Young men from Orange Mound thrived this summer in New Ballet’s summer program. After attending a Redbirds RBI Baseball Camp, the boys, students at Dunbar Elementary, spent two weeks at New Ballet. Most of the boys attended classes at New Ballet throughout the past school year. Some participants have been New Ballet students since the Orange Mound Community program began in 2009 and now attend Airways and Fairview Middle schools. In addition, New Ballet recruited Orange Mound neighborhood students for the summer. Dancer, Tajari Benson, traveled from the Tennessee/Mississippi border to attend daily. The only day he missed the program, he also missed the doughnuts. “I learned what happens when you miss a day”!
New Ballet’s Orange Mound Community program began in 2009 with a Community Foundation grant. The goal was to take the New Ballet curriculum into a high-need community that was near enough to the studio that the students could have access to all that New Ballet has to offer. Research showed that there were few organized afterschool activities in Orange Mound and, although dance is valued in the community, no dance programs. New Ballet is pleased to be able to continue offering dance education to these students throughout the summer months. The goal now is to keep the boys involved in New Ballet during the school year, so that they may continue to pursue their interest in dance, and so that they can participate in New Ballet’s mentor program, Align, once they reach middle school age.
The two-week program offered opportunities to play soccer and basketball, study modern dance, yoga, flamenco, and hip hop. Intern Jessica Greenberg joined New Ballet this summer to lead yoga and journaling activities for the Orange Mound Community program. Jessica came to us from New Orleans, where she worked for the Heritage School of Music, a non-profit school that is a branch of the Jazz and Heritage Center.
Spanish, geography, and music were infused into dance lessons led by Noelia Garcia Carmona and students left the program able to articulate the heritage of the art of flamenco, understand the geography of Spain, the languages spoken there and culture that led to the development of flamenco as an art form! Roy Brewer, a musician and a friend of New Ballet, generously volunteered his time to play Spanish guitar to accompany the flamenco classes. Roy also plays the cajon, a percussion instrument that often accompanies Spanish dance. The summer session culminated with a fantastic performance opportunity at the Levitt Shell.
Mornings were devoted to athletics: soccer for the first week, and basketball for the second. After daily sports practice, the boys were led through writing activities and yoga by Jessica Greenberg. Jessica also has a dance background and is a certified yoga teacher.
The boys also studied modern dance with Mandy Possel, a New Ballet Teaching Artist and professional dancer. Last but not least, the boys took hip hop, including improvisation and choreography, with Shamar Rooks. Shamar, another New Ballet Teaching Artist and professional dancer, has been a natural mentor to the boys, who were inspired by his level of skill and dedication to dance. Their studies culminated in the June performance at the Levitt Shell, where the boys performed as break dancing hunters in Peter and the Wolf, and also showed off their moves in Hip Hop to Africa: The Roots of Urban Dance. The boys were a big hit on stage! Check them out in our Facebook album of the show. You can also read more about our June show at the Levitt Shell here.
New Ballet could not have had such a successful summer without the support of Lori Phillips, Principal of Dunbar Elementary. Her support of the New Ballet/Dunbar Elementary partnership, starting in 2008, has been instrumental in New Ballet’s reach into the Orange Mound community.
Also integral to our summer education program was the First Tennessee Foundation, who generously funded summer tuition with an Arts First grant. First Tennessee sponsored girls this summer as well, so that they could take part in the summer session. Memphis City Schools provided lunches for the program, and Palazola Produce donated fresh fruit. Being able to feed the boys lunch and snacks enabled New Ballet to keep them for the whole day, rather than just a few hours. Without sponsorship from all of these supporters, the summer program would not have been the huge success that it was! All New Ballet staff, and most of all the students, are incredibly grateful for the support.