Arts & Culture » Community & Lifestyle

Oklahoma City ballet program reaches underserved students through dance

by

comment
Oklahoma City Ballet’s donors enable its BalletReach program to provide shoes for students in its classes. | Photo Oklahoma City Ballet / provided
  • Oklahoma City Ballet’s donors enable its BalletReach program to provide shoes for students in its classes. | Photo Oklahoma City Ballet / provided

Oklahoma City Ballet has been the metro’s premier professional ballet company since 1972.

In the past few years, executive director Shane Jewell and artistic director Robert Mills have danced to new heights with one spectacular production after another.

But the ballet offers more than just world-class entertainment in the heart of Oklahoma. It is also an organization giving back to the community.

Oklahoma City Ballet offers outreach programs designed to provide dance education and community-based performances throughout central Oklahoma. One of those programs is BalletReach and provides on-site dance classes to seven underserved schools in the Oklahoma City and Ada areas.

“The goal is to give these students an experience they never would have had while promoting arts appreciation and arts education,” said Stephanie Pitts, Oklahoma City Ballet development and outreach coordinator. “Because the children attend underserved schools, many of them would not have the ability to participate in a ballet class or extracurricular activity without this program. It also provides a fun, healthy activity for the students.”

One of the seven schools BalletReach now works with is Positive Tomorrows. It is Oklahoma’s only elementary school that specifically serves homeless children and their families.

“Positive Tomorrows students previously visited our Oklahoma City Ballet studios to watch the company rehearse,” Pitts said. “They were so fascinated with the dancers and interested in taking classes. So earlier this school year, Positive Tomorrows staff reached out to us and expressed interest in having ballet classes on-site. We were so excited to be able to reach these kids, but we needed help with funding the program. Dell graciously stepped in and became our sponsor.”

The classes are held at least twice a week, Pitts said, for 30 to 45 minutes a day 32 weeks a year. During the 2016-17 school year, more than 1,000 hours of instruction will be provided. The company also provides ballet shoes so students can receive the full experience of being ballet dancers.

“This program goes far beyond teaching kids about ballet,” Pitts said. “Some students are struggling with issues such as bad home environments, and they just light up when they attend their ballet class.”

Pitts said one particular story emphasizes the tremendous impact of BalletReach.

“Students in a class were asked to draw what they thought a ballerina looked like,” she said. “Most drew dancers with light skin. The ballet teacher showed them her picture, and it was of a girl with brown skin. They were so amazed that a ballerina could look like them. … The program has helped to emphasize the fact that these students can really become anything they want to be when they grow up.”

In addition to Positive Tomorrows, BalletReach is on-site at Crutcho, Britton, Wheeler, John Rex Charter, Santa Fe South and Arbor Grove elementary schools in Oklahoma City and the Chickasaw Nation Child Development Center in Ada.  Plans are also underway to expand to two other schools.

Pitts said being a good community partner is one of the ballet’s main goals.

“One of our three tiers of focus is outreach,” she said. “It is just as important to us as providing beautiful ballets for our audiences and exceptional training at our dance center. The dance center itself provides over $220,000 in scholarships to students who cannot afford ballet classes.”

Eight of those scholarships were awarded through BalletReach, and the organization hopes to award 12 next year.

“We are dedicated to making ballet accessible to everyone,” Pitts said. “Our outreach programs are an integral part of this.”

Oklahoma City Ballet is a nonprofit organization that relies on donations to provide these programs at no cost to participants.

For more information or to donate, visit okcballet.com.

Print headline: Positive steps, Oklahoma City Ballet’s BalletReach program brings dance to underserved students.

Latest in Community & Lifestyle

Readers also liked…

Add a comment