Dance classes provide education opportunities for children 

click to enlarge OKC Ballet's Walker Martin teaches kids at Boys & Girls Club, 3535 N. Western Avenue, during 1 of the 2, 1 hour sessions held on August 11th and 12th.  mh
  • OKC Ballet's Walker Martin teaches kids at Boys & Girls Club, 3535 N. Western Avenue, during 1 of the 2, 1 hour sessions held on August 11th and 12th. mh

Five local youth received scholarships this year to participate in Dance Center of Oklahoma City Ballet, an official school of the professional dance company and the only American Ballet Theater-certified course in the state.

Aspiring dancers were evaluated during a joint program from American Ballet Theater (ABT), OKC Ballet and the Boys & Girls Club called Project Plié, established in 2013 to identify and recruit youth from underrepresented demographics.

Put simply, its goal is to improve racial diversity in the art, both at ABT schools and nationwide. Misty Copeland is advisor to Project Plié, and program proponents hope to replicate her experience.

In June, she became the first African-American female principal dancer in ABT’s 75-year existence. Companies are divided into four tiers: apprentices, corps de ballet, soloists and principals. Ideally, principals are the most skilled and therefore perform difficult and high-profile roles.

Her story is well documented and includes periods of homelessness as her single mother struggled to raise four children. She had her first ballet class at age 13 as part of a Boys & Girls Club program. She eventually moved in with a sponsoring family so she could pursue the art.

Most professional dancers are non-Hispanic whites — including Europeans — and Hispanics. There are few African-Americans.

OKC Ballet is participating in the national initiative for its second consecutive year, and as part of its commitment, it identified five students to received scholarships.

“This was an easy thing to say yes to,” said Robert Mills, the company’s artistic director. “We were already doing similar outreach, and we had the resources to add this. It was the right thing to do.”

Company dancers Walker Martin and Gerald Pines teach master classes at the Boys & Girls Club, he said. When Project Plié kicked off, ABT-affiliated schools received a packet that included a video of Copeland’s story and “swag for the kids.”

As part of the master classes, dancers were tasked with identifying potential scholarship students.

“Stereotypically, people think about body types or physicalities when it comes to dancers,” Mills said. “We were not looking for a specific body type, nor were we looking for a specific ethnicity.”

The goal is to identify youth that show curiosity, rhythm and general interest and talent, Mills said.

“When we talk about talent, we mean kids who learn the steps easily, have rhythm and overall body coordination,” he said. “This is not just to identify potential professional dancers, but to give kids a chance to enjoy ballet; kids who may not otherwise have an opportunity.”

Print Headline: Happy feet, Project Plié brings together community and professional dance organizations to provide education opportunities to children.

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Greg Horton

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