The program was born out of the realization that there are some kids who cannot afford or have access to enrichment programs like music or dance. Not every child likes sports and some kids need a creative outlet, especially kids who face adversity or are living in poverty.
The philosophy is focused on inclusivity and being mindful of the impact positive experiences can have in shaping a child or redirecting at-risk youth towards more healthy and hopeful activities.
This is the first year that ATB Financial has supported the program. Art Connects runs six classes per week at various locations throughout Edmonton.
Children receive their own set of leather ballet shoes to participate in class.
“The first class they are always a little bit more excitable.They have a shorter attention span. It’s hard to keep them focused,” explained Ariana Barr. She’s a dancer with Ballet Edmonton and instructor at the McCauley Club. “We repeat a lot of the same basic things as part of the discipline, which is what we do in ballet even at my level. We always start with plié and rises. So they’re really starting to get the hang of that.”
“It’s such an elegant type of dance. It’s taught me how to extend, like my arms and my legs,” said Dehanna, a dance student at the McCauley Club. “I like that I can come here and see the teacher and interact and see my friends.”
”What I love about ballet is that you can move the way you want to and you feel the way you want to. You can express yourself through dance,” added Sky.
Barr hopes she is able to leave a lasting impression on the children through simple, little gestures. Like, teaching them a few french words here and there during the class.
“The biggest thing that they take away from class, I like to think, is a little bit more self esteem. I always like to encourage them to just let go a little bit. At the beginning of class, it’s a bit more of the right way to do things...but by the end, it’s more of asking them how do you want to move here? They can actually get in touch with how they feel. I think that’s where they have the most fun. They hopefully feel a little bit more free and it can be a nice time for them to do what they want,” said Barr.
“It’s very different from a class where mom and dad have paid for the class and the kids line up and it’s very orderly. It’s much easier on the teachers to have that kind of structure because then you can really focus on teaching so we ask a lot of our teachers to expand their concept of what this is,” said Sheri Somerville, executive director for Ballet Edmonton.
“I honestly, sometimes, am having a bad week and then I am kind of nervous to come and teach them because I need to be really happy and peppy but they kind of do the work for you. The kids are so excited and even when they’re not, it’s just the fact that they’re young and they’re dancing for the right reasons. They like to do it. It’s just really nice to be around,” said Barr.
There is a marked difference between the first time the children attend a class and the last—in both movement and confidence—traits that are crucial to build in at-risk youth.
“We want these kids to feel valued, to learn a new skill and to be part of a positive social group. Dance is a primal way to express yourself, and in many ways a form of healthy play. Kids need play in order to dream,” explained Somerville.
This school year, 150 children from ages six to 16 will participate in the dance program.