Denver ballet companies help children, homeless

Wonderbound and Colorado Ballet put on dance classes for all members of community

Casey Van Divier
Posted 4/4/19

Every Tuesday morning, a bus rolls up outside 1075 Santa Fe Dr., bringing a full class of preschoolers to Colorado Ballet for their free weekly dance class. Those preschoolers go to the school at …

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Denver ballet companies help children, homeless

Wonderbound and Colorado Ballet put on dance classes for all members of community


Every Tuesday morning, a bus rolls up outside 1075 Santa Fe Dr., bringing a full class of preschoolers to Colorado Ballet for their free weekly dance class.

Those preschoolers go to the school at Warren Village, a nonprofit dedicated to assisting low-income, single-parent families as they transition from poverty to economic stability.

For the preschoolers who attend the ballet classes, the experience feeds a passion for dance and movement that continues all week long.

“We hear from the parents that the kids dance at home,” said Kacy Grady, a preschool teacher from Warren Village. “We have girls that have gone out and bought ballet shoes — it’s been great to see.”

The program is just one of many in a city brimming with free and reduced-cost dance opportunities for all people in the community. For years, Denver-based companies Colorado Ballet and Wonderbound have offered dance programs for a variety of groups across the community. And in 2019, their efforts continue to expand.

“For many young people, growing up to be a ballet dancer is a dream that they carry for years,” said Emily Aalbers, education department manager at Colorado Ballet. “But having access to dance can have many obstacles.”

The company works hard to break down many of those barriers that low-income families face, such as securing transportation to dance classes and the cost associated with some classes, Aalbers said. “We really strive to get into as many pockets of the community as possible.”

For Colorado Ballet and Wonderbound, the desire to bring dance to the community manifests itself through a long list of ongoing opportunities.

Denver’s homeless find dance community in Wonderbound

In a sense, Wonderbound’s community engagement efforts fell into place by chance. When Wonderbound was located in its old building at Park Avenue West and Broadway —the company has since moved to 2535 E. 40th Ave. — its dancers found themselves surrounded by people who would come into the studio after hearing the music from nearby.

“If we were there, the doors were open,” said Lauren Turner, marketing manager at Wonderbound. “So if you were outside, the chances of you hearing the music or seeing the dancing were really high.”

After talking with the visitors who came in, Turner and the others at Wonderbound learned that many were part of the homeless community. It wasn’t long before Wonderbound director Dawn Fay sought to create a program to give these visitors better access to the company’s opportunities.

The result: Pari Passu, a program in collaboration with the St. Francis Center in which instructor Heather Sutton and Wonderbound dancers lead dance classes for the city’s homeless population. These classes take place biweekly at the St. Francis Center, 2323 Curtis St., a refuge center for the city’s homeless.

“They can open up in a way that they don’t typically have the space to,” Turner said. “It gives them a way to come together and do something that everyone can do, which is dancing.”

In addition, she said, Wonderbound often takes participants to see free performances of Wonderbound shows, setting them up with snacks and the best seats in the house.

Wonderbound also puts on a variety of interactive performances in schools around the area, reaching about 22,000 students from Title I schools. These schools qualify for federal funding based on the number of their students who come from low-income families .

“We really want to make dance accessible, because everyone should have access to the arts,” she said. “The dancers and I really enjoy this side of what we do.”

Students ‘realize full potential’ at Colorado Ballet

Likewise, Colorado Ballet has made a coordinated effort to make dance accessible to the entire community. The ballet brings no-cost or low-cost dance opportunities to more than 35,000 individuals in 300 schools and organizations each year, determined to promote three core benefits for each student.

“Our classes are really an opportunity for students to move their body, connect with others and experience creative self-expression in a supportive environment,” Aalbers said. “Those are skills and experiences they can carry with them for the rest of their lives.”

Like Wonderbound, the ballet brings its work to schools in and around the Denver area, putting on series of after-school workshops, assemblies and field trips in which students can watch dress rehearsals at Colorado Ballet.

These efforts also demonstrate a dedication to serving Title I students — in particular, this population is served through the student-matinee field trips, at which more than 50 percent of attendees are Title I students.

“There’s no better feeling than when you see your child thriving,” said Jill Jones, whose six-year-old son, Mason, first started dancing through the ballet’s Leap-N-Learn program, an after-school program that varies in cost based on each school’s budget.

Since Mason was introduced to Colorado Ballet in 2017, he has received a scholarship to participate in classes with the ballet and has continued to develop “a sense of awareness about his body and self,” Jones said.

“Mason is just having fun, in dancing and with the people around him,” she said. “And now that I’ve seen him carve out his own path in dance and music, the positive overflow into his school work is hard to miss.”

The ballet also offers creative movement classes for all children in the area and their caregivers through its partnership with Denver Public Libraries. Designed for children ages 0-5, these classes take place in 32 different libraries, an expansion from 11 libraries over the past five years.

Upcoming library classes will be posted on the libraries’ online calendars. Aalbers said the ballet puts on about four library workshops per month.

“This outreach is a really important component of what we do at Colorado Ballet,” said artistic director Gil Boggs. “And personally, it brings me great joy to see the way dance can light up a child’s face when they see it for the first time.”

For the preschoolers Grady teaches, that joy does not only stem from the dancing experience. It’s also a product of the connection the students have with their Colorado Ballet instructors and the encouragement they receive from them.

“We serve a lot of children who don’t necessarily get exposure to these kind of extracurricular activities,” Grady said. “This gives them a chance to realize what their full potential could be, and we are so grateful.”


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