“Help save the world” sounds like a rather ambitious 2017 New Year’s resolution, so I won’t call it that. But there is this new thing rising in me that I feel compelled to share. (Editor’s note in 2018: that new thing rising produced THIS.)
It all started last spring. With my son turning seventeen, and a trio of Really Challenging Years behind us, something in me began to relax, or maybe wake up, to the fact that this world of ours comes with a host of Really Big Problems to try and help solve. Or maybe my daily mindfulness meditation practice starting yielding its own results. Point being: I heard the whisper of a call.
Now, I will argue that devoting oneself to passive tasks such as writing about the arts is not completely off the mark in the department of “helping to save the world” and/or make it a better place. If everyone spent their time immersed in work they found relevant, nourishing, challenging, important, I’m willing to bet we’d all live on a more peaceful planet.
That said. You tell people you served two years as a Peace Corps Volunteer in Africa, and it will produce a different reaction from when you tell them you’re a blogger who devotes big chunks of your day to waxing lyrically about the performing arts—preferably the fuddy-duddy classical stuff from the 19th and early 20th century.
Did I tell you I served two years as a Peace Corps Volunteer in Africa?
But that was another life entirely. Decades ago. Writing novels and raising a family claimed that space in my heart, it would seem. Until one day last May, after a Diablo Ballet performance, when I was talking with the company’s artistic director, Lauren Jonas. Art has a way of clearing out my inner clutter to begin with, and it had been a delightful, artful program. Lauren was telling me about a new extension of their PEEK* outreach program. This endeavor, funded by a California Arts Council grant, brought Lauren and PEEK’s associate director, former company dancer Edward Stegge, into Juvenile Hall, where they presented movement classes to at-risk incarcerated 15-to-17 year-old girls as part of their in-house Court School Program.
Diablo Ballet had been one of only eight organizations receiving awards for this highly competitive and limited-funds program, called JUMP StArts*. Lauren told me she’d been thrilled. “When I co-founded Diablo Ballet, back in 1993,” she said, “something like this had always been a part of the plan, the dream.”
Lauren shared a few details about the program, that had begun in mid-July the previous year. Once inside the facility, she and Eddie were screened and fingerprinted, given a list of things they could and could not do. They’d been told what colors they should not wear, questions they could not ask. They had to be accompanied by guards and were warned that some of the girls might have difficulty expressing themselves, and/or might start fights.
And then the once-weekly program started. Not dance classes or lectures, so much as movement creation exercises, discussions that taught the teen girls about themselves, their bodies, the self-esteem within them Lauren believed could be coaxed out, and a healthier self-expression. After just one session, Lauren and Eddie knew they had found something extraordinary. Some weeks they brought a musician along for live music, like Bolivian guitarist Gabriel Navia, which the girls loved. Sometimes they brought other dancers, like company member Amanda Farris, whom the girls had seen on the cover of the Diablo Ballet magazine. Here she was now, beautiful, famous, and so warm, so accessible! Venezuelan company member Rosselyn Ramirez was another great hit with the dancers. During one movement exercise, she assured a particularly difficult girl that the way she was doing the movement was perfect. The girl clasped her hands together and turned to her neighbor. “Did you hear that?” she said in a hushed, awed voice. “She said I was perfect.” Which, when Lauren recounted this to me, made my throat squeeze up.
(*PEEK = Performing Arts Education & Enrichment for Kids)
(*JUMP StArts = Juveniles Utilizing Massive Potential Starting with Arts)
The program ran from July to February. Lauren had already begun searching for additional grants in the hope of keeping the program annual (which they received – yay! – and this second year’s program continues through Feb/early March 2017). She and Eddy agreed that it had been one of the most rewarding experiences they’d ever had.
Her own quiet excitement, enthusiasm, deep commitment, was like a big gong within me. It was a real I want to join the Peace Corps moment, like I’d had at age twenty. It all came rushing back to me, the desire to be more, do more, to try and make a bigger difference in the world.
On my drive home from the performance, a reality check settled in. I’ve come to understand that I am not an extraverted do-er. I had a tough time in the Peace Corps, truth be told. My introverted side took over in a major way and, if I can be honest here, I didn’t do anything noble in the least. My greatest achievement was sticking out my two years and letting the host nationals observe on a daily basis that white, privileged Americans could be bumbling and stupid, make mistakes right and left, and not have any more answers than they did. Outside my teaching hours (English to high school students) I took comfort in writing, being alone. I spent hours journaling, reading, vicariously immersed in someone else’s misadventures, processing and chronicling my thoughts and feelings.
But there’s room in the world for both, right? The world needs the do-ers, the performing artists, activists, leaders and such. But it needs its observers, processors and scribes. Those who can help spread the word and offer support, financial or otherwise.
Which is what brings me to my 2017 New Year’s resolution. I hereby announce the creation of Classical Girl Giving. I am still in the process of figuring out precisely what this entails, but my thought is to offer a quarterly donation to foundations, companies, choreographers or organizations in order to help support worthy ballet-based [or influenced] dance projects. The inaugural recipient of the Classical Girl Giving project is, no surprise, Diablo Ballet, supporting their PEEK Extension program.
Beyond that? Yikes. I’m a little intimidated. Giving, as it turns out, is harder than just writing a check and handing it over. But the list starts this month, below, and will be added to, quarterly. Hopefully for a long time to come!
Currently Classical Girl Giving favors California and the San Francisco Bay Area, but if you want to recommend a worthy foundation based elsewhere, please do. Are you a choreographer, artistic director, an arts nonprofit administrator who has a candidate to suggest? I’d LOVE your help. You can either contact me privately or leave a message below in “comments.”
