For some children, it was the first ballet class of the school year. For others, it was the continuation of a dream that began when they entered the Patricia J. Sullivan Partnership school.
Thanks to a program from the Patel Conservatory, the children receive free ballet classes every week.
On a recent November morning, the class had an added incentive: All 96 children — from kindergarten through fifth grade — would receive free ballet shoes.
“At the end of the year, their families get to see what they have learned with us during a play they put on in May,” said Alice Santana, vice president of education and outreach at The David A. Straz Jr. Center for the Performing Arts, with which the Patel Conservatory partners.
Everyone lined up before class. Once they entered the room, they were called by name and received an aquamarine-green box with a pair of ballet shoes.
“They feel a little more enthusiastic to participate and want to learn more with their teachers because they feel they have the necessary equipment to continue,” said Santana.
Students who attend the school, which is 20% Hispanic and 51% Black, are primarily residents of the Metropolitan Ministries homeless shelter. The school is one of 47 educational partners in The Straz Arts Education Partnership Program this academic year.
“Some are very quiet when they start with us,” Santana said. “At the end of the year, they are the ones who are dancing everywhere.”
Hannah Box has been teaching ballet to students every Friday for the past two years. But giving out the ballet slippers is her favorite day of the school year.
“Giving them that gift is very powerful,” said Box, 24. “It’s something they have to keep. It’s something that’s theirs they can wear every week and it adds an element of magic.”
The children who receive the shoes improve their posture when they walk, she said, gain confidence and feel a “level of ownership and security.”
“It’s a very, very special day. It’s been wonderful because some kids even brought their old shoes (from last year) … now they have two pairs,” Box said.
Box graduated from the Patel Conservatory’s Next Generation Ballet training program and after graduation began teaching while receiving her degree from the University of South Florida. She is currently pursuing a master’s degree.
Class time flew by. When Box announced that it was time to take off their shoes and put them away, the children cried: “Oh no! Is class over yet?”
Box responded: “Yeah, see you next Friday. Everyone line up to give way to a new group. Say goodbye to those who made this gift possible.”
In unison, the children said, “Thank you” to members of the conservatory who were arranging the green-aquamarine boxes on a table.
They were preparing to give new shoes to the next class.