More than 30 young Orange County performers will soon croon and tap dance their way through schools across the nation to encourage students to help keep music education from falling prey to budget cuts.
The troupe is the Young Americans, whose members are 14 to 21. They will embark on their second national tour to teach students from fifth grade to high-school age the fundamentals of song, dance and acting.
"When the parents can see their kids up on stage and see what they can perform . . . and what music gives them, that's when we really reach them," said Jason Olthoff, 20, a Fullerton College student who has been a member of the Young Americans for several years.
The group leaves Feb. 4 for a 20-state tour, visiting cities as large as Phoenix and as small as Harbor Springs, Mich., population 1,550.
In each town, the Young Americans conduct a three-day workshop, teaching as many as 500 students 45 different songs and routines, including rock, hip hop, choir music and ballet, said Young Americans founder Milton Anderson. The students then perform a variety show together with the Young Americans.
They pay a $30 fee to join the workshop and are eager to begin learning music, but sometimes their most valuable lesson has nothing to do with song, Olthoff said.
Last year in Muskegon, Mich., Olthoff said, white and black students at first divided themselves into separate groups to learn their routines. But after working on a show for three days, the groups dissolved, he said: "Everyone mixed and . . . the barriers came right down. It's just a transformation that's really neat to watch."
Young American Tyson Garner, 20, a former athlete at Garden Grove High School, said he also noticed that the boys in the classes began to realize that "you can still be masculine" even if you are singing and dancing on stage. In fact, "girls like that," Garner said.
Music teachers also were inspired to support their music programs after seeing the enthusiasm of their students, said performer Becky Phelps, 18, of Tustin.
"For many of the schools, it was the last year of their music program," Phelps said. The teachers said they would "try harder to keep it going."
Anderson founded the Young Americans 32 years ago. In addition to promoting a positive image of young people, Anderson said, his mission has expanded to keeping music in public schools.
"If you end up teaching just math and science, you're going to end up with people who are less feeling," he said.