When Joseph Moody had a discussion about dance crazes with the Juniors in his Sociology class three years ago, he had no way of knowing just how much the conversation would change all of their lives. “We got to talking about dance crazes and I realized the kids knew current dances but they didn’t know the old ones like The Hustle and The Charleston.” As the discussion unfolded, Moody challenged his students to go home and research dance crazes across the 20th century.
“I told them jokingly that they’d earn extra credit if they came to class and showed off their new skills,” Moody chuckled with his soft Southern accent. Moody, a teacher at Mary G. Montgomery High School in Semmes, Alabama, has been teaching for 26 years and has two grown daughters of his own. He says the students accepted his dance craze challenge and they came back to class prepared to tap, boogie woogie and hustle through the halls of their high school.
This year Moody and the students of MGM High School took it to an even higher level.
Recently, Moody and his students filmed a large scale production of epic proportions: a video set to the “The Greatest Show” from the movie The Greatest Showman filmed in the MGM high school gym. With the help of the MGM football team, dance squad, ROTC and other clubs, along with two mentor teachers as “assistant” ring masters, the kids of MGM set off to prove that being different is beautiful.
And, they nailed it.
When the aunt of one of the fire baton twirlers posted the link in the Grown and Flown Parents Facebook group, we knew we needed to get Mr. Moody on the phone. We were also pretty sure we wanted to be in his next production.
“When I was thinking about the concept of this video, I realized that a Pep Rally is much like a circus. Kids of all ages, colors and abilities coming together to support their school and it seemed like the perfect way to teach them about our commonalities,” says Moody. Though he supports his students and their creative ideas, he had to draw the line at the confetti canons. “I told the kids they could have fire batons but that explosives were a no go.” Good call, Mr. Moody.
And this isn’t the first time Moody and his students have worked their video magic. In 2016, Justin Timberlake’s song “Can’t Stop The Feelin’” had hit the airwaves. Moody, a self-proclaimed and unabashed super fan of JT and boy bands, says an idea danced in his head. “I realized as I watched the students practice their dance moves in the classroom that we had a real opportunity to teach each other about inclusion,” he says. “The one thing we all have in common across the human experience is that we are all going through something. And I wanted to teach the kids to recognize that everyone has a struggle.”
And Moody knew Justin Timberlake was just the guy to help him with the job.
Moody contacted former student and avid amateur filmmaker Alex Kiker to help him stage the first in a series of music videos by MGM students that highlighted his sociology students’ unique differences and talents. Armed with an iPhone 8 and a Gimbal (a camera stabilizer), Kiker filmed his former classmates and Moody as they danced through the halls of their high school to the impossibly catchy theme from the movie Trolls.
The video, not surprisingly, was an instant hit. Seriously, I dare you to watch this video without getting up to dance:
Moody tells Grown and Flown, “If we could do a flashback to our high school years, we’d probably all shake our heads and say, ‘What was I thinking?’” He says that he wanted the kids of his high school to have something tangible from their high school years, something they could look at in 20 years and feel proud to be a part of.
“I wanted them to look at these videos and say, ‘Yeah, I did that with my friends and it was awesome.’”
Every high school needs a Mr. Moody.
Following their success of the JT video, the school board came to Moody the following year with a request. “They told me the lower schools were having some trouble with bullying and asked if my class could do another video focused on bullying.” Naturally, it didn’t take much convincing when the talented kids of MGM heard that they’d been charged with using their talents to break down the walls of pain caused by bullying.
The kids came up with a plan to recreate the opening sequence of the popular movie, LaLaLand, right down to the traffic jam scene filmed in one shot. “Mr. Moody has a way of letting kids just do what they need to do and he doesn’t stand in the way of what we want to accomplish,” says Kiker. “It’s rare to find a teacher who is into social media and pop culture like we are and everyone loves Coach Moody,” Kiker tells Grown and Flown.
What’s even more amazing is that, as a result of working on these videos with Mr. Moody and MGM, Kiker landed a video producing and editing job with Alabama Media Group, a statewide media outlet. “He just let me do what I was good at and it led me to my dream job,” Kiker says.
When I asked Mr. Moody what he loves most about doing these videos with his students, he became quiet and reflective. “Classroom work is necessary. Worksheets, projects, boring lectures are all part of the classroom experience. But a kid isn’t going to remember a worksheet. He is going to remember being a part of something bigger than himself and that’s what I want to give my students.” And, he says, an unexpected bonus of the videos has been class enrollment has skyrocketed. “Everyone wants to know what we are doing next year,” he laughs.
Slow clap, Mr. Moody. Slow clap.
And we know that whatever song you pick, we know it’s going to be a Thriller….hint, hint.
Christine Burke is the owner of the popular parenting blog, keeperofthefruitloops.com. In her spare time, she runs marathons, collects thrift shop finds and eats ice cream like it’s her job. Her work has been featured on the Today Show, the Today Parenting Team, Scary Mommy and other parenting websites. In her current role as Assistant Editor of Grown and Flown, she writes about the realities of soon sending her not so little anymore kids off to college and prays she doesn’t use too many comma splices in the process.