- Diablo Ballet/PEEK Extension Program
- Robert Dekkers, artistic director/Post:ballet
- East Bay Fund for Artists/The McPherson Fund
- Marika Brussel, choreographer/”From Shadows: a ballet on homelessness”
- Amy Seiwert’s Imagery/SKETCH Series
- Dancers’ Group/General Fund
- Miranda Silveira, “Spreading the Love of Dance in the Galapagos” Project
- Alyce Finwall, Moving Arts Foundation and Artist in Residence Program
- Leigh Purtill Ballet Company, “Brave Trails Youth Leadership Camp” fund
- Mark Foehringer Dance Project, “Like an Ox on the Roof” and outreach program
For future additions to this list, click on the “Giving” tab above or GO HERE.
11 thoughts on “New to 2017: Classical Girl Giving”
Welcome to the world of giving, Classical Girl!
Thanks, Annette! : )
Congratulations Classical Girl! I am proud to know you in this new endeavor! I too have had such a revelation. Only mine came when my oldest was about to graduate from Marine Corps boot camp. I’ve never had much in the way of finances and it was paramount that I attend this so very important event. I scoured online for any kind of assistance and finally found one in the form of the Marine Graduation Foundation. An organization run by a former marine drill sergeant who has taken it upon himself to some how provide as much financial assistance to as many parents of marine graduates out there. Everything the foundation receives is from those that just want to give. And so, after having been a recipient of a modest financial assistance, I decided I too, would just start giving. Whatever I can whenever I could. In all honesty I’m not super consistent but I do try. Thank you Classical Girl!
Giving….it does a body good!
Donna, I just loved reading your reply! I find it so thrilling to hear stories about individuals who took it upon themselves to create and run a giving program that is intensely individualistic and has great meaning to them. Dang – it’s starting to sound like artists and their art work. How cool is THAT? And everyone who gives even a little, is taking some part in that unique blend of civic giving-meets-arts/creation. Ugh, that probably didn’t translate, but, in my mind, how thrilling that we can create this beautiful image of how we’d like the world to be, and hand over a few dollars a month to make it happen, in our own little way.
Okay. My long-winded way of saying thanks, and a great thought-provoking reply.
I admire you & this post! Thank you for sharing your past & resolution to give toward Diablo Ballets incredible endeavor. There are so many ways to display generosity. By sharing your heart & Diablo Ballet’s, I think you accomplished just that. Thank you for giving your voice and being an avid supporter of the arts!
Jordan, thank you so much for stopping by and taking the time to leave your lovely message. Aww, it warmed my heart like you can’t imagine. In fact, it kinda choked me up!
And oh, how cool, to see the blog you yourself have started up! Readers, Jordan is a professional ballet dancer with the San Francisco Ballet (you don’t mind if I share that, do you?) and she’s got this gorgeous new(ish) blog set up, called Rénové, and it’s about restoration – – of more than one kind. What an aesthetically pleasing blog — kudos to you! Here’s the link for you others to go check it out: http://www.jordannicoleh.com
Thank you again, for leaving the lovely message. It makes me feel so good about the decision I made to follow my heart and my quirky impulse to set up this giving endeavor.
We had our performance with the girls at Juvenile Hall last week. We’ve been working with them on their dances for the last month. As I suspected, when we walked in, several of the girls stated that they would not participate even though last week’s rehearsal went so well. They had stage fright and were scared even though we’ve talked a lot about what to do when you are nervous and have to perform. So, we warmed up and led them in some breathing exercises. We went out to the landing, where they would perform and they had a rehearsal. One of our dancers, Rosselyn, took a group of girls back into the classroom (the group that said they weren’t going to participate) and told them that she would dance with them. She then assisted them in their movement to feel more comfortable. I worked with the “Master of Ceremonies” and coached her about projecting her voice when she introduced each number.
Well, the performance was incredible. A truly magical experience for everyone. The parole counselors, supervisors and teachers were all in attendance. When it was finished, I asked the girls how it felt and if it was liberating to do something they were scared about and then have the outcome be very positive. They all said they were proud of themselves and would like to do it again. I told one girl privately how proud I was of her because she was the most scared. And she said she was proud of herself and thanked me and gave me a big hug. Our PEEK Associate Director, Eddie, summed it up perfectly when he said, “It was so rewarding to see the girls go to that vulnerable place and have such a great time doing it.” One of our dancers told the girls that she noticed that all of them were smiling while they were performing and that’s why she loves dance because it makes her so happy and when that happens, the audience is happy.
As I was watching the performance I was thinking that these girls have never had this opportunity before and how special for them to be able to experience it. My hope that it stays with them for a very long time.
Thank you so much for your wonderful support,
Lauren, I can’t tell you how happy it makes me feel to read your update above, to think about what you and Diablo Ballet are doing. All I can say is, damn, I’m glad I’m able to help organizations like yours, people like you. In these politically turbulent times, more than ever, we NEED to hear these stories and get a first-hand glimpse into how the arts, and dedicated people can and DO make a difference. Wow. Count on my support next year, and the next, and the next.
And thank you, for being the inspiration behind my Classical Girl Giving project. And for sharing the results of your PEEK Extension project with the Juvenile Hall girls (or I shall have to call them “dancers” now!)
I just discovered your post about the special outreach program Classical Girl is doing – especially moved by the outreach work of Diablo Ballet which you helped fund and highlighted in the above post. Thanks for sharing. It’s an inspiration.
What wonderful comments to post – thank you, Peggy! Diablo Ballet has been such an inspiration to me; I’m so glad I could take the torch and jog along, offering inspiration to others as I go. Thank you for letting me know the flame still works! : )