This is fifth in a series of profiles on arts educators in Winston-Salem/Forsyth County Schools.

Julie Hunter spent much of her time earlier this week teaching dance steps to kids at Forest Park Elementary School in preparation for the competition at the school’s annual Hispanic Heritage Celebration.

Each year, third, fourth and fifth graders square off against each other to see which class has the best dancing skills. Hunter, a music specialist at the school, is in charge of teaching the kids the dance steps.

As about 20 fourth graders stood at attention, their hands behind their backs, Hunter shuffled a few papers holding the instructions to the respective dances.

“I get my dances mixed up sometimes,” she said with a laugh.

That’s little wonder. Hunter teaches music to more than 600 kids at the school, nearly 100 a day.

With just a few words, Hunter got them to stand quietly then led them through a series of sashays and bows.

The fourth-grade class is the reigning dance champions, and they feel pretty certain they will once again win the competition.

Hunter has spent all 34 years of her teaching career at Forest Park.

She earned bachelor’s and master’s degrees in music from UNC-Greensboro.

“I’m living my dream,” she said.

Q: What was your introduction to music?

Answer: I started in music when I was 5 years old, right before kindergarten. I took piano lessons from my home church in Kings Mountain. I grew up in Kings Mountain. I’m a country girl. My mother encouraged me, and they realized I had a talent for it, and I was switched to taking lessons at Belmont Sacred Heart College Conservatory and that introduced me to the North Carolina Federation of Music Clubs where we had to learn certain pieces, memorize them and get rated.

I’m an organist. By fifth grade, I was playing for two churches. And I still play for two churches, Goler Metropolitan AME and St. John CME.

Q: What is a typical day like for you?

Answer: I teach more than 600 kids, and about 100 kids a day, K-5. First of all, I have fun. You should have fun with what you do. You’re building young minds and being a role model. I use my music for them to express themselves. I’ve always loved Forest Park. Our children here, they deserve the best, and I try to give my best to them, to keep them occupied, because it’s so hard out there in the world.

Q: What do you like about working with kids?

Answer: It’s never a dull moment. The children give you their best. If they buy into what you’re doing, they will perform for you.

Q: What would you like people to know about the importance of the arts in education?

Answer: Arts education is another way for children to express themselves. My kids at Forest Park are so talented and through music and the arts, they get to express that and show the world. I always tell my kids, it’s a process. When you’re getting ready for a performance, you start here and each week add, and it builds up. And that’s how you approach life and challenges. It carries over. It’s a skill that teaches you to reach your goal.

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Lisa O’Donnell writes about artists — visual, musical, literary and more — weekly in relish. Send your story ideas to lodonnell@wsjournal.com or call 336-727-7420.

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