'Make them feel like they belong': Red River Dance expands access to the joys of dancing

Students involved in Red River Dance & Performing Company’s community outreach program will perform in the company's winter recital on Dec. 8, 2018. M.Schleif Photography / Special to The Forum

FARGO — Red River Dance & Performing Company gets the community into the holiday spirit with a dance recital every winter. But its upcoming “Snowed In” recital has a particularly special performance in store when students from CHARISM, Dakota Boys and Girls Ranch, Darby’s Dancers and Jeremiah Program join in on the fun.

The recital at 1 p.m. Saturday, Dec. 8, at Fargo North High School is part of the company's community outreach program to provide free dance classes to low-income youth, individuals with disabilities and senior citizens.

“We are a studio that is inclusive, so we pride ourselves in offering classes for all ages, abilities and demographics,” says Program Director Haylee Thompson. “When we can offer dance classes for free, that can change lives.”

Red River Dance & Performing Company staff works with youth from Darby’s Dancers, a nonprofit that gives people of all ages with special needs access to dance classes and performances. M.Schleif Photography / Special to The Forum

Red River Dance received a $23,000 grant from the Otto Bremer Foundation earlier this year to fund classes for more than 50 students involved in the four nonprofit organizations for 10 weeks. The “Snowed In” recital is the culmination of the program, and Thompson is proud of all of her students’ hard work over the past few months.

“You can tell they need an outlet, and (dance) can be an answer,” Thompson says. “More opportunities like this can change our world because if these kids aren’t being engaged in different environments, they need something that’s going to spark their desire to learn and make them feel like they belong.”

Thompson adds, “I am energized by these students and I want to see them shine and feel good about taking their first dance classes alongside experienced dancers.”

For everybody

At the recital, which is broken up into three performances at 1 p.m., 3:30 p.m. and 6:30 p.m., nearly 400 Red River Dance students will perform a variety of routines to upbeat music, slow songs and “traditional holiday music that everyone knows,” Thompson says.

Dancers from the community outreach program perform in the first time slot. Red River Dance has previously worked with Darby’s Dancers — a national nonprofit that gives all ages of people with special needs the opportunity to participate in dance classes and performances — but Thompson says this is the first time the organization has collaborated with youth from CHARISM, Dakota Boys and Girls Ranch and Jeremiah Program. Red River Dance has also been working with people at Bethany Retirement Living, although they are not performing in the holiday recital.

Red River Dance & Performing Company Program Director Haylee Thompson (center) leads a dance class with youth involved in the community outreach program. M.Schleif Photography / Special to The Forum

Expanding access to “the joy of dance to everybody” has been a priority for Thompson since she started leading Red River Dance five years ago. Her passion for inclusivity in the performing arts began when she took courses in New Zealand that explored how dance can facilitate education and self-expression in all sectors, particularly schools and nursing homes. The experience opened Thompson’s eyes to the many possible ways dance can make an impact, she says.

“What has kept me in the Fargo-Moorhead area is that I saw all of those (initiatives in New Zealand) and didn’t understand why we didn’t have it,” she says. “I loved that we could be pioneers for a program like this and be the first in our area to see where dance could go.”

Red River Dance hopes to continue growing the program to include more nonprofits that work with vulnerable populations in the area who could benefit from taking free dance classes.

“I think the authenticity of it all is what makes (this program) so amazing and unique,” Thompson says. “We have a plan, but we are learning and growing together. There is a lot to be done and we’re excited to be adaptable.”

If you go

What: Red River Dance and Performing Company's “Snowed In” Recital

When: 1, 3:30 and 6:30 p.m. Saturday, Dec. 8

Where: Fargo North High School, 801 17th Ave. N.

Tickets: $6 to $8; www.redriverdance.com

This article is part of a content partnership with The Arts Partnership, a nonprofit organization cultivating the arts in Fargo, Moorhead and West Fargo. For more information, visit http://theartspartnership.net.