Princesses Ballet, run by 501(c)3) non-profit organization City Gospel Mission in Cincinnati, is changing lives. The program offers free ballet lessons to underprivileged girls from ages three to 18, with a dream of making ballet accessible to everyone, no matter their background. Each year, Princesses Ballet runs a large-scale fundraising event that goes toward the important work it does, and this year’s event is sponsored by Só Dança, with Jim Nowakowski and Caitlin Valentine-Ellis performing as guest artists.
“City Gospel Mission has four key areas,” explains Event Director Jessica Hamm. “We focus on food and shelter, recovery, at-risk youth, and job readiness and placement for people coming out of addiction recovery and things like that. Princesses Ballet focuses on at-risk youth, offering ballet classes at no charge, except a modest cost for the dancewear.”
The Princesses Ballet program started in 2003, with just eight girls, and has grown to serve over 500 girls across 21 sites in Cincinnati, Ohio. “The program has a mentoring approach and a focus toward success for each girl,” says Hamm, “so we really focus on the whole self, building character, self-esteem, discipline and of course a love of dance.”
Princesses Ballet is operated by a non-profit, so fundraising is vital to enable the organization to continue to offer classes across all its sites. “We’re very much funded through generous donations,” says Hamm, “and specifically the Evening of Dance that’s coming up in August is one of our biggest fundraisers throughout the year.” An Evening of Dance is a performance-oriented fundraiser that gives the young dancers a chance to demonstrate their hard work to a live audience.
The incredible work that Princesses Ballet does in its community and its upcoming fundraiser was enough to capture the attention of international dancewear brand Só Dança. Chief of Operations Helena Hines says, “From the start, our team at Só Dança was touched by the work that Princesses Ballet does. Our CEO Lisias Ransan saw this as a no-brainer and wanted to jump in and see how we could support them right away. We have not met or know of many companies that devote so much to young ladies, not only from a ballet perspective but as people. Princesses Ballet helps these ladies to understand their self-worth and encourage them to thrive no matter their circumstances. This organization is making a huge impact in their community.”
Só Dança is the major sponsor of this year’s event, and is also providing 120 outfits for the performers to wear. Hamm explains, “Só Dança was looking for an organization whose mission and vision lined up with what they believe in. City Gospel Mission and the Princesses Ballet program is the non-profit they found that met their qualifications, and is faith-based and changing lives. It was kind of the perfect match, I think, and a huge blessing for the girls.”
Hines is equally excited about the partnership. “We would like to help this organization in any way — financially, with our high quality products, encouraging professional dancers to help, and by getting the word out to the dance community,” she says. “We hope to inspire others and to bring a spotlight to Princesses Ballet so that others will support them as we are.”
The Princesses Ballet team are also thrilled to welcome Jim Nowakowski and Caitlin Valentine-Ellis on board. “We had an initial call with Só Dança and Jim, and Jim was super excited,” recalls Hamm. “He loved the idea, he loved the cause, and I think it sparked something in him because he has his own story and background that he had to overcome. We are very excited that he was so willing to come, and not just come and dance but also bring his partner Caitlin to perform as a duo. He was eager to add an additional element. He went to the next step, and we’re so thankful. He also offered to do a special Q&A time, and I know the girls are going to love that.”
Those who attend An Evening of Dance are in for a truly special night. “We have about eight dances that are set to contemporary remakes of ancient or classical hymns,” Hamm describes, “so the girls are learning about the love of God and expressing themselves through their dancing. Our guests will be able to see their confidence and their skills really shine through. People who come to see this event are going to experience something so much bigger than themselves. It’s an opportunity to receive the goodness that is provided through Princesses Ballet.”
Princesses Ballet is clearly about so much more than dance. “It’s really about giving hope to these girls,” Hamm affirms, “who otherwise could not afford to have dance lessons at all. I think it’s so important for them to have a safe place to express themselves, as well as routine and discipline. Built into that, they are mentored and loved by the instructors and by our program director, Gordon Havens, who is just a wonderful human being. He loves these girls so much.”
Beyond the plans for An Evening of Dance and the continuation of the program as it exists now is a wider goal of making Princesses Ballet a household name in Cincinnati, and perhaps further afield. “My personal dream would be that Princesses Ballet would become synonymous with hope,” Hamm explains. “I think as an organization, we would love to see a continual expansion of our ballet program through the city and beyond, for more sites to open and develop and for more people to get involved,” she says.
The involvement of a brand as influential as Só Dança and of dancers at the level of Nowakowski and Valentine-Ellis indicates big things are coming for the Princesses Ballet team. “I think Gordon hopes that we could eventually start our own ballet company,” says Hamm, “that would glorify God and be an opportunity for City Gospel Mission to truly change lives.”
Princesses Ballet is already changing lives, and its miraculous work is making an impact on the lives of hundreds of young women. To support the work that the organization does, visit www.citygospelmission.org/balletevent and click the sponsor button at the bottom. When you sponsor a Princesses Ballet Dancer, you’re giving a young girl the tools she needs to be successful, helping her build character and self-esteem, and teaching her the value of teamwork and work ethic.
Special thanks to Helena Hines of Só Dança and Jessica Hamm of City Gospel Mission.
By Emily Newton Smith of Dance Informa.