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Nonprofit Spotlight: Propelling low-income kids to a successful future from ‘The Wooden Floor’

LatinaLista — It started out as an experiment in 1983. Provide a summer ballet pilot class to low-income children in Santa Ana, California as a way for the kids to grow in self-esteem, self-discipline and gain a sense of accomplishment through dance. The other part of the experiment was that the class would be taught by Sr. Beth Burns of the Sisters of St. Joseph order.

Under Sr. Beth’s guidance her experiment grew from the St. Joseph Ballet, housed in the basement of an Episcopal church with a couple dozen students, to a magnificent 21,000 square foot all-purpose studio with over 300 students. The ballet troupe also adopted a new name, The Wooden Floor, which this year celebrates thirty years of providing at-risk children a future that includes college and life-long success.

Since 2005, The Wooden Floor has seen 100 percent of its students graduate from high school and go on to college. It’s not solely because of the 54 free dance classes the students receive each week but because The Wooden Floor provides tutoring and college prep courses, along with, family counseling and crisis interventions.

Because of the growth of its success, The Wooden Floor has gained wide-spread community support and attention. Each spring, the troupe holds an Annual Concert where the students collaborate with recognized choreographers to create contemporary dance.

The performances break down ethnic, gender, physical, age, and socio-economic stereotypes about who can inspire, create, perform, and contribute to the genre of contemporary dance. Furthermore, The Wooden Floor’s young artists bring their life experiences, perspectives, and pride to the art they create. In turn, they bring new creative energy, knowledge, and skills back to their families, schools, and communities.

Students, ages 8-13, must audition to join the troupe and auditions are held only in the fall after the completion of a special school outreach program known as Dance Free Weeks, which Sr. Beth started in the local schools to acquaint more children with dance.

Acceptance into The Wooden Floor is based on two criteria: financial need and the desire and ability to excel in dance and academics.

Academics is such a big part of the program that the school’s students due to graduate high school next year were given KAPLAN SAT classes free of charge. To make sure there’s no excuse for not fulfilling their ambitions, The Wooden Floor also awards scholarships to graduating students.

The Wooden Floor has seen three decades of young people chart a new course in their lives from poverty to self-sufficiency. We advocate for the power of art-making and the impact it has on changing lives and building healthy communities.

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