Dana Hills High student wins national award for dance choreography

By Cathi Douglas

Mark Wagner, a sophomore at Dana Hills High School, is the national winner of the National PTA Reflections Program in the Dance Choreography category for special artists with his piece titled, “I Speak With My Dancing.”

The Reflections Program is an arts recognition and achievement program for students established in 1969 that provides opportunities for students to express themselves creatively. The program offers positive recognition for original works of art inspired by a pre-selected theme and helps to increase community awareness on the importance of the arts in education. The 2020-2021 theme was “I Matter Because…”

Entries were divided into six categories within each grade level: dance choreography, film production, literature, music composition, photography, and visual arts.

There were 26,518 PTA Reflections Entries received throughout California, with 419 entries making it to the state finals. The State Award of Excellence recipients went to the national level, with Wagner named a national Award of Excellence finalist in early May. More than 700 student entries were received throughout the district; each school presented Awards of Excellence in each category and division, with 25 winners moving to the council level, and five winners heading to the state level.

“Reflections provides an opportunity for children to express themselves and reflect on important topics and themes,” notes Mina Carson, Capistrano Unified’s PTSA Reflections Chair. “Give them a theme that’s kind of abstract or deep and kids are capable of developing wonderful work.”

“Seeing the students’ work throughout the district was very inspiring,” Carson adds. “I think it’s very important to give kids a chance to express themselves in this manner.”

Wagner won with an “amazing piece,” Carson says. “He represents all of us in winning the highest honor the national PTA gives.”

The Outstanding Interpretation Award includes an $800 Young Artist Scholarship, a gold medal, Certificate of Outstanding Interpretation, and Wagner’s work will be displayed virtually and in a traveling exhibition, Carson says. In addition, his school receives $200.

Wagner, who has Down Syndrome, has been dancing since he was 5 years old.

“I want my friends to be happy when they watch me,” he says. “Winning this award is important to me because I speak with my dancing.”

His mother, Mercedes Wagner, says he wants to use the scholarship money to pay for dance classes.

“We are so honored for him to be recognized for his creativity,” Mercedes Wagner says. “As I reflected on all the videos and pictures we submitted, not that many kids could get up in front of a crowd and entertain and dance like Mark. He has a lot of courage. He is fearless.”

“His creativity certainly puts a smile on people’s faces when they see his work,” she adds. “He gives hope to new special needs parents.”

Wagner’s award-winning dance can be viewed on the Capistrano Unified website,  or via Google Drive. A list of winners is at the PTA.org website as well.

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