Rising to the Occasion

It’s common for K–12 dance teachers to supplement school-allotted budgets with fundraisers. Dwindling state and district funds mean that selling cupcakes isn’t going to cut it anymore. As a result, dance teachers and public schools are taking a page from private institutions by forging partnerships with businesses, running pledge drives, tapping corporations and foundations and establishing their own 501(c)(3) nonprofit organizations. Here are some ideas for taking your fundraising to the next level.

Offer options.
It seems like a bad time to ask for money, but times of crisis force people to consider what is truly important to them, and to support it even more. “There are good people out there who really want to make a difference for the children,” says Joan Finkelstein, director of dance programs in the New York City Department of Education Office of Arts and Special Projects.

You can make your fundraisers even more attractive by offering a range of options for different budgets. The Woodland Star Educational Foundation, which supports the Woodland Star Charter School in Sonoma, CA, used to raise the bulk of its annual funds at one gala. Now it holds several smaller events throughout the year. “As the economy changed, we looked at what it might mean to have all our eggs in one basket,” says the foundation’s vice president, Steve Bossio. “We felt nervous that if that didn’t turn out well, it could be a problem.”

Another factor is that the annual gala, which required the work of 40 to 50 people, some of whom would put in 20 hours a week for months at a time, was simply no longer viable. “The more the economy suffers and the more people are suffering, the less time they have to put into things,” Bossio says. “We felt it was time to revamp it. Now, people are able to plug into one event, put in 20 or 30 hours and then go away.”

Identify your potential donors.
It’s a given that parents, grandparents and those directly involved with your students are good candidates for donations. But if you’re looking for large sums of money, you’d be well-advised to look further into the community.

In terms of fundraising, it’s imperative that you identify the people who support the arts in your area. “The pool of arts philanthropists tends to be small,” says Ralph Opacic, founder and executive director of Orange County High School of the Arts in Santa Ana, California, “and they tend to support all the arts.” Opacic says he reaches out to dance companies, symphonies and museums to build relationships that could aid his fundraising efforts.

Buddy up with businesses.
Businesses can donate space, food, services and merchandise for events like dinners, auctions and raffles. Some restaurant chains have special fundraising programs that require little effort and no money up front. Pizza Hut, for instance, helps groups host a pizza night, from which 25 percent of the event’s proceeds go to your school.

In addition, national companies offer fundraising options that are as easy as clipping cereal box tops or shopping online. Target credit card users can opt for registered schools to receive one percent of the value of all purchases made with their card. And Schoolpop.com, an online portal to many popular retailers, allows shoppers to choose a school to receive a portion of the amount they spend.

Recruit help.
Anne Richardson, dance program director at Palmetto Center for the Arts, a fine arts magnet school in Columbia, South Carolina, created a Parent Dance Board. The group meets once a month to create and plan fundraising ideas.

The fundraising chair is a demanding position and can be difficult to fill. Make the job easier by keeping a workbook of all events to pass along to the chairs of the next year’s events, so he or she doesn’t have to start from scratch, suggests Jean Joachim, author of Beyond the Bake Sale: The Ultimate School Fund-Raising Book. These workbooks can include contact information, detailed instructions, financial records and hints.

Go nonprofit.
There are several benefits to establishing 501(c)(3) status. For starters, many grants that are not available directly to schools are available to nonprofits. Similarly, only schools with a 501(c)(3) are eligible for programs like those through Schoolpop.com and Target.

Richardson registered her Parent Dance Board as a nonprofit organization, so the group could maintain its own bank account and exercise control over how the money is spent.

A 501(c)(3) is also attractive to donors—it signals that your group is an official organization, and it means that all donations will be tax-deductible.

Use the Web.
One of the easiest ways to let potential donors know about your program and its needs is through the web. Create a website where people can buy raffle tickets, learn about upcoming events, make direct donations and even bid on donated items à la eBay.

If creating and maintaining your own site isn’t an option, take advantage of sites like DonorsChoose.org. All full-time, public school teachers can register for the program, which allows them to directly appeal to donors by describing what they need, why they need it and how it will benefit students’ lives.

Christina Sussman, a drama teacher at I.S. 10 in Astoria, New York, has been using DonorsChoose for four years and has had 16 projects funded, including donations of props, costumes, a laptop and funding for Lincoln Center Institute teaching artists.

Follow the rules.
Fundraising regulations vary by state and district. California, for instance, forbids the sale of candy and other junk food. In New York, selling raffle tickets to students is not allowed.

It’s important to get your principal  involved. At the very least, you’ll need his or her permission. Principals can also offer guidance regarding rules and regulations, and, as in Richardson’s case, they may even be persuaded to make a cameo in a performance. “That helps sell tickets!” she says. DT

Michelle Vellucci is a freelance writer in New York City.

Photo courtesy of Elsinore High School

Fundraisers That Work

• This year, Natalie Bout of Elsinore High School in Wildomar, California, and her colleagues in the arts department came up with a new event called “Dancing with the Staff.” Students paired up with teachers and school staff members for a dance competition. It featured three “celebrity” judges, and audience members voted for their favorite couples. “Dancing with the Staff” raised about $2,300 for the dance program’s spring production, and it was a hit with students and teachers alike. Bout is planning to make it an annual event. “We think it will gain more speed next year,” she says. “The teachers are really gung-ho about it now.”

• Anne Richardson of Palmetto Center for the Arts painted a “Wall of Stars” in her dance room. Parents can honor their child by purchasing a star—for $5, $10 or $20 depending on the size—with the student’s name and graduation year.

