Homeless children learn ballet and life lessons

TAMPA - Children growing up in poverty or homeless usually do without the finer things. But some very special teachers and volunteers are making sure they don't go without fine arts.

Through an outreach program between the Patel Conservatory at the Tampa Bay Performing Arts Center and Metropolitan Ministries, children from kindergarten through fifth grade are taught music, ballet and modern dance. Tuesday was their big performance at the TECO Theater.

"It's quite an accomplishment, especially considering we have only about 40 minutes a week to work with them," explains dance teacher Glynn Owens.

Some of the children are homeless, living with their parents and attending school at Metropolitan Ministries on Florida Avenue in Tampa. Others live in the challenged neighborhood surrounding the agency.

But those harsh realities were forgotten on stage in the glow of stage lights and parental pride.

Barry Altman was there to see his 1st grader, Ariana, dance in a tutu sewn by Jefferson High School design students.

"She's in the gifted program, and she's got an I.Q. of 141," boasted the proud dad.

The kids were pretty proud of themselves, too. But we wondered if ballet was a harder sell for the boys. Eight-year-old Joshua Powell said some of his friends don't understand.

"They laughed at me, but I'm O.K.. They don't know a lot of stuff like leaps and step hops and galloping," said Joshua.

And as it turns out, popular culture is on Joshua's side. Shows like "Dancing with the Stars," featuring the world's top athletes have made dancing cool for everyone.

"All those shows inadvertently tell guys it's O.K. to dance. It's O.K. to express yourself and that's made it easier to get the boys to buy in," said Owens.

The boys and girls have both bought in, learning that discipline and practice can bring joy and replace the darkness of their circumstances with a very bright light.

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