Using dance to inspire

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    Volunteers from the Malibu Ballet Society dance outreach program with students from Manzanita Elementary School in Newbury Park. The volunteers read a book that the dancers illustrated to the students. On Friday, students from inner city elementary schools will attend "The Nutcracker" performance at Pepperdine University.

    Betty Bailey/Special to The Malibu Times

    The Malibu Ballet Society’s production of “The Nutcracker” has been a Malibu tradition for 10 years. This year, the audience will come by the busload, literally, courtesy of Starbucks Coffee and Pepperdine University.

    Nearly 1,000 children from Los Angeles and Ventura County schools will be treated to special performances at Pepperdine’s Smother’s Theatre. It’s part of an outreach program for students in areas that are considered financially challenged. Students from the five schools will be transported by bus to Pepperdine University on Friday morning to watch the ballet.

    “The dance Outreach Program is dedicated to bringing dance into the lives of children from all walks of life,” Project Director Lisa Simon said. “We want to give them the opportunity to experience, to learn and to be inspired by the world of dance.”

    The program focuses on three key areas: education, performance and scholarship. The Ballet Society, a nonprofit organization, offers weekly, onsite dance classes in state-run children’s homes, hospitals and public schools. In addition, the society awards scholarships to talented young dancers who are in financial need and gives children who have life-threatening illnesses, or have come from abusive situations, a chance to learn and perform with the ballet. This week’s performances add the third key area by giving children the opportunity to experience dance in a theater setting.

    “We applied for a local literacy grant,” said Denise Ritchie, who handles public relations for the society and was one of the driving forces behind the outreach project.

    Ritchie said she heard about a local grant being offered by Starbucks and approached Starbucks manager Sandra Reisz.

    “The manager is a former dancer and she was terrific,” Ritchie said. “She’s even bringing 10 employee volunteers to the bus-in on Friday and she is volunteering to work at the show.”

    One of the qualifications in applying for the $1,000 grant is that the local Starbucks manager volunteers his or her time for the project. Ritchie credits Reisz with helping to pull it all together.

    “When you put in your zip code as 90265, you’re laughed out of the room. Nobody wants to give money to Malibu,” Ritchie said.

    To be eligible for the grant, the project had to include some form of text. To meet this criterion, the Ballet Society encouraged students to translate the ballet into a children’s book, which will be given to the students at the performances. Dancers who will perform wrote and illustrated a coloring book that tells the Nutcracker story. Volunteers from Starbucks, along with ballet students, went to the schools to read the story to the children who would later see the performance. The dancers from the ballet came along to demonstrate some of their moves.

    “We’re here to tell the story so you guys will understand when you watch the ballet,” Reisz said to an auditorium of second graders at Newberry Parks’ Manzanita School.

    “I like when they [the dancers] tip,” said 7-year-old Juan. “I would fall down.”

    “I like the shoes and the dancing,” said Angel, 7.

    “I like the rats and the fighting,” said Brandon, age 7.

    “In second grade here we study music and dance,” said teacher Sue Lewis. “It will be interesting to see a story told without words.”

    The students who will view the performances range from second to fifth grade.

    “Each principal at the school made the decision about who would go,” Ritchie said. “One school is sending 250 students.”

    Along with the grant from Starbucks, Pepperdine University is donating the auditorium and the use of several buses to transport the students.

    “This is the first of what we hope will be two projects a year,” Ritchie said. “One in the winter and one in the spring.”