Ailey II Dance Company Visits SOAR Learning Center

The Giving Coast

Pictured: SOAR Learning Students are captivated by a story time visit from Ailey II Dance Company. Photo by Sherri Proctor of Sherri's Island Images Photography.

Ailey II, a modern dance company founded in 1974 by Alvin Ailey delighted Van Wezel theatergoers last Thursday with some of the country’s finest young dance talent paired with the creative vision of outstanding emerging choreographers. The day before the spectacular performance, the students of SOAR Learning Center were treated to a visit from the dance company led by Artistic Director, Francesca Harper, along with two dancers who read Alvin Ailey, a children’s book written by Andrew Pinkney. The students, grades K-3, were captivated by the visit, as they listened to the story of Ailey's life, a life that left its imprint as much on the history of the American people as on the history of modern dance.

Alvin Ailey grew up poor in the small Texas town of Navasota, inspired by church services and the music he heard at the local dance hall. He learned to dance as an adolescent and spent some time with the best teachers he could find. Eventually, he started his own modern dance company, the Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater with a vision that dance is for everybody. Ailey was a pioneer of programs promoting arts in education, particularly those benefiting underserved communities. Throughout his lifetime, he was awarded numerous distinctions, including the Kennedy Center Honor in 1988 in recognition of his extraordinary contribution to American culture.

Celestine Campbell has been SOAR’s program director since 2005. As part of Black History Month, Campell and her team of dedicated teachers prepared the students for the visit by introducing them to Alvin Ailey as an entrepreneur back in his day, a person who wanted to dance without having many opportunities available to him. Like Ailey, many of the SOAR students lack opportunities and have fallen through the gaps in reading and math. Since its inception, Mrs. Jacquelyn Paulk, founder of SOAR, has tried to close the gaps by dedicating her career to lifting children out of failure and hopelessness— and into reaching their unlimited potential.

Donna Gora, Board Chair at SOAR knew that Ailey’s story would resonate with the students. “I wanted the children to meet the dancers and learn about Alvin Ailey’s life so that it might inspire them to read and dream," she said. Knowing that the company does community outreach, she contacted Ailey II’s company manager, Sumaya Jackson. Together, they facilitated the storytime visit and as a result, the children were entertained, educated, and inspired to dream. And as added bonus, Van Wezel donated 10 tickets to the performance for the children and families to see the Ailey II magic come to life on stage.

Located in the heart of North Sarasota's Newtown community, SOAR Learning Center empowers students to develop the skills they need to succeed at school and beyond.

Pictured: SOAR Learning Students are captivated by a story time visit from Ailey II Dance Company. Photo by Sherri Proctor of Sherri's Island Images Photography.

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