The staff of the Oklahoma City Ballet believes that a community’s strength is defined partly by the quality of life enjoyed by its residents—and that the arts are a critical element for community members of all ages. “Experience in the arts as a child is such an important part of the development process,” explains Shane Jewell, executive director of Oklahoma City Ballet. “It is true that children in the arts test better in math and science, but I believe the biggest benefit is teaching them what it is to have a passion. Having a true passion for something teaches children how to grow in a way that nothing else can.”
In addition to a commitment to helping grow an understanding, appreciation and lifelong interest in ballet and the arts, Oklahoma City Ballet is a strong supporter of art exposure for all children. The organization looks to connect with and create younger fans through extensive community outreach programs, a prestigious dance school and special family activities at matinée performances.
Oklahoma City Ballet’s community outreach efforts impact more than 5,200 children across the state each year through its BalletReach and ArtsReach programs. OKC Ballet also offers free and discounted tickets to performances to certain groups, free family matinée events and a pre-performance lecture series at no cost.
ArtsReach serves about 100 Title-I schools across central Oklahoma. The program begins with an eight-week curriculum provided to each school that explains common ballet terms, positions, history, famous dancers and stagecraft. At the end of the eight weeks, students attend special child-friendly performances by Oklahoma City Ballet at the Civic Center Music Hall. The ArtsReach program began more than 20 years ago with 1,500 students and has impacted more than 175,000 students and educators since inception. The program is offered free of charge to students and schools, thanks to the support of both local and national charitable foundations.
BalletReach brings fully-accredited ballet classes to elementary and high school students at no cost to participants. The program uses a curriculum developed by the Dance Center of Oklahoma City Ballet that encompasses both ballet technique and academics. The Ballet provides all of the materials required for the course, including shoes, books, yoga mats, resistive elastic bands, music and costumes. All of the students in the class are beginners and meet during a set class period, five days a week. Younger students are exposed to ballet positions, basic technique, key terminology and movement. High school students learn about ballet history and styles, music appreciation, theater terms, body strength and conditioning. After each semester, schools present an end of term performance for teachers, parents and community members, complete with choreography and costumes. BalletReach is currently in four schools in Oklahoma City and one school in Ada.
The Dance Center
The Dance Center of Oklahoma City Ballet offers recreational ballet classes and also prepares young dancers for a professional role in the arts. With a foundation in classical ballet technique, the school nurtures young dancers, fosters self-discipline and provides tools for self-expression. Throughout its 40-year history, The Dance Center has placed students in scholarship programs with many prestigious companies. A new accreditation with the American Ballet Theatre, America’s National Ballet Company® will make The Dance Center of Oklahoma City Ballet School only the seventh certified school in the country using the ABT® National Training Curriculum.
At The Dance Center of Oklahoma City Ballet, children as young as age 2 can participate in “Mommy & Me” classes. A full range of class options, including jazz and hip-hop, are offered at different age and ability levels. Chance to Dance, a Saturday morning class offered at the Dance Center, is for boys and girls ages 5-10 with Down Syndrome. Geared towards the specific learning styles and needs of the dancers, students learn the same material and benefit in the same way as participants in other classes. “Spatial awareness, musicality, rhythm, social connection, physical strength, flexibility, gross and fine motor skills, axial movements and locomotor movements are all increased by taking this class,” explains Jane Vorburger, school director. “The presentation of the lessons is designed to make the dance class more accessible for the learning styles of the students.”
A Summer Intensive program is available for students ages13–23, and this summer will feature instruction from American Ballet Theater ballerina Misty Copeland. Copeland began her dance training as a 13-year-old, and, in just a few short years, has reached the pinnacle of the ballet world as an African American soloist with American Ballet Theater.
The Oklahoma City Ballet also offers dance training and scholarships to the Boys & Girls Clubs of Oklahoma County through a partnership with American Ballet Theatre’s Project Plié program. Project Plié is focused on increasing ethnic diversity in ballet dancers while actively supporting interested kids who might not have access to dance training.
Members of the Boys & Girls Clubs are mentored and taught free of charge by Oklahoma City Ballet’s professional dancers in the Boys & Girls Clubs’ dance studio. Each year, five students from these classes will be awarded one-year scholarships to Oklahoma City Ballet’s professional training program, complete with shoes and uniforms. Project Plié looks to attract and assist promising dancers of color, eventually creating a stronger pipeline of performers from underrepresented groups. Establishing a racially-diverse cast of performers will hopefully expand the ballet’s reach to a broader audience.
Gerald Pines, a company dancer who joined the Oklahoma City Ballet in 2010, currently teaches the Project Plié classes at the Boys & Girls Clubs of Oklahoma County. Pines’ personal experiences and struggles from his youth growing up in Maryland inspired him with the desire to instruct the Boys & Girls Clubs students. “As a kid, I did not have many opportunities to get out of my neighborhood, get a better education or get involved in many activities, but I was lucky enough to have a teacher take me in with dance and she guided me along and pushed me,” Pines shares. “Dance has taken me around the world and taught me discipline. It’s been the best thing for me. I just want to give other kids a chance to try and learn as well.”
The Oklahoma City Ballet performs four shows throughout the year at the Civic Center Music Hall, including a popular staging of The Nutcracker in December. Single performance tickets and season ticket subscriptions are available. The 2013-2014 season culminates with Beauty and the Beast, performing April 18-19. Inspired by the original 1740 Barbot de Villeneuve story, this performance is an all-new telling of the familiar love story with a new score played by the Oklahoma City Philharmonic. Fantastic sets, costumes and dazzling special effects will make this show an awesome experience for children and adults. Performances will be held on Friday, April 18 at 7pm, and Saturday, April 19 at 2pm and 8pm. [Editor’s Note: Join MetroFamily Magazine at the Saturday matinée performance for hands-on activities one hour prior to show time.]
For more information on the outreach efforts of Oklahoma City Ballet, visit www.okcballet.com/outreach.