On a Thursday afternoon, students lined in formation in the cafeteria. Lauren Anderson counted rhythm for more than 40 aspiring dancers dressed in tights to practice.
Anderson led the students through stretching and movement exercises. She watched their arm movements and leg positions. She paused to correct some of the young dancers. She straightened their backs and showed them how to move with grace.
“As you move to your lines,” Anderson said, demonstrating to a room full of engaged students. “Move with light, quick steps,” she said, pointing toward her feet as she demonstrated.
The students at Carter Academy are learning dance numbers. The performance includes dances from ancient civilizations such as Africa and China.
For anyone that has ever experienced a Houston Ballet performance, what they remember is the emotion. Dancers express with fluid movements, dance to lush musical scores and wear beautiful costumes.
At the core of Houston Ballet’s mission is to inspire a lasting love and appreciation for dance. Houston Ballet also has superb educational programs. For more than 50 years, Houston Ballet has introduced area children to the beauty and grace of life through dance.
Earlier this spring, Carter Academy and Houston Ballet formed a partnership. Houston Ballet selected the campus for its after-school program. The free program gives students a unique opportunity to work with professional dancers. It encourages students to take dance at their campus. The program introduces students to high-energy dance and movement with live musical accompaniment.
The Houston Ballet After-School Program targets students who have limited exposure and access to the arts in their community.
Every Thursday, Houston Ballet professionals work with students. They work with third and fourth grade students for 90 minutes.
Retired ballerina Lauren Anderson forms part of the education outreach program. Anderson is a former principal dancer with the Houston Ballet. In 1990, she was the first African American ballerina to become a principal for a major dance company. This marked an important milestone in American ballet. Michelle Dement and Alex Winkler from Houston Ballet accompany her at Carter Academy. Dement is a dance instructor and Winkler plays the piano.
Keisha Bussey praises the program. She serves as a dance instructor at the magnet campus for performing arts and visual arts. One of the opportunities the students enjoyed was watching a performance at the Houston Ballet downtown. The students got to experience the stage and learn about dance history.
“They got the opportunity to watch ‘Dancing in Texas,'” said Bussey. “It is an educational performance by Houston Ballet and the company’s pre-professional students. At the end of the performance, the students got to ask the dancers questions. They learned what it is like to be a dancer and how they complete schoolwork while dancing all day. They also learned fun facts like how the dancers change costumes so fast. This was a wonderful opportunity for our students.”
The students have access to the talent and resources of one of the nation’s largest ballet companies. The New York Times has hailed Houston Ballet as “one of the nation’s best ballet companies.” The company has toured major cities like New York, London, and Montreal. The company has also performed at the Bolshoi Theater in Moscow and The Kennedy Center in Washington, D.C.
“The collaboration is a wonderful way to inspire our student dancers,” Bussey said. “The students have also gained a lot insight, knowledge and advice. These are real-world, practical experiences that will benefit them now and in the future.”
The students learn that through focus, effort and teamwork, they can achieve excellence in dance. Each week, they learn the fundamentals of movement and music. And they master athletic choreography. They learn that dance and music can express meaning.
Houston Ballet’s educational outreach programs aim to instill in students a sense of independence and confidence. The programs also emphasize the importance of teamwork.
But the program also stresses fun. Watching the students interact with the Ms. Anderson and Ms. Dement, there is laughter and excitement. Mr. Winkler adds a little “dramatic fun” with his piano playing. As the students work on perfecting their routine, they watch intently as the master teachers direct them. Their eyes also move to watch their friends.
“This is a lot fun,” said Anisah.
“I really like it because I love to dance,” Vivian said.
The semester-long program will culminate in a themed performance for family and friends. The showcase performance is set for May 14 at Carter Academy’s cafetorium.
The partnership is a great example of the community and schools working together. Houston Ballet and the school are creating fun, meaningful learning experiences for students.
“The program has made a tremendous difference in my students’ lives,” Bussey said. “It is amazing to see them improve their dance skills, work as a team and have fun. Our students dream big. The program has helped reinforce the commitment and discipline it takes to achieve their dreams.”
See more images from the Houston Ballet After-School Program at Carter Academy.
Director of Written Communication & Spanish Media
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