2011-09-22 / Family

A day of dance for foster youths

By Darleen Principe


THE POWER OF DANCE—An instructor and dancer at the Ventura County Ballet Company gives a demonstration during the second annual Day at the Ballet at the Ventura studio on Aug. 21. THE POWER OF DANCE—An instructor and dancer at the Ventura County Ballet Company gives a demonstration during the second annual Day at the Ballet at the Ventura studio on Aug. 21. About 30 foster children took a break from their everyday lives and expressed themselves through dance last month during the second annual Day at the Ballet, hosted by the Ventura County Ballet Company.

The event, which took place at the company’s ballet studio in Ventura on Aug. 21, was sponsored by a grant from the Angel Heart Foundation, a nonprofit organization whose mission is to empower youths and increase public awareness of children’s issues.

Lori Swanson, co-chair of the event and member of the VCBC board of directors, said the event aims to provide a form of therapy for children in the foster-care system and to give them an outlet for creative expression.

“I’m a big believer in the magic of dance as a healing mechanism,” Swanson said. “I just think it’s good for the body and the soul.”

According to the Ventura County Human Services Agency, up to 700 children in the county are in foster care at any given time.

The VCBC, along with Marion Witte of the Angel Heart Foundation, established the Day at the Ballet last year in hopes of teaching foster children how to express themselves in a positive way, Swanson said.

“We wanted to reach out to the community and have a day dedicated to these kids who come from difficult backgrounds (and) that may not get to ever see ballet up close,” she said. “We want to let them know that they can reach their dreams, and dance might be a vehicle for them to do that.”

The ballet company invited hundreds of foster children from throughout the county. Those who attended were between the ages of 5 and 10.

The children spent the day taking ballet classes, participating in arts and crafts, and decorating pointe shoes, which they were able to take home with them.

The ballet company provided instructors for the free classes, and about eight of the company’s teen dancers came to help.

Malindi Walker, 14, performed a dance to “Bluebird” from “Sleeping Beauty.”

Dedria Brunett, a former foster child who was crowned Miss California International 2010, made a guest appearance.

At the end of the day, the children performed a specially choreographed dance for their foster families and guardians.

“Some of the kids first come in very quiet and reserved,” Swanson said. “We get to watch them absolutely open up and blossom. They just have a wonderful day and they don’t want to leave in the end.”

Each foster child also received free tickets to the ballet company’s production of “The Nutcracker” in November.

Swanson said VCBC has received “extreme gratitude” from many of the foster kids and their families for offering the program.

“For some of them, it was the second year they’d done this and they want to do it again,” she said. “It might be the only time they really get to be around dance.”

The ballet company plans to host the third annual Day at the Ballet next August and is exploring the possibility of expanding the event to several days.

For more information or to get involved, call the company at (805) 648-2080.

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