In 2009, Charlotte Ballet partnered with Mecklenburg County Park and Recreation Department to launch a special dance program called Reach. It’s a three-year scholarship dance program for children, ages 7 through 13, who may otherwise not have the opportunity to participate in a dance program. Reach promotes self-esteem, discipline, a strong work ethic and an appreciation for the arts.
When the program was developed, it was important for Reach to be accessible to the community. Bianca Harris, director of education and outreach at Charlotte Ballet said, “It [Reach] was put in place for families who truly couldn’t afford classes. It was also about creating accessibility to those families and different communities.” The classes are held at Recreation Centers throughout Mecklenburg County: Albemarle Road, Bette Rae Thomas, Ivory Baker, Naomi Drenan and Hickory Grove Recreation Centers. A sixth location is being added this year at Sugaw Recreation Center.
Potential dance students must audition and show financial need to qualify for Reach. Auditions are held during the last week of July and the first week in August each year. Once selected, students attend one-hour classes twice a week at no cost for 29 consecutive weeks. Teaching artists give instruction in ballet and other forms of dance.
Students receive leotards and shoes, and their parents receive tickets to the performances. They perform mid-year in December at the recreation center and year-end at the Center for Dance in uptown Charlotte in May. Harris said, “It creates an opportunity for them [students] to take classes by professional teaching artists. Also, it provides a safe space for them to have an after school activity. Through our surveying and different types of observations, we were able to see that students are actually improving in their grades.”
Trinity Coles, 10, started the Reach program at the Ivory Baker Recreation Center when she was 7 years old. She says, “Every day we learn new things.” First year students receive tickets to Charlotte Ballet’s Nutcracker performance. Trinity was so inspired that she told her mom, Cornelia Coles, that she was going to audition the following year. Trinity did just this. In 2015, she played an angel and a party child in the Nutcracker. In 2016, she was one of the mice in the battle scene. Her goal now is to go on pointe, but she must be 12 or 13 years old. The age requirement has not stopped Trinity from strengthening her feet and ankles to get them ready.
In addition to the dance instruction, students receive enrichment classes. Charlotte Ballet’s second company gives lecture demonstrations. Carolinas HealthCare provides workshops about nutrition, bullying and living a healthy lifestyle.
In 2011, Reach was the recipient of the program achievement award from the National Association of County Organizations. Reach is funded through contributions from individuals, corporations and foundations.
If you have a child who may be interested in the Reach program, auditions are held the last week of July and the first week in August at all six centers. For more information, check here or call Charlotte Ballet at 704-372-0101.