About 18 girls and boys put on new ballet shoes and mirrored an instructor’s movements. They turned out their feet to demi-plié – down, one-two, up, three-four – and they pointed their toes in tendu.
Many of the children, who live with their mothers at Durham Rescue Mission’s homeless shelter, had never seen a ballet performance or tried the moves themselves.
But on Thursday, they got free ballet slippers and a dance lesson from members of the Cary Ballet Company as part of a new community-outreach program that hopes to bring the art of dance to women’s shelters throughout the Triangle.
“I’ve always wanted to get my daughter into dance,” said Tia Harris, 29, who has been staying at the Good Samaritan Inn shelter through Durham Rescue Mission for more than a year. Her 4-year-old daughter, Zimora, excitedly twirled around the room during the event at the shelter.
“She loves dance, she loves music,” Harris said.
The event, which featured a choreographed performance for the moms, marked the launch of Plié All Day. The Cary Ballet Company, a nonprofit performance group of the Cary Ballet Conservatory, started the program as a way to help the under-served community, said development coordinator Michelle Gisondi.
Ballet classes are often too expensive for families struggling to pay the bills or get back on their feet. It costs about $80 a month for a 5-year-old child to take a weekly class at Cary Ballet.
“It’s a part of our core beliefs and values,” Gisondi said.
Ballet classes are often too expensive for families struggling to pay the bills or get back on their feet. It costs about $80 a month for a 5-year-old to take a weekly class at Cary Ballet, Gisondi said.
The numbers are more staggering for serious dancers. Website FiveThirtyEight calculated that it costs about $120,000 over 15 years to train a professional dancer who gets started at age 3.
Ballet has been criticized for its lack of diversity, attracting and featuring mostly white dancers. In 2015, Misty Copeland became the first African-American dancer to become a principal dancer for American Ballet Theatre.
Many kids, particularly minorities, never get to experience the joy of performing on stage or to gain the valuable lessons dance classes can teach – discipline, teamwork, risk-taking.
“It’s very community-building and family-building,” Gisondi said. “There’s a lot of failing and trying again.”
Members of the Cary Ballet Company told me they love dance for the same reasons I enjoyed ballet classes as a kid. It’s a way to escape stress, from friendship drama to family woes, and express themselves creatively.
I was a shy kid who dreaded gym class and never tried out for sports teams, but ballet made me feel like I was good at something. It made me feel empowered.
Some of my fondest childhood memories are from the ballet studio, where I could truly be myself. I was a shy kid who dreaded gym class and never tried out for sports teams, but ballet made me feel like I was good at something. It made me feel empowered.
“You get in the studio and you’re dancing, and you forget about all the troubles in the world,” said Addison Spey, 18, a member of the Cary Ballet Company. “It’s a way to kind of let go.”
Spey, who has been dancing since she was 9, leaves Cary High School at 10:20 a.m. every day so she can train for 30 to 40 hours a week. She plans to take part in an intensive summer program with the Atlanta Ballet after high school graduation in June.
On Thursday, Spey performed in pointe shoes to show the kids how ballet dancers go all the way up on their toes. She said she was happy to “spread the love of dance.”
So was Arianna Arnold, 13, also a member of the Cary Ballet.
“It’s a really great experience knowing I’ve been blessed to be part of this, helping someone who might not be as privileged as I am,” she said.
Rokelia Brown, 37, said her 6-year-old daughter, Amira, was thrilled when she found out about the ballet lesson. Once the family moves out of the shelter, Brown said, maybe Amira can enroll in a class.
“Right now it’s just not an option,” she said.
It’s good for the kids at Durham Rescue Mission to be exposed to new activities, said Carol Alcorn, director of education at the organization. Physical activity is also a bonus, she said, because they spend a lot of time watching TV.
“A lot of them never would have done anything like this,” Alcorn said. “This is great to have them up and running – and bouncing.”
Joia Ubia, 9, said she took some ballet classes when her family lived in Arizona. Now she’s staying at the shelter.
“I like that you learn different moves and you learn how to be a ballerina,” Joia said.
Eight-year-old Jordan Chefney, who had never done ballet before Thursday, said the experience was “awesome.”
“I want to practice more,” he said.
Plié All Day hopes to return to Durham Rescue Mission and to visit more local shelters. Now the program is looking for corporate sponsors and donors. Relevé Dancewear donated the ballet shoes for Thursday’s event, and California Pizza Kitchen provided a catered dinner.
To donate or find out more, go to http://bit.ly/2ocCq8f.