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In the dance studio, getting a leg up on life

Behind the scenes, away from the stage and the lights, education is at the root of everything Garth Fagan Dance does.

The company has delighted audiences around the world for 45 years. Its mission—to create an environment that instills an appreciation for dance and all the arts—can be seen in every facet of what the company does, including community outreach.

“Garth Fagan believes education and dance go hand in hand,” said Natalie Rogers-Cropper, who directs the Garth Fagan Dance School. “Our goal in the community is to target young people to give them awareness of the arts through dance and also as a means of exercising the body and mind and a means of self-expression that will enhance their lives.”

Garth Fagan Dance offers free one-hour workshops for all ages on Martin Luther King Jr. Day. It provides scholarships for children. And with the YMCA of Greater Rochester and Monroe County, it is in its second year of Stop the Violence Dance Alliance, an after-school program open to all children ages 7 to 18 in the Rochester City School District. The 90-minute class meets once a week and has proved popular.

The program mirrors the school year schedule. There is no cost to parents, whose only obligation is to provide transportation to the Garth Fagan Dance School on Chestnut Street.

“As a community partner, Y programs support youth development from cradle to career,” said Laura Kroening, YMCA director of administration and member services.

Garth Fagan dancers serve as the instructors, and they watch as students change as the year progresses.

“They develop confidence,” said Sade Bully, a dancer in the company who teaches in the program. “We let them know this is a safe place. No one will laugh at you here. They learn to take risks. They become less self-conscious.”

It is a brand new experience for most of the students Bully sees. Many have never taken a dance class before. Twenty-five students—boys and girls—are participating this year.

“Discipline is the No. 1 thing that governs a dance class. You see that right away. They have to get quiet, focused, receptive to learning. That is the first change you see,” Bully said. “Then I see it has sparked something. They have found a love of dance. They want to stay with it.”

One sign the program is a success: Many students returned this year to be demonstrators for the new class, showing the dance moves the instructor teaches. Eleven-year-old Elexana Cabrera is proud to be a demonstrator and a return participant.

“I was shy at first. I really never danced before so I was nervous, but my teacher said to never give up. Just keep trying,” she said.

Cabrera is one of many students who have been awarded a full scholarship to attend the Garth Fagan Dance School after taking part in one of its outreach programs. She also is now a member of the school’s ensemble, which performs at public venues and community events such as the Clothesline Arts Festival.

William Ferguson, who danced with Garth Fagan Dance for 25 years and now works for the company in an administrative role, is artistic liaison for the ensemble. He said community outreach is particularly important as budget cuts trim art programs from public schools. Stop the Violence Dance Alliance and the Garth Fagan ensemble set higher standards for children and then help students achieve them.

“Kids have to step up,” Ferguson said. “I have high expectations and they like that. Having high expectations of them lets them know they can be even more than they are.”

Only a few of those who take part in Garth Fagan Dance community outreach programs will go on to pursue a professional dance career, Ferguson pointed out, but ultimately the mission of the programs will still be realized.

“I tell the students, ‘Whether you become a dancer or not, what you learn here will always help you,’” he said.

4/24/15 (c) 2015 Rochester Business Journal. To obtain permission to reprint this article, call 585-546-8303 or email [email protected]

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