Kavi Zuniga stares intently in the mirror, hands resting gently on the barre, feet clad in soft shoes, coltish legs ready to execute the next plie or position.
“The overall point of our classes has been to teach you to move your legs independently of your upper body, correct? Everybody’s heard that correction a whole bunch of times. Remember that today. That’s what we want to go for today, and I’ll see just how much of the class over the past few weeks that you’ve retained,” says dance teacher and Oklahoma City Ballet company artist Gerald Pines as he leads Kavi and about 10 other children at the Boys and Girls Clubs of Oklahoma County Memorial Park location.
Reviewing exercises ranging from frappe and rond de jambe to releve and spotting turns was the focus of the final class of the school year for Project Plie, a program launched last fall by American Ballet Theatre to boost ethnic diversity in ballet dancers and support children who are interested in dance but might not have access to training.
“I’d done ballet when I was littler, but I stopped because it was too expensive,” said Kavi, 11. “I mainly like the turns and the kicks because they’re my favorite. ‘Cause they have the most work, and I think I like the challenge.”
Turning to dance
Oklahoma City Ballet is among seven companies in the country who have joined Project Plie, an initiative largely inspired by American Ballet Theatre soloist Misty Copeland, who is of African, Italian and German descent. The emerging ballet star, 31, was discovered at age 13 by a local dance teacher who came into a Boys and Girls Club to offer free classes.
The mission of Boys and Girls Clubs of America is to enable all young people, especially those who need help most, to reach their full potential as productive, caring, responsible citizens.
“Kids that want to be involved in Project Plie, they don’t pay any extra fees. And our fee is $5 a school year to be a member at the club,” said LaRissa Conn, volunteer coordinator at the Memorial Park site.
“A lot of our kids, they’re not used to seeing somebody that looks like them as a ballerina.”
OKC Ballet started offering classes every other Monday at the Memorial Park site in January. Along with the sessions, participants got to sit in on two of the company’s rehearsals and attend for free OKC Ballet’s productions of “The Nutcracker” and “Beauty and the Beast.”
“We saw Mr. Jerry, and we were like screaming his name,” Jaedan Jones, 9, recalled with a laugh. “I like how they put it all together ... and Jerry’s fun and he’s a good teacher.”
Teaching the steps
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To learn more
Oklahoma City Ballet’s Project Plie
•For more information on Oklahoma City Ballet’s Project Plie, go to www.okcballet.com.
•To donate to the project through Allied Arts’ power2give, go to http://power2give.org/centraloklahoma/projects and select “Project Plie.”