“Dance is a universal language,” says Jacqueline White, whose Plaza-Midwood dance studio, Open Door Studio, caters to dancers of all shapes, sizes, ages and skill level. “Part of our mission at Open Door,” she says, “is that dance is for everyone.”
White approached Silvia Ganzo, director of the Bridge, an afterschool enrichment program for elementary school children of refugees that is housed in the same complex on Central Avenue where Open Door is located.
“I used to see them outside playing,” White says, “and I thought it would be nice to get some of them in the studio and teach them some hip hop or jazz.”
This year, an informal dance opportunity was offered to eight children from the Bridge to join an official class, Jazz I, on full scholarships. The girls range in age from nine to 11 and hail from Mexico, Nepal, Eritrea, and Ethiopia. (Also represented in the program, but not part of this year’s dance class are children from Burma, Vietnam, Nepal, Thailand, Kenya, Somalia, Gambia, Guatemala, Honduras and the Democratic Republic of the Congo.)
“The girls were so shy at first,” Ganzo says. “Some of them wouldn’t even talk in public. Now they are very outgoing.”
She adds that the girls take the class seriously and practice their routine whenever they are done with their homework.
“It has really brought them out of their shells,” she says.
Audrey Baran, the assistant director of Open Door Studios and the class instructor, agrees.
“There is a really high, positive energy in that class,” she said.
She also appreciates how everyone has come together to include the refugee participants.
“The other parents have been so supportive,” White says, “and the older girls are helping lead the new ones.”
The Bridge, funded by a federal grant, is part of the education services (after school programs, tutoring and day camps) offered by In Goode Company.
Rebekah Goode, a former ESL (English as a Second Language) teacher, says, “We were already tutoring these kids and we realized they needed more. We wanted to provide a bridge that connects the schools, the parents and the kids.”
“When I first started dancing, my body felt sore,” says Sadiya Franchesco, 10. “But now it doesn’t hurt anymore.”
Yennifer Barragan, 10, says, “I feel so grateful because I know this is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity.
White hopes to be able to provide more scholarships for students like those in the jazz class. She is establishing a non-profit foundation for Open Door Dance Studio to extend the reach of her studio to other deserving children.
“With those kids right there outside our door,” White says, “I figured it was the universe speaking.”
She also thinks it is fitting that the girls from The Bridge will be dancing in this year’s recital, scheduled for June 1, because the theme is Dr. Suess’s “Oh, the Places We’ll Go.”
Both White and Gonzo believe that the jazz class experience with children who had never taken dance before has broadened the horizons of everyone involved.
Katya Lezin is a freelance writer for South Charlotte News. Have a story idea for Katya? Email her at email@example.com.
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