I had the fortunate role of being parent chaperone to three young women: Kaylee Oliver (17), Cara Poblete (14), and Jade Blankenship (11), company dance members of Ballet Excel Ohio (BXO), who performed at Leadership Akron’s Lieberth Community Vision Award at the John S. Knight Center in November.
The community leader awardee was Theresa Carter, president of Omnova Solutions Foundation, and a woman recognized for her philanthropic efforts in the community. What caught my attention was how Carter shared that she had never had any formal dance training and yet had the wherewithal to raise funds, her indomitable spirit flowing into the world of dance.
She truly has been a “moving” force who enjoined many to her purpose, serving the Akron community where she has worked for 30 years, supporting education through scholarships and direct funding for Akron Public Schools.
As a tribute to Carter’s altruistic achievements, the BXO trio executed a powerfully choreographed piece to Alicia Keys’ popular song, “Girl on Fire.” The dancers, fired with youth and vibrancy, essayed a passionate and moving number that befitted Carter, whose achievements no doubt, left a huge impact on our community.
My story does not end here. Days after our small contingent had returned to our corner of Akron, I discovered that many members at the annual breakfast Leadership Akron event were moved by the experience, sharing that they had been inspired by the dance number.
It was the topic of much discussion and I was told that the performance ought to be used as a commercial and campaign for women empowerment. Pondering over the positive impact the dancers had on the community’s leaders, I began to focus on promoting the message that both Carter and the dancers as “women of influence” imparted.
These young girls are the future “Theresa Carters.” They are already leaders in their own right, inspiring the community with their talent and tireless dedication. It dawned on me that these young dancers had the power to inspire others just as Carter has.
They may not have figured out the “WHY” yet, but already they are serving the community well, on stage and behind the scenes. If a handful of people I met happenstance within a week after that event were speaking glowingly of their performance, surely they touched many more who were present then.
The tireless training schedule is juggled with their academics and on that particular morning, the girls were at the Knight Center by 6 a.m. Dancers take as much as 12 to 15 absences from the school year to perform at special events in neighboring and underserved school districts.
Many of us parents are familiar with the rigorous training these girls have chosen to sign up for: as much as 25 to 30 hours weekly training that includes technique sessions and weekend rehearsals.
Their “community ambassadorship” encompasses the following: in-school visits to Dover; library appearances at Fairlawn, Kent, and Medina; special performances at Our Lady of the
Elms and IHM schools; outreach at Akron Children’s Hospital; seasonal performances at EJ Thomas Hall with the Akron Symphony, performances at Holiday Pops and with Groundworks Theatre (Rite of Spring, Carmina Burana); guest performances for community-based groups such as Leadership Akron, Arts Now, Harvest Fest Celebration in downtown Akron; and raising funds for Akron Children’s Hospital at the annual Holiday Tree festival.
Inspiring, empowering, and transforming lives
Such accomplishments present an impressive line-up for a group of young girls ( and boys) whose ages range from 8 to 18 years of age, prompting me to ask during Carter’s tribute event, “Can these youngsters possibly be the Junior Leadership Akron?” As these young, beautiful swans keep their graceful heads above water and give their final curtsies after each performance throughout the year, I marvel at their ease in gliding back into their busy lives, and just like swans, they paddle their feet rapidly underneath, the challenges and struggles unseen by most, gracefully weaving among school and studio engagements as well as family and social commitments.
As parents, we do our best to support our children in their pursuits, hopefully helping them find meaning in what they do; we remind them that the intangible rewards of bringing delight to others makes all the hard work worthwhile.
I consider myself lucky to have been a part of Carter’s awarding, a serendipitous experience that gave me an appreciation for genuine commitment and purpose in endeavors that reap benefits that redound not only to the community but to those lucky enough to be at the right place at the right time.
By her own example, Carter had moved people, combining her love for dance with altruistic fervor. I am moved by the thought that her talent in the performing arts appeal to audiences who come to watch with open minds and hearts, and who walk away with a smile and a spring in their step. It made me wish that the rest of our dancers would have the pleasure of meeting Theresa Carter if only to drink in her energy and dance in her captivating presence.
These women of influence in our Akron community, both Theresa Carter and our young dancers, are all “girls on fire” who inspire others through their youthful zeal and love for the arts. They will continue to dance with all their hearts while we watch with delight. It is what we can impart to our young, passionate dreamers and to the larger world beyond Akron: that there are causes worth fighting, causes that are beautiful and worth the fight. To echo the words of Winston Churchill, when it was suggested that funding for the arts be slashed to pay for Britain’s war: “Then what would we be fighting for?”
Dance Choreography for Girl on Fire performance at the John S. Knight Center by Kaylee Oliver, Cara Poblete and Joni Allen.
Artistic Director Mia Klinger, Ballet Excel Ohio
• The Nutcracker in collaboration with Wooster High School at the Wayne Center for the
Arts on Dec. 10 and 11
• USO Radio Show 1942 at Our Lady of the Elms on Feb. 15
• The Little Mermaid at the Akron Civic Theatre, March 11 and 12