Knees flapping like butterflies, a group of kids seated on a wooden floor giggled over classical music.
They had no tutus or tights. There was no grand piano or ballet barre, but no matter. In the breezy courtyard of the Wimauma Academy, they danced.
"Up and over like a rainbow," said ballet teacher Amanda Roa, a volunteer from the Patel Conservatory in Tampa. "Stretch over, toward your toes!"
Wimauma Academy is one of almost 40 local organizations involved in Patel's Community Partnership Program, which offers free classes, workshops and performances to select local schools and charitable groups.
The kids who chassed across the floor at Wimauma Academy come from mostly migrant families, with incomes that qualify nearly all of them for the county's free or reduced-price lunch program.
Many had never heard of ballet before, Roa said.
"You can see, little by little, light bulbs are starting to come on," Roa said. "They don't take it for granted."
It may seem like a small indulgence, but the weekly ballet class may help the students with more than flexibility and grace.
Citing studies from the College Board, National Endowment for the Arts and National Assembly of State Arts Agencies, Patel spokeswoman Leslie Farrell said arts education is linked to better academics, attendance, leadership skills, discipline and self- confidence.
School principal Mark Haggett agreed. He said he believes that studying music and dance helps his kids with math, specifically.
"The rhythm, the measurements, the counts. I know that there's a direct correlation there," Haggett said.
Additionally, he said students who take classes in the arts learn to be more attentive. The good posture they adopt seems to help them stay alert, too.
Haggett said he's looking forward to the group's performance at the school's annual Mexican posada celebration in December.
The dance class is one of many elective courses the school offers on Wednesday afternoons. Other courses, called majors, include arts and crafts, chess and flag football.
Eight-year-old Jesus Galarza originally wanted to take soccer, but he said he has been very happy with ballet class. Jesus likes to stretch.
"It gives you more balance," he said.
Ileanna Trejo, 9, enjoys one exercise they call "the pizza stretch."
Legs out in a V-shape, they fold their little torsos to the floor. "Like pizza," Trejo explained.
Perla Carranza, 7, who only speaks Spanish, said she likes to jump — brincar.
The kids finished warming up and formed a line in the corner.
One by one, they galloped to the end of the stage. Roa stood by, counting and encouraging them as their socks left the floor.
Caranza smiled a toothy grin, preparing to soar.
Kim Wilmath can be reached at (813) 661-2442 or firstname.lastname@example.org.