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Hope Stone brings dance to the NOLA populace

Local not for profit organization Hope Stone offers local youths from various financial backgrounds access to performing arts education.

Local not for profit organization Hope Stone offers local youths from various financial backgrounds access to performing arts education.

It’s taken more than a year, but Dana Reed has transformed Hope Stone, an unusual community dance center, from being a local satellite of a Houston program to a 100 percent New Orleans-based, not-for-profit organization.

“It took a long time, but we are completely separated from the Houston original; we’re a locally-based 501(c)3 organization,” Dana explains. More than that, she says, it’s an organization looking for young, motivated school-age wannabe dancers and performers whose families might need a financial boost. Because the one thing Dana hates is “empty spaces in our classes.” So she’s encouraging families with limited financial resources who have children from 3 years to high school-age to apply for scholarships.

“Hope Stone New Orleans believes in providing arts for all; that’s why we have these scholarships,” she says. “We want every child who walks through these doors to receive a quality dance experience.”

The doors she’s talking about are the ones at the entrance to a beautifully renovated old firehouse at Toledano near Carondelet Street. There, Dana and a staff of dancers, musicians and visual artists teach children of all ages how to find their own styles.

For 8- to 12-year-olds, that may mean creating and writing their own plays or, in this center that clearly leans to dance, learning Broadway-style jazz and tap steps. There are ballet classes for 6-to-8-year-olds and creative movement experiences for those as young as 3.

Dana, who hails from Meridien, Mississippi, graduated with a degree in dance and dance education from the University of Southern Mississippi. She, like so many other aspiring performers across the country, left her home state as soon as she could for the Big Apple and Broadway. Even though she landed a number of significant dance gigs, the grind of that lifestyle grew old. So in 2010, when she got a call from the Houston-based Hope Stone organization to come to New Orleans and open an arts outreach program for at-risk kids, she jumped at it.

In the few years she has been running the Hope Stone program, she has arranged for families in all walks of life to take advantage of the cultural experiences offered in this state-of-the-art dance center. There even are free modern dance classes for adults on Tuesday and Thursday mornings and a small café for parents to hang out in while waiting for their children.

But while there is a great emphasis on the opportunities for children from limited-means families, no one is turned away for lack of financial resources.

“We offer middle-income families financial assistance as well,” Dana says. “We do it through a sliding scale that we work out with each family. When needed, we also do a pay-what-you-can plan. If families can’t afford dance shoes, we’ll get them for them.”

For information on classes and available scholarships, go to hopestoneneworleans.org.

Sharon Litwin is president of NolaVie. Email her at [email protected]