Dance – and professional training – should be accessible for everyone, no matter social status, location and financial situation. Ballet and Beyond NYC is an organization devoted to giving kids a safe and affordable way of exploring the joy of learning classical ballet at a high level, while helping them develop self-expression, confidence and discipline, all qualities that can help them succeed beyond the ballet studio.
Michelle Cave founded Ballet and Beyond NYC about three years ago, when, even after having taught at several professional schools such as The School at Steps, she wanted to reach more kids. She specifically wanted to find a way to teach kids who had a passion for ballet but did not have the means to train at a good school. After speaking with the director of Youth Programs at Goddard Riverside Community Center (GRCC), Cave agreed to co-direct a pilot summer performing arts camp and offer some after-school classes during the school year. And Ballet and Beyond NYC has grown from there.
“We build on the incredible outreach work done by so many dance education programs by finding the kids who already know they want to dance but can’t go to regular classes,” Cave explains. “We teach them technique in a pre-professional capacity, expose them to opportunities in NYC, and connect them with training programs of performing arts public schools if they desire to go further.”
Each summer, Ballet and Beyond NYC offers a six-week performing arts camp, partnered with GRCC, and with further artistic direction from Carlton Terrence Taylor, who specializes in musical theater. There are about 60 kids in attendance, who take classes in ballet, modern, hip hop, voice, acting and drumming, as well as rehearse for an end-of-session performance. There are also special workshops and field trips, both arts-related and just for fun.
During the school year, Ballet and Beyond NYC offers after-school ballet and modern classes, as well as a Saturday performing arts workshop series for students who want to spend more time on the creative and performance elements of dance. Students also have the opportunity to perform in community center showcases, presenting variations and group pieces they’ve learned during the year. Just this past May, Ballet and Beyond NYC collaborated with Silver Music, a local music school, and dancers performed to live violin in an afternoon of music and dance.
Faculty members all teach at other established NYC studios or at the college level, and all teachers are paid. And, in line with the organization’s mission, most programs are free for the students, or if there is a small fee, then scholarships are available. Students generally range from age eight to 14 and come from many different academic schools, making the student body incredibly diverse, Cave notes. Prior dance experience is not necessarily required (depending on the level of the class), but students are expected to have a passion and commitment to study in a disciplined manner.
“I recognize that ballet isn’t a style of dance that appeals to everyone, but the training process is incredibly satisfying for those students who get it,” Cave adds. “Those of us who are ballet dancers know that ballet is the ultimate in delayed gratification – you have to spend a lot of time on technique before you have that ‘aha’ moment. When I looked at all of the great dance education programs in NYC, I didn’t see many that taught classical ballet technique in a sufficiently intensive manner to give the students a true sense of mastery and accomplishment. I had the specific goal of finding kids to whom ballet appealed and giving them enough consistent and authentic training to help them determine if they would like to study seriously. If so, I am committed to helping them find a scholarship program or public school performing arts program where they can further their training.”
As Ballet and Beyond NYC is a not-for-profit organization, donations are necessary in order for the program to continue is community-centered work. People can support Ballet and Beyond NYC through Fractured Atlas, and donations go toward portable Marley floors, ballet barres, attire and of course to the trained teachers and accompanists. Ballet and Beyond NYC also benefits greatly from donations of supplies and costumes. Gaynor Minden and From Our Hearts to Your Toes have been generous donors of the organization already.
“We invest in creating an atmosphere that is conducive to training at a pre-professional level – the closest approximation to a studio that we can create – but most important to our success is the quality of the professionals who teach and mentor our students,” Cave says. “A longer term goal is to build a home studio in one of the community centers where we do a substantial amount of work. We are raising money to combine two smaller spaces and to install a proper sprung floor.”
Cave is proud of the work that the young organization has already done and enjoys those moments when the students’ eyes light up because they’ve made a connection between ballet’s physical movement and the artistic passion and expression that has been inside of them.
“I know the kids we work with come back to class because they really want to be there, and it makes me really happy to be able to provide this opportunity,” Cave shares. “Those of us who are parents strive to give our kids every chance to find their passion, something that will be unique to them. If Ballet and Beyond NYC stokes the passion for ballet in a kid who wouldn’t have had the chance otherwise, then we are successful.”
By Laura Di Orio of Dance Informa.