For Rachel Henriquez the journey to graduation hasn’t been a sprint; it’s been more like a waltz.
Henriquez, who will receive her master’s degree in education at the Graduate Hooding ceremony on Thursday, May 12, has expressed her passion for dance in and out of the classroom.
For the past two years, Henriquez has participated as a professional dancer in Dancing with the Knoxville Stars, a fundraiser for East Tennessee Children’s Hospital. Sponsored by Star 102.1, the event—which this year raised $154,000—is a takeoff of the hit reality television show Dancing with the Stars and features Knoxville celebrities performing a variety of dances with professional dance partners.
Last year Henriquez danced with Morgan Wallen, a local resident who competed on popular TV talent show The Voice; this year Henriquez danced with Michael Murray, former NHL player and current co-owner of the Ice Bears hockey team, and they won.
Henriquez shared the spotlight at Dancing with the Knoxville Stars with a group of her students.
As a student teacher in the fifth-grade at Lonsdale Elementary School, Henriquez said that Lonsdale received a grant that allowed the school to create a special time of day once a week dedicated to club time when students could participate in their choice of extra enrichment activities, including athletics, technology, art, or dance.
Henriquez collaborated with the school’s librarian, Kristy Boling, to teach dance.
Because of Henriquez’s involvement with Dancing with the Knoxville Stars, the Lonsdale fifth-grade dancers were invited to perform during the fundraising event.
“The students wanted to be afraid, but I wouldn’t let them,” said Henriquez. “I knew how amazing they were, and I knew that they needed to know how confident I was in them. They probably were petrified, but they never showed it.”
But this special opportunity, was merely icing on the cake.
Henriquez said kids in dance club have developed a greater bond with one another. Some students have gained self-confidence while others have increased their ability to focus. They all have shown dedication by attending extra practices at 7 a.m. three times a week.
“I want them to gain confidence in themselves. I want them to practice dancing and talking and performing in front of other people, because that is a life skill that will help them for many years to come,” Henriquez said.
The payoff came when she caught a glimpse of her students become more poised in stressful situations—finding joy in a hard day, overcoming a social or academic obstacle, or coming together with their peers to reach a common goal.
Amos Hatch, a professor of early childhood education, said Henriquez is “an outstanding person who has worked hard to make herself into an excellent beginning teacher.”
“She has successfully juggled an amazing array of responsibilities at home, on campus, and in her internship training. All the while, never complaining or asking for special treatment,” he said.
Henriquez’s biggest cheerleader, though, is her husband and fellow graduate, Al Henriquez, who also participated in Dancing with the Knoxville Stars the last three years.
“Everyone who comes in contact with Rachel enjoys her enthusiasm, her genuine care, and her always happy disposition,” said Al Henriquez, who will receive his bachelor’s degree in Hospitality, Retail and Tourism Management. “She leaves everlasting impressions on everyone she meets.”
Amy Blakely, (865-974-5034, firstname.lastname@example.org)