How a School Dance Program Changes Lives with Help from the Community
“Students who dance have a reason to come to school,” North Little Rock dance instructor Christen Pitts says. “They can express themselves, get out emotions through movement, their grades are better, and they learn time management skills.”
When the morning bell rings, Mrs. Pitts’s students are dressed and ready to warm up. They listen attentively and answer as roll is called, then they get in formation in front of the mirrors that fully surround them, eager for their instructor to lead them. This time of year, they’re practicing their routine for the annual holiday program, where all of the dance students will take the stage and perform for student and visiting audiences.
Today they’re practicing in shimmering new crimson dance clothes, what they’ll wear at the holiday concert. And they didn’t have to scrimp and save for them.
“The majority of my dancers cannot afford to pay for their costumes, and we are not given a budget from the school district. We are a self-supporting program and rely on help from the community to continue to strive for excellence in our program,” says Pitts.
The outfits her dancers wear today were awarded through Thea’s Art Closet, a program of the Thea Foundation which awards classrooms in need across the state with art supplies and other creative materials. Since 2002, Thea’s Art Closet has awarded more than $1.5 million in supplies to Arkansas classrooms.
“Having something beautiful to wear instills self-confidence. We were able to get sizes to fit every body type, so the dancers feel good about how they look and will do better in their performance,” she says.
Mrs. Pitts is as excited about the new costumes as her students are. They’re good quality, and she intends to use them year after year. She got enough sizes to ensure that she’ll be able to accommodate all students.
Her students come from all backgrounds and skill levels, and Mrs. Pitts is proud of the way they work together in her class.
“In the NLRHS Dance Program, we bring together dancers of all backgrounds into one space where they share their love of the arts no matter what goes on in their lives outside of the classroom. In the dance studio, they are all artists with gifts to offer one another,” she says. “Through the arts, my dancers can find a way to believe in themselves, grow as artists, challenge, push themselves, problem solve and strive to be better people and artists. Our dancers are very active in school and community activities. We are trying to instill in our students the importance of the arts in the lives of others and how they can use the arts to change our society.”
She’s also proud of the way they work on themselves in her class.
“Students who dance develop self-confidence. There is nothing like the feeling of a packed house clapping for you! They feel proud of their accomplishments, no matter how big or small. Dancers are self-motivated, disciplined and focused in their everyday lives. They learn the importance of time management; are expressive in their communication of emotions, thoughts and feelings; are creative and imaginative; and dance students are able to critically analyze their own work and the work of others.”
This was Mrs. Pitts’s first Thea’s Art Closet grant, and now that she has experienced how easy it was to apply for and receive supplies, she plans on applying again. Teachers in Arkansas may receive up to two grants each year, meaning thousands of dollars in supplies for their students.
Just this fall, Thea Foundation was able to double the amount of grants awarded this school year, but the need for supplies far outweighs what the foundation can provide. By November, Thea’s Art Closet was down to $6,000 to last the rest of the school year. We expect those funds to be maxed out by December.
This #GivingTuesday, we’re kicking off a fund drive to restock the Art Closet. By donating to Thea Foundation on this national day of giving, you’ll be putting art supplies, dance shoes, musical instruments and much, much more into the hands of students who otherwise may not afford it.
Mrs. Pitts says the majority of her students would not be able to afford to take dance outside of school, nor would they have transportation to a dance studio. During the school day is their chance to experience and learn from the arts.
She asked her students recently what dance meant to them, and the responses she got were from the heart: “I am happier and healthier.” “I have more confidence. I have learned how to overcome my fears.” “I learned to teach my body instead of change it.” “I can communicate when words fail.” “I bond with others. We build confidence and happiness together.” “I have found myself!”
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