Ahhhh, that new dance shoe smell. The feel of soft, unworn material on your feet. As we dance in our shoes, over months and years, they lose that freshness. They take on new heartfelt meaning, however, because of those exhausting, exhilarating hours we spend them in. Some people in underprivileged communities unfortunately can’t experience this process. Dance tuition can be very expensive. Even with scholarships and work-study programs, add in the cost of shoes and the price tag can be prohibitive for those in lower economic brackets. Pair2Share of Atlanta, Georgia, works to minimize that obstacle.
The non-profit (501c3) organization’s mission is to “inspire and connect young people who have a passion for dance by sharing one another’s shoes…..to collect and donate new and gently used dance shoes in order to make dance…more accessible”. On the other hand, Juliana Abel, the organization’s founder, explains how the organization wants to focus more on “sharing” shoes. She elaborates that this is why they ask dancers who donate their shoes to write a short note to the dancer who will receive them — so that he or she can more closely “walk, or dance, in another dancer’s shoes”. The literal and metaphorical power of that action can help strengthen the dance community and break down socioeconomic barriers; Abel asserts that the ultimate result is a “shrink(ing) of….boundaries between people who share a common passion” — dance.
It seems as if the organization overall is shifting more toward that dance community-building focus. For instance, Abel explains how, surprisingly enough, there has been a relatively low number of donation requests (apart from a few private Facebook requests). Perhaps that’s because of a cultural stigma against “used” items. In any case, the organization has creatively re-framed its outreach toward other dance-based non-profits. For example, Abel describes how Pair2Share recently shifted its entire tap shoe supply to Untapped, an Arkansas-based organization that offers tap classes to underprivileged children.
Pair2Share has also collaborated with Moving in the Spirit, a non-profit dance studio in Atlanta. Abel and her co-founders, Meriah Grove and Mekayla Murphy, wanted to go beyond donating dance shoes in their larger mission to “promote the art of dance” (as Abel puts it). That inspired their idea of creating a dance-related visual art piece with Moving in the Spirit’s summer camp students. The group made wind chimes with taps unscrewed from their shoes along with beads, strings and hangers. The kids were “so excited to show them to their parents!” Abel says. She and her colleagues carefully explained to the children that the taps came from other dancers’ shoes — not to be used for dancing again but to make more art in their visual (versus dance) art project. That seems to be a pretty meaningful lesson for those children on legacy, on paying-it-forward, through the arts.
As beautiful and inspiring as this project seems, Pair2Share has high hopes for expanding in this direction, in connecting diverse types of dancers through their shoes. In fact, Abel cites “creating more personal interactions between dancers” as a major growth area for the organization. In order to grow more concretely toward achieving that goal, Pair2Share hopes to create opportunities for dancers from different time zones, backgrounds and cultures to share performances — and through that to interact and socialize.
All of this goes to show that dance shoes are more than material, laces, bindings and stitching. They become symbols of the times we spend in studio and on stage. We do that in community with other dancers, be they African American, Asian, or Caucasian; rich, poor, or middle-class; Christian, Muslim, or Jewish. Our shoes come to connect to our hearts, as well as to others’. Pair2Share, through its heartfelt and passionate work, enables more such connections. For me personally, my first pair of pointe shoes — now permanently decorative objects in my bedroom — will never again have quite the same meaning.
By Kathryn Boland of Dance Informa.
Photo (top): Juliana (left), Meriah (middle) and Mekayla (right) at a Pair2Share holiday event, where Footnotes Dance and Acrobatics Studio students bagged and added notes to shoes. Photo courtesy of Pair2Share.