ORLANDO, Fla. – The Orlando Ballet S.T.E.P.S. program is now in its 30th year of providing free dance classes to children who might not otherwise have access to quality dance education.
S.T.E.P.S. stands for Scholarship for the enrichment of Primary Students Program.
“It’s modeled after the outreach program that was created by Dance Theatre of Harlem, Dancing Through Barriers. So a lot of our programs shadow what it is that Dance Theatre of Harlem, originally created for the community. We go into public schools, community centers and churches, and we bring the art of dance to those that would normally not have access to quality dance training. So we’re basically introducing something that they would not even consider a career path. Because dance cannot just be just dance, it can be so many other things that give you the discipline to be able to embark on anything that you choose,” said Charmaine Hunter, Director of Community Enrichment.
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The program is for students in 2nd through 5th grade and is a 13-week program. All costs, including leotards, tights and shoes are covered.
“And so we grow with them. So we, you know, we hand over the slippers that are their size, but it’s a cost. The way we do it, it’s very cost-effective for the parent, and we’re still giving so much. And it’s so much more than just the dance class. It gives life. It provides life lessons,” Hunter said.
Hunter said her love of dance began in an elementary school gym and led to a career that took her around the world.
“A lot of our students are Hispanic, African American and they have to see themselves on the stage. I saw the Dance Theatre of Harlem and I knew that I could have a life in this. And so I went to the school. I eventually got into the company, I eventually became the ballet mistress, and then became a director, and now a director of Community Enrichment, where I’m actually going back and sharing what it is that I’ve learned, but had I not had the experiences that I’ve had, I would not have known had I not seen Dance Theatre of Harlem that I could have a career in the arts,” she said. “I have the opportunity to meet the Queen of England, Princess Diana traveled to South Africa and met Nelson Mandela, went to his house and had dinner with him and his wife. We’ve met all the presidents because we performed at the White House on many occasions. So we had the opportunity to meet all the world leaders, performed at different summits around the world. So we had a chance to meet different world leaders. So it was it’s been totally life-changing.”
The S.T.E.P.S. program is in 60 locations and is expanding in the fall.
The first three classes assess the students, and then after that, each class is weekly for an hour and a half. Some students from S.T.E.P.S. are selected each year to attend the Orlando Ballet Spring or Summer Camp on scholarship, and all students receive complimentary tickets to selected Orlando Ballet performances.
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