THE BLOG

My Part in Arts Education, Preservation, and Collaboration

02/22/2011 02:43 pm ET | Updated May 25, 2011

In reference to my last blog post, I'd like to write about how I am keeping ballet and more generally, dance and the arts alive today. I know my contributions are small, but I'm hoping to expand them in the future and inspire others like me to invest their knowledge and time to arts education, preservation, and collaboration.

As artists and/or persons dedicated to the arts, it is our responsibility to spearhead arts education and help integrate them into education systems. There are studies that actually show that instilling arts programs in school curriculums helps children learn better. The Arts Education Partnership, the National Endowment of the Arts, and the National Assessment of Educational Progress are a few organizations who have published studies of these facts.

Programs like this are already in place, of course. Jacques D'Amboise heads the National Dance Institute in New York, and the New York City Ballet, in conjunction with the School of American Ballet, hosts lecture demonstrations for school children in New York City to name a couple. Large cities are lucky. Prominent arts organizations in these cities care. They have programs to reach out and educate children and the public at large. But what about smaller communities?

This is where my interests lie. I'm from a very small town and if it hadn't been for my mother taking ballet lessons from Marcia Dale Weary at the Central Pennsylvania Youth Ballet when she was young, I would still be in that small town, clueless about ballet and art. I know. I see it in some of my family and many of the friends I left behind in little Carlisle, PA. It was amazing to bring my step brother to his first ballet performance at New York City Ballet, and hear how much this Iraq war army guy loved it and appreciated me bringing him. I wish I could have done that sooner for him. Now he asks me to come and see the ballet. Can you see my smile?

This has become a mission that is close to my heart. Expose people, especially children who've never seen it, to art in any form. I am a member of the artistic advisory board of the Buck Hill-Skytop Music Festival. The organization is currently preparing for it's second year. I'm organizing a "Music and Dance" evening of performance, but before the festival I am heading into the schools in that area.

The Poconos are an artistically underserved community. And many of the children in the Poconos have never seen live performances of ANY kind. Together with the General Manager of the festival and a former modern dancer, Phil Chan, I will be heading into the Pocono Mountain School System to talk to the students about dance. We will be giving lectures comparing dancing with athletic sports and lectures discussing nutrition and dispelling common stereotypes of dancers and food. We will also be teaching master classes to the students exposing them first hand to dance and ballet. I am very excited to get this underway and am in fact working with the school system to create a program, which can be replicated throughout the country. Also, David Leventhal of the Mark Morris Dance Group will be heading sessions on how dance treats symptoms of Parkinson's disease. This is something I wish I had discovered sooner. My late grandfather suffered from this disease for years and I would have loved to have helped him to combat his symptoms. I can only hope this will prove useful to others with loved ones suffering.

All of this is part of the larger festival. The Buck Hill-Skytop Music Festival is dedicated to putting on world class performances, but also serves the community. There are many opportunities to see opera and dance for free and even chances to participate in performances. As part of my Music and Dance evening, I've invited some well known Pennsylvania ballet schools to perform with me to offer the public more exposure to how people become dancers. And I'll be dancing with Matthew Stockwell Dibble as my partner, a ballet dancer turned Broadway star to broaden the career path perspective.

I also believe in and love participating in dance when collaborating with other art forms. In these tough economic times, joining with other art forms to create interesting and dynamic programming is essential to our survival amidst budget cuts. Mr. Dibble and I will also be dancing in the opera "Carmen". Melding ballet into the opera, a very old tradition, I hope will prove a great bonus. Its a two for one exposure for the audience. I hope to keep this tradition going in the Poconos.

The Buck Hill-Skytop Music Festival, only in it's second year, is committed to staying and serving the Pocono Mountain community for years to come. Dr. David Mazza, the President of the Board, and Peter Mark, the Artistic Director, along with Phil Chan, have raised over half a million dollars in the past six months, ensuring there is a foundation for at least 3 years of summer festivals. And it is quickly expanding because of the excitement the festival has created in great performances. It is no secret that the arts are going through a tough time with the current economic climate, but there are still opportunities to make great art out there. Especially by those committed to community outreach and education.