Good things can come from taking the time to observe the environment. One day while watching children play outside Burns Elementary School, volunteer grant writer Corrie Gladstein was inspired.
They have so much energy, she thought to herself. Why not find a way to turn it into something positive?
So last fall she started thinking of a dance program she could bring to the school. She thought maybe hip-hop, but figured it would make the students rowdier in the classroom. Then she looked into ballet, something her daughter is involved in, because of the poise and discipline ballet dancers have to have.
She found out about professional ballerina Andrea DeVries from Patricia Cantwell, director of the Charleston Ballet Theatre, while at one of her daughter’s performances. It was the perfect fit.
“This was too much of an opportunity to pass up,” DeVries said.
DeVries was taking time off from dancing professionally and said she always wanted to teach. She choreographed productions for Porter-Gaud School in the past. Now, she instructs 80 Burns girls every Tuesday from kindergarten to the fifth grade. The program also was open to boys.
“It’s really fun because I’m learning things I didn’t know,” said second-grader Tatiana Brown.
Her classmates said their favorite things are splits and demi-plies. Many of them, like Josselyn Perez, said they practice at home, too.
The students do not miss any classroom instruction while attending dance. They are chosen from a lottery and must meet academic and behavioral standards to participate. Gladstein and DeVries said those stipulations are motivating the students to do better. They said a few students were not allowed to participate because of their behavior and could only watch the other students. Needless to say, these girls were visibly upset, and it hasn’t happened again.
“We can tell how important it is to them,” Gladstein said.
She said creating the program “wasn’t hard. It was being determined ... and begging.” She raised $3,500 in a month from family, particularly her brother, Matt Wilson, friends, teachers and other community members to purchase the uniforms and shoes and pay the instructor. She also furnished the room with mirrors, and her husband, Andy Gladstein, made the bars. She said the program could be run with only $2,000 in future semesters.
Even though the class started this month, DeVries says she can already see an improvement in the girls. Gladstein said the classical music coming from the ballet room really “changes the atmosphere of the school.”
And the students will only continue to benefit from the semester-long class. DeVries said they will learn teamwork from having to follow each other and the music, the importance of healthy eating to stay in shape and how to become better listeners, among other things. She said she hopes ballet also will “enlighten” the students.
“If I can reach a few of them and let them know there’s more out there than they know, it’s worth it,” she said.
Gladstein said exposing the students to a hobby “gives them a sense of identity.” And DeVries said ballet “gives them something to reach for.”
“It’s important to have a passion. If you don’t, what are you shooting for?” Gladstein said.
DeVries said the girls really want to have a performance at the end of the year. She and Gladstein agree and will have to purchase costumes for it.
“I want them to be proud of themselves. My ideal is that they value what they’re doing and have unearthed something that makes them want to strive for more,” Gladstein said.
“I wish more schools would do this and keep more arts in the schools. This is a good way to tell other schools that it does help,” DeVries said.
To donate to the program, go to www.charlestonpublicschoolballet.com.
Reach Jade McDuffie at 937-5560 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
Professional ballerina Andrea DeVries teaches ballet to second-grade students at Burns Elementary.×
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