Adding community outreach to your studio's repertoire

The Dance Institute of Washington teaches dance and life lessons to students in need.

Educational outreach programs have become standard for major dance companies and their affiliated nonprofit dance schools, and they are typically supported by grants from state and local arts councils. But a number of private studios do outreach as well, and, in many cases, studio owners dig into their own pockets to support these efforts. Here, studio owners talk about their outreach programs and why they’re worth it.

Marcia Sarosik

Marcia Sarosik Dance Studio, 300 students

South Lake Tahoe, CA

As a kid, Marcia Sarosik’s family went through hard times after her dad was laid off from his job, but she went on to attend a private high school and college on scholarship. Now, as a studio owner, Sarosik tries to return the favor, providing scholarships to about 40 students who want to dance, but whose families are having financial trouble.

While she has, on occasion, provided separate classes for groups like the Boys and Girls Clubs, much of her outreach is done behind the scenes with scholarship students coming to take class alongside paying students at the studio.

“I get calls from counselors, teachers, principals and people in the community. They say, ‘I know this student who wants to dance, but I don’t think their family can pay. Can you do something?’” Sarosik says. “I don’t get grants. I’m still doing it by the seat of my pants, but I just say, ‘Sure, we’ll find a way.’ I know the business models say, ‘Don’t give away classes for free,’ but we have a responsibility to give these kids a chance and to help raise good human beings, too.”

Fabian Barnes

Dance Institute of Washington, 125 students

Washington, DC

Educational outreach doesn’t just mean teaching dance for the Dance Institute of Washington. The Institute offers outreach programs that mix dance with what director Fabian Barnes calls “life skills.” It began in 1999, when the school received a grant to teach at three affordable housing projects. Now the school offers its Positive Direction Through Dance program—mixing dance and life skills classes—for students ages 4–18 at one housing complex in the Institute’s neighborhood.

“We teach anything from financial literacy to conflict resolution to nutrition,” Barnes says. “We saw that the kids in the communities we were working with needed more than just dance. These classes introduce students to things that they may not get at home.” Teachers for the classes include volunteers from an area bank and a nutritionist, as well as staff members from the institute.

Institute staff meet regularly with the housing complex’s parent and tenant associations, and resident services coordinators. And since teaching dance in the apartment building’s multipurpose room is difficult, outreach students also attend regular dance classes at the studio. The buildings are close enough that Barnes doesn’t have to worry about transporting students to his facility. Grants and donations are utilized to supply dance clothing and shoes for outreach students.

“You have to be flexible. Going into these communities assuming everything will be perfect doesn’t work,” Barnes says. What does work, he adds, is mixing outreach students into classes with paying students. “People from all socioeconomic backgrounds need to know how to interact with one another, and they all receive the same training. This gives an example of what they’ll encounter in the world.”

Deena Laska

Children’s Center for Dance Education, 232 students

Evansville, IN

At the Children’s Center for Dance Education, educational outreach programs are a learning experience for the center’s students, as well as for audiences at schools and nursing homes where they perform. The dancers travel to other parts of Indiana, Illinois and Kentucky to present one-hour versions of classic ballets and fairy tales like Swan Lake and Hansel and Gretel. “This gives dancers a very important understanding that they are not the center of what is going on in the world, which is an essential lesson,” says director Deena Laska.

The center also runs several dance programs at local schools and rehabilitation centers. The studio’s nonprofit status allows it to apply for grants to pay for these programs, which are taught by Laska and other staff members. One, the Pirouette Project, provides weekly ballet classes, including dancewear and shoes, for students in the third through fifth grades at area schools. Older students can opt to continue their dance training on full scholarship at the center.

Kate Carol

Kate Carol and Company Dance, 250 students

Iowa City, IA

Kate Carol and Company Dance invites specialized groups, such as mentally or physically challenged students, for free classes at the studio (paid for by grants and sometimes out of Carol’s pocket).

The studio’s five student companies also sometimes present lecture demonstrations and performances in the community. “Since we’re not a competition school, it’s a nice opportunity for our students to perform,” Carol says.

Another component of the studio’s outreach consists of Carol teaching in area schools through Artists in the Schools programs, which are funded by the Iowa Arts Council. “It’s a chance to change someone’s perspective about the mental, intellectual and physical challenges of dance,” she says. “And occasionally you come across someone who is an amazing dancer, and you can help provide an opportunity for them.” Carol says her participation has not only made the studio eligible for grants, but it has been a vehicle for networking with other artists. “It’s great for professional collaborations because you meet people who design sets or costumes or are musicians or writers,” she says. She met a theater company owner through the program and ended up choreographing some of his productions.

“Outreach gives you the chance to pay it forward,” she says. “You give back to your community and to the artform.” DT

 

Karyn D. Collins teaches at The King Centre for the Performing Arts in NJ.

Photo courtesy of the Dance Institute of Washington

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