In June, Al Roker and NBC’s “Today Show” presented Katie Smythe with a seemingly bottomless truck full of donations for her dance studio, New Ballet Ensemble and School. As one of five recipients in the show’s annual “Lend a Hand” donation series, the Memphis, Tennessee, school was chosen because of the large number of students who receive financial aid. About 40 percent of 200 students are on scholarship, and the school receives funding from sponsors to donate performances and residencies in local schools to seek out talented kids and spread the word about dance. But Smythe, founder, CEO and artistic director of New Ballet, never imagined word would spread this far. “We don’t seek out things like this,” she says. “We are a very mission-driven organization. We just keep working, and that gets us noticed.”
Included in Roker’s truckload were $75,000 in dance apparel and footwear from Capezio, $20,000 in studio equipment from American Harlequin and $20,000 in cash that will go toward scholarships. Other donations came from Kool Aid, Ace Hardware, General Motors Foundation, United Airlines, Expo Dry Erase Markers and many other organizations. But the gift that topped all others, says Smythe, was awareness. “We’d love to reach a lot more children,” she says. “But we’ve been warned that anything that grows too quickly runs the risk of burnout. I want to be able to sustain the program, so we’re going to deliberately grow very slowly. Everyone at New Ballet—the students, the parents, the teachers—is really happy, and I hope it remains that way despite this new publicity.”
Photo: Ballet II class at New Ballet Ensemble and School (by Amie Vanderford, courtesy of New Ballet)
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This Sunday, master ballet teacher Finis Jhung turns 80. After a career as a soloist for both San Francisco Ballet and the Joffrey and a principal for Harkness Ballet, Jhung carved out a unique place for himself as a ballet teacher in New York City. He's coached the boys of Billy Elliot: The Musical, developed a popular video and DVD how-to series and STILL teaches seven classes a week at the Ailey Extension. He's graced the pages of this magazine to offer his time-honored wisdom again and again, and he's currently working on a memoir. (We can't wait to read it.) Happy birthday, Finis!
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