Dance The Next Generation (DNG) is an integral part of the Sarasota Ballet and offers opportunities for at-risk youth to partake in a ten-year full dance scholarship. Participants enjoy the caring, supportive community that exists at DNG and benefit from the structure dance brings into their lives.
After completing the program, the young dancers receive a scholarship to pursue higher education at the University of South Florida or a college of their choosing. DNG prioritizes self-actualization for each student recognizing individual potential; therefore, this scholarship does not require them to pursue a dance degree.
The Friends of The Sarasota Ballet hold an all-day sip, shop, and mingle fundraiser at Sara Campbell in downtown Sarasota. The event started with a performance by the young dancers, and I was mesmerized by their skill and strength as they gracefully transition from one posture to another, synchronous as one. I silently imagine the countless hours of dedicated practice and rehearsals behind their performance. These young women have a personal passion that offers them a purpose to unplug from technology and focus on their art. Dance is their way of growing physically and cognitively while learning life skills such as commitment, time management, and perseverance by taking on new challenges that will serve them well. Omar Rodriguez attended the event to see his daughter, 12-year-old Omorosa, perform. “Omorosa had always wanted to dance. She started dancing with The Sarasota Ballet when she was seven, and she will not miss a class for anything. She has become more focused at school, her grades are good, and I am so proud of her,” says Omar. Dance helps children develop essential and transferable skills such as focus, time management, concentration, coordination, strength, boosting mood, and self-esteem.
When the performance is complete, I am fortunate to speak to several instrumental figures that support the Sarasota Ballet. Donna Maytham is a force of nature and a former classical dancer. She went on to co-found the Richmond Ballet in Virginia and relocated to Sarasota with her late husband, Walter, in the late ’90s. The caliber of the Sarasota Ballet was a bright drawing card for the couple. Donna was drawn to making a difference and giving back to the arts community and became an active member of The Friends of the Sarasota Ballet, where she champions advocacy, volunteerism, membership, fundraising, and continues to enjoy enduring friendship developed over the years. Listening to her speak, I find myself marveling at Donna’s stamina, wit, and the sheer depth of her extensive knowledge base.
Sue Peterson, the dancers’ instructor, tells me she hopes to make a positive difference in the young dancers’ lives, and she sees the dedication the dancers demonstrate by showing up prepared for classes as many as five days a week. Sue enjoys seeing friendships develop across different age groups through personal connections and delights when the older dancers assume leadership roles helping the younger girls and boys with their costumes, ushering them on and off the stage, and interacting in an environment free of technological devices. Reverence, a ritual of paying respect, is built into each class, and dancers acknowledge their teacher with a bow or curtsy. I leave the studio thinking about the relevance of respect in our society and the invaluable lessons all the dancers are gaining by building gratitude into their everyday practice.
“While I dance, I cannot judge, I cannot hate, I cannot separate myself from life. I can only be joyful and whole. This is why I dance.” ~ Hans Bos
Photos from The Sarasota Ballet website and FB page. Top photo is an audition for John Ringling’s Circus Nutcracker