Technique
Nan Melville, courtesy Genn

Not so long ago, it seemed that ballet dancers were always encouraged to pull up away from the floor. Ideas evolved, and more recently it has become common to hear teachers saying "Push down to go up," and variations on that concept.

Charla Genn, a New York City–based coach and dance rehabilitation specialist who teaches company class for Dance Theatre of Harlem, American Ballet Theatre and Ballet Hispánico, says that this causes its own problems.

"Often when we tell dancers to go down, they physically push down, or think they have to plié more," she says. These are misconceptions that keep dancers from, among other things, jumping to their full potential.

To help dancers learn to efficiently use what she calls "Mother Marley," Genn has developed these clever techniques and teaching tools.

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Teachers Trending
Alwin Courcy, courtesy Ballet des Amériques

Carole Alexis has been enduring the life-altering after-effects of COVID-19 since April 2020. For months on end, the Ballet des Amériques director struggled with fevers, tingling, dizziness and fatigue. Strange bruising showed up on her skin, along with the return of her (long dormant) asthma, plus word loss and stuttering.

"For three days I would experience relief from the fever—then, boom—it would come back worse than before," Alexis says. "I would go into a room and not know why I was there." Despite the remission of some symptoms, the fatigue and other debilitating side effects have endured to this day. Alexis is part of a tens-of-thousands-member club nobody wants to be part of—she is a COVID-19 long-hauler.


The state of Alexis' health changes from day to day, and in true dance-teacher fashion, she works through both the good and the terrible. "I tend to be strong because dance made me that way," she says. "It creates incredibly resilient people." This summer, as New York City began to ease restrictions, she pushed through her exhaustion and took her company to the docks in Long Island City, where they could take class outdoors. "We used natural barres under the beauty of the sky," Alexis says. "Without walls there were no limits, and the dancers were filled with emotion in their sneakers."

These classes led to an outdoor show for the Ballet des Amériques company—equipped with masks and a socially distanced audience. Since Phase 4 reopening in July, her students are back in the studio in Westchester, New York, under strict COVID-19 guidelines. "We're very safe and protective of our students," she says. "We were, long before I got sick. I'm responsible for someone's child."

Alexis says this commitment to follow the rules has stemmed, in part, from the lessons she's learned from ballet. "Dance has given me the spirit of discipline," she says. "Breaking the rules is not being creative, it's being insubordinate. We can all find creativity elsewhere."

Here, Alexis shares how she's helping her students through the pandemic—physically and emotionally—and getting through it herself.

How she counteracts mask fatigue:

"Our dancers can take short breaks during class. They can go outside on the sidewalk to breathe for a moment without their mask before coming back in. I'm very proud of them for adapting."

Her go-to warm-up for teaching:

"I first use a jump rope (also mandatory for my students), and follow with a full-body workout from the 7 Minute Workout app, preceding a barre au sol [floor barre] with injury-prevention exercises and dynamic stretching."

How she helps dancers manage their emotions during this time:

"Dancers come into my office to let go of stress. We talk about their frustration with not hugging their friends, we talk about the election, whatever is on their minds. Sometimes in class we will stop and take 15 minutes to let them talk about how their families are doing and make jokes, then we go back to pliés. The young people are very worried. You can see it in their eyes. We have to give them hope, laughter and work."

Her favorite teaching attire:

"I change my training clothes in accordance with the mood of my body. That said, I love teaching in the Gaynor Minden Women's Microtech warm-up dance pants in all available colors, with long-sleeve leotards. For shoes, I wear the Adult "Boost" dance sneaker in pink or black. Because I have long days of work, I often wear the Repetto Boots d'échauffement for a few exercises to relax my feet."

How she coped during the initial difficult months of her illness:

"I live across from the Empire State Building. It was lit red with the heartbeat of New York, and it put me in the consciousness of others suffering. I saw ambulances, one after another, on their way to the hospital. I broke thinking of all the people losing someone while I looked through my window. I thought about essential workers, all those incredible people. I thought about why dance isn't essential and the work we needed to do to make it such. Then I got a puppy, to focus on another life rather than staying wrapped in my own depression. It lifted my spirit. Thinking about your own problems never gets you through them."

The foods she can't live without:

"I must have seafood and vegetables. It is in my DNA to love such things—my ancestors were always by the ocean."

Recommended viewing:

"I recommend dancers watch as many full-length ballets as possible, and avoid snippets of dance out of context. My ultimate recommendation is the film of La Bayadère by Rudolf Nureyev. The cast includes the most incredible étoiles: Isabelle Guérin, Élisabeth Platel, Laurent Hilaire, Jean-Marie Didière, who were once the students of the revolutionary Claude Bessy."

Her ideal day off:

"I have three: one is to explore a new destination, town, forest or hiking trail; another is a lazy day at home; and the third, an important one that I miss due to the pandemic, is to go to the Cathedral of Saint John the Divine, where my soul feels renewed by the sermons and the music."

Teachers Trending

Annika Abel Photography, courtesy Griffith

When the murder of George Floyd in Minneapolis last May catalyzed nationwide protests against systemic racism, the tap community resumed longstanding conversations about teaching a Black art form in the era of Black Lives Matter. As these dialogues unfolded on social media, veteran Dorrance Dance member Karida Griffith commented infrequently, finding it difficult to participate in a meaningful way.

"I had a hard time watching people have these conversations without historical context and knowledge," says Griffith, who now resides in her hometown of Portland, Oregon, after many years in New York City. "It was clear that there was so much information missing."

For example, she observed people discussing tap while demonstrating ignorance about Black culture. Or, posts that tried to impose upon tap the history or aesthetics of European dance forms.

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