Two afternoons a week, Daryl Gordon heads to the gym at Hall-Woodward Elementary once all the buses are on their way. Some days, as many as 80 students head that way, too.
There, they dance. And they dance and they dance. On a recent afternoon, Gordon spent two hours working with students, and the times when he and students weren’t moving were few and far between. At one point, he called out, “Y’all having a good time, boys and girls?”
Gordon calls the program, which he runs as a volunteer, D-Unity – for Dance Unity. Gordon started D-Unity not long after coming to Hall-Woodward as a teacher’s assistant in 2006.
“I do it because I love Jesus, and I love those kids,” he said.
Gordon started dancing when he was seven.
“But I was shy; I danced by myself,” he said. “I think my dancing was a gift from Jesus.”
He found inspiration watching dancers whose dancing seemed to be about more than just dancing: “It was to put hope in people’s hearts.”
Gordon has clearly mastered the skills required to maintain the delicate balance between keeping everything as fun as possible while keeping everyone focused. When he noticed that he had lost someone’s attention, he would call the student back to the moment without breaking the flow for everyone else.
On this particular afternoon, Gordon worked first with second- and third-graders and then with a group – made up mostly of fourth- and fifth-graders – that will perform at a Reynolds High School basketball game on Feb. 1 and, on Feb. 12, at an East Forsyth game.
Before everything got underway, some of the students talked about what they like about dancing and about working with him. Several said they appreciate how he’s fun most of the time and that, when it’s time to be serious, he is serious in a good way.
“He is very encouraging,” said fifth-grader Reyona Smith. “He is very nice, and he knows how to talk to you when you have done something wrong. He has a serious side and he has a funny side.”
And he’s a good teacher.
“He takes it at our pace,” said fifth-grader Melissa Negrete.
If students don’t keep up their grades or do something that gets them in trouble during the school day, Gordon may not let them continue to participate in D-Unity. Principal Celena Tribby said that participating means so much to students that one of the first things a student sent to the office may say is, “Please don’t take me off D-Unity.”
“It is really a big incentive for children,” Tribby said.
Gordon grew up in Winston-Salem. He went to Old Town Elementary, Mineral Springs Middle School and North Forsyth High. He went on to Winston-Salem State University, where he graduated with a degree in physical education in 2006. Not long after he graduated from Winston-Salem State, Principal Essie McCoy, who is now the principal at Petree Elementary, hired him. At a school meeting, she said she was looking for someone willing to help students put together a dance performance for a program.
“It was supposed to be a one-time thing,” Gordon said. “I went home and prayed about it.”
He came back the next day and volunteered. That “one-time thing” grew into D-Unity. The group has performed out in the community as well, and Gordon is open to invitations to perform. Along the way, Gordon also started leading camps in various sports – basketball, soccer, football – as the people who had been leading them moved on. In general, Wednesday and Thursday afternoons are dance days and Fridays are sports days. During his official day at work, Gordon works with the fifth-grade teachers, oversees the Hall-Woodward Safety Patrol and has bus duty before and after school.
At some point, Gordon would like to take the necessary steps to become certified in education so that he could become a physical-education teacher.
Gordon’s week outside of Hall-Woodward is packed, too. On Saturdays, he works a full day at Forsyth Medical Center, taking patients from one place to another. On Sundays, he goes to Mount Olive Baptist Church and, in the afternoon, he teaches dance to members of a youth group at Calvary Baptist Church. He is also a member of a gospel hip-hop group called Breaking Point.
On June 15, he is going to marry Sauntoya Nails. “We grew up together in church. She was a blessing to me,” he said.