Bobby Sanabria back on, her young students began to cha-cha-cha.

The following Saturday, Aug. 4, they would be performing to a packed house of family, friends, and Bronx all-stars, including Sanabria himself, at the Bronx Children’s Museum’s Big Dream event at Cardinal Hayes High School.

Now in its third year, the Big Dream event is intended to inspire Bronx children to follow their creative muse while learning about their roots. Organizers also hope to drum up public support and enthusiasm for the much-anticipated opening of the Bronx Children’s Museum in 2014 in a former power plant in Millbrook Pond Park.

The children study the life of the year’s honoree before joining him or her in a grand finale. This year’s performance honored the Bronx-born Sanabria, who met with the students twice this summer to regale them with stories about growing up to be a professional musician in the borough, and encouraging them to aim high.

East Side House Settlement was one of three local organizations selected to participate in this year’s event.

“We got lucky to be working with the Bronx Children’s Museum,” said Leslie Mantrone, deputy director of school and community-based programs at the settlement house on Alexander Avenue.

“We are thrilled to work with a famous and accomplished musician who is also a product of this neighborhood,” she added.

At first, Logan was skeptical her young charges would be able to live up to expectations and take her lessons to the big stage. But they did.

“Sometimes they can be easily distracted, at this age,” she said. “But they have surprised me by showing they can do it.”

The children may still need some convincing, though, before trading in their dreams for a life in the arts.

“I like the dancing, it was cool, but it got me tired,” said 8-year-old Jaden, who hopes to become a famous basketball player someday, like the NBA superstar whose jersey he wore, Lebron James.

When the big day came around, two notable Bronxites joined Sanabria to see the children display their dance moves at Cardinal Hayes. U.S. Supreme Court Associate Justice Sonia Sotomayor and Sesame Street legend Sonia Manzano came as they have every year since the event started in 2010, to give the next generation a living example of achieving one’s dreams.

“Don’t ever stop dreaming or trying. There is real courage in trying,” Sotomayor told the children. “Trying and working towards what you want, I guarantee you, it feels good to try.”

When the big moment finally arrived, the children who had spent months practicing at the East Side House Settlement, giddily took the stage. Backed by Sanabria on percussion and an 18-piece orchestra, they burst into their well-rehearsed routines without a hitch, showing the gathered stars, elected officials and family members what they could do, unperturbed by the spotlight.

“Mambo! Mambo de Sotomayor!” Sanabria called out to the kids.

As the Supreme Court justice nodded, clapped and tapped her feet to the performance, a band member dragged her out of her seat to join him in an impromptu dance.

When the show was over, the crowd gave Sanabria—and the children—a standing ovation.

Gathering up his instruments after the show, Sanabria expressed his eagerness for the Bronx Children’s Museum to bring culture and the arts to kids like the ones who had just left the stage.

“Through me, the spirit of the music and the Bronx lives in them. They are the future and hope for the Bronx,” he said.

The Bronx is the only borough in the city without a museum designed for children. Until the new museum space opens to the public, it’s been offering exhibits in a bus that crisscrosses the Bronx to allow children in different neighborhoods to see the displays.

“The kids need infrastructure,” said Sanabria, “and the museum is a big part of that.”

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