Saltwater Portrait

Dennis Minus: Teaching keeps him young at heart

Music helps children express individuality
Dennis Minus uses drumming and folkloric dance to teach children life lessons. BY RACHEL SWICK MAVITY
August 9, 2011

Beating a drum, blowing a whistle and moving to the beat on stage, it would be hard to guess Dennis Minus's age. Music and teaching children has kept him young at heart.

Minus, 53, of Dover, has been working with Sussex County children for seven years by teaching individualism, life lessons and how to prevent bullying, plus drum and folkloric dance at First State Community Action Agency's summer enrichment program, held each summer for five weeks in Georgetown.

Minus keeps coming back because he loves children, and he loves watching them grow over the course of the program.

"I was hired as a facilitator after my first year with the program," Minus said. "The program teaches our children to be strong-minded and teaches them to be individuals."

It also teaches children that being an individual is a good thing and not to bully those who may be different, Minus said.

"We teach them to love themselves and do the right thing," he said. "We talk about getting good grades in school and also show them a bit of the world by taking them on field trips."

This year's group, which finished the enrichment program July 28, traveled to the Washington Zoo, a career day at University of Delaware, the beach, a horse farm and Dover Air Force Base, where they learned about planes as well as emergency preparedness.

Minus has an engaging and casual air about him as he glides through swaths of children at the summer camp, handing out compliments and his signature high-fives.

"Children are our most important asset, and at this age they have to be guided," Minus said. "Bullying is on the rise, and we have to teach prevention."

When he is not surrounded by children, Minus is working as a musician, actor and artist. He finds his passion through music, song and dance, but also enjoys writing poetry and acting on the side.

Minus is the cofounder of the Sankofa African Dance Company, which was created in 1995 with Dover City Councilman Reuben Salters to provide a cultural outlet for Delawareans.

"When I came to Delaware permanently in 2001, I realized there was a void," Minus said. "I saw there wasn't much culturally going on, so I started with live music at the Dover Mall and later met up with Councilman Salters to help get this drum company started."

The company has now taken off and performs at all kinds of venues, leaving Minus ready to take on his next challenge. He is considering starting a similar cultural group in the Georgetown area.

"I'm looking for anyone willing to work with children or someone with a space to donate; and of course, funding is needed," Minus said. "The dance and drum company started in a church in Dover and grew from there. We could do that here."

Minus said the group would work to teach children about folkloric dance and drumming, which he said can be a great outlet for children. He also plans to continue working with the summer enrichment camp to continue improving what is offered for the area's children, many of whom are from low-income families. The camp gives them extra enrichment after school is out and also gives them a place to be children when parents are still working, he said.

"We want the kids to take home that the world is vast," Minus said. "This camp helps expose them to the world and different cultures. We also believe educating them in the summer helps keep their minds sharp and their skill levels up."

For the rest of the summer, Minus will be traveling both in and outside the state as a professional musician. He has some jazz acts scheduled and hopes to start collaborating with other artists in the fall.

"I try to stay busy performing when I'm not working at the camp," Minus said. "And, we are constantly working to make the summer program experience better and more unified. It ain't Broadway but we'll get there some day."