Boys & Girls Club ballerinas preparing for holiday show with help from grant, community businesses

Joy Hersey (left) takes her ballet class students at the Parkview Boys & Girls Club of Huntington County through a move at the barre on Monday, Nov. 6, in preparation for the troupe’s upcoming Christmas performance. Her students include (from left) Esther Michelle Messenger, 10; Avorie Monroe, 11; Alexis Smith, 10; Adreonna Monroe, 9; Kimora Bradin, 9; and Savannah Tyler, 9.
Joy Hersey (left) takes her ballet class students at the Parkview Boys & Girls Club of Huntington County through a move at the barre on Monday, Nov. 6, in preparation for the troupe’s upcoming Christmas performance. Her students include (from left) Esther Michelle Messenger, 10; Avorie Monroe, 11; Alexis Smith, 10; Adreonna Monroe, 9; Kimora Bradin, 9; and Savannah Tyler, 9. Photo by Rebecca Sandlin.

Originally published Nov. 16, 2017.

The curtain will rise on 10 local ballet hopefuls this holiday season, young ladies who might not otherwise have had an opportunity to learn the intricacies, nuances and plain ol’ fun of classical dance.

Nine girls in third through sixth grades are members of “Miss Joy’s” ballet class, a new program at the Parkview Boys & Girls Club of Huntington County.

Thanks to a grant from 21st Century Scholars and some help from the neighboring YMCA and local businesses, the fledgling ballerinas are practicing their positions in order to present a Christmas show at the club on Friday, Dec. 8. The show is free and open to the public.

Their teacher, Joy Hersey, says she had wanted to start a dance program since not long after she was hired at the club last January.

“I had thrown out the idea of starting a dance program,” she says. “They had never had dance here at the club. I’m really, really passionate about dance. They said, ‘That sounds like a really cool idea.’”

This is the second dance class that has begun at the club. The first one, which started in June, had both boys and girls signed up to learn the fundamentals of ballet.

Hersey comes by her passion for dance with experience. She obtained a bachelor’s degree in missions from Huntington University in 2013. She has danced since she was 14, having been trained at the Link School of the Arts, in Troy, MI. She has danced with the Fort Wayne Ballet and has taught dance overseas in Pristina, Kosovo, as part of a seven-month internship.

Hersey wanted to give kids — who might not otherwise have the chance or the resources to take the lessons — the opportunity to find the same passion she has for dance. She says this type of program has much to offer.

“It helps the girls with self confidence, having respect for themselves and for authority. We talk a lot about gratitude in the class,” she explains. “At the very end of each session the girls line up and they always curtsy to the teacher, to thank her for her time.”

The class at the Boys & Girls Club also allows pupils to explore art that is affordable.

“A lot of these girls had mentioned to me that they would love to be in dance and had wanted to be in dance classes for a long time, but it just isn’t very affordable for them, because you have to purchase the shoes, and the tights, and the leotard and the skirts, and then recital time comes around and those little costumes are at least $100,” Hersey says. “So, this is an opportunity for them to get the basics of dance and being at an affordable cost.”

Essentially, the program is free to the girls, courtesy of the grant, which also paid for ballet shoes. The class borrowed curtains from Huntington Baptist Church for performances, and stands to hold them up were loaned by Frederick’s Photography.

The inaugural performances in July were a success, attended by more than 50 people.

“The kids loved it. All except one of them had never performed in front of an audience for a recital or anything like that,” Hersey says. “The kids did great. The parents absolutely loved it.”

In addition to the live performance, which included a dance to the song “Priceless,” Hersey included videos of the students talking about what it means for them to be priceless.

“The kids just had such great responses that I ended up videotaping them and creating a video for the parents to see what are some struggles for kids nowadays at their age,” she says. “Like, bullying is really a struggle, especially cyber bullying, or not having parents be there to help them. And then, recognizing even in the midst of that that they’re priceless, and their value isn’t dependent on other people.”

Addison Ivey, 11, in sixth grade, says she enjoys being in the class, practicing the ballet moves and working with the other girls.

“When I was younger, I liked to sing and dance,” she explains. “I get to sing in church and here, I get to do dance, which is really good because it might inspire me when I grow up to be a dance teacher.”

Another pupil, fifth-grader Avorie Monroe, 11, has learned the meanings of the words dégagé, plié, tendu and others, French names for the different moves and positions of ballet. She says it’s an education she wouldn’t have otherwise gotten anywhere else.

“I love to dance and my mom doesn’t have enough money to pay for dancing, plus it’s free and we go to the Boys & Girls Club, so we signed up,” she explains. “I love learning all the dances and performing in front of parents and relatives.”

The young ballerinas will perform a selection from “The Nutcracker” among the dances they will perform in their Christmas Dance Showcase on Friday, Dec. 8, at 7 p.m. at the club, located at 608 East State St., Huntington. A cookie reception will follow. The girls will also give a performance at a local nursing home.

Plans include adding a second class for either younger or older students, as popularity in the program increases. Hersey also encourages more community involvement in the program, from attending performances to running lighting, sewing costumes and purchasing shoes.

“I think there are a lot of different ways for community members to be involved,” she says. “These girls work really, really hard, and I think just having somebody to support them — to come, take a half hour either evening to come see them perform is a big deal. Supporting local art is really important … to sponsor a dancer — get her a pair of shoes — would be really awesome.”