SANTA FE, N.M. (AP) — Eighty-five huffing, puffing youngsters shook the stage in the theater at the new National Dance Institute of New Mexico as their instructor shouted directions.

"Crazy," she said, and the fifth- and sixth-graders gyrated wildly — but in unison — to the thumping piano music. "Crazier," she ordered.

For the students, the show was to be the culmination of a 30-week dance program that teaches them to work hard, work together and strive for excellence.

"Our goals are not to create dancers so much as to affect lives . . . and teach children how it is that you get better at something," said Catherine Oppenheimer, the institute's artistic director and co-founder. "Ultimately, we're a program that builds self-esteem."

Founded 27 years ago by Jacques d'Amboise, principal dancer with the New York City Ballet, the National Dance Institute spun off a year-round program here in 1994, when Oppenheimer moved to Santa Fe. Today, it serves almost 4,000 children, ages 5 through 15, in 18 New Mexico communities.