Thousands of Valley students get a taste of the arts

Many students in the Central Valley often aren't exposed to ballet until well after they graduate high school.
February 27, 2014 3:29:29 PM PST
Ballet originated in Europe in the 15th century, but many students here in the Central Valley often aren't exposed to it until well after they graduate high school.

Educators are trying to change that by using the ancient art form to teach kids about self-expression and hard-work.

Vision, energy and athleticism.

"I really liked it. We're really lucky to come see these things," said Conejo Middle School 8th grader Eloisa Cortez.

Nearly 3,500 students from communities like Laton, Oakhurst, Orange Cove and Traver gathered at the William Soroyan Theater in Downtown Fresno to get a taste of the performing arts.

"Schools as you know very well do not have enough funding to cover all the arts and there are children growing up not even knowing such a thing as classical ballet is in existence and it's a shame," said Valley Performing Arts Council Director Yukari Thiesen. "Only one ballet will show them what it is and give them an impression for the rest of their life."

Teachers like Traver School music instructor Julie Bernsen agreed.

"It is beyond important because the exposure to the cultural arts makes you a fully functioning human being," said Bernsen. "Traver is the smallest in Tulare and Kings Counties. There are only 700 kids in the whole town so just to be able to ride the bus up here is a blessing, this theater is a blessing and then to get to see Snow White it's all good."

The performance features professional dancers from the State Street Ballet of Santa Barbara and Fresno Ballet Theatre as well as nearly 40 student-dancers from the Valley.

"It's inspiring and it really gets us to work harder when we go back to the studio and say goodbye to the professionals," said University High School student-performer Erica Stevens. "We always remember what our experience was like and it makes us want to push ourselves harder."

Both Stevens and Bullard High School senior Savannah Rodgers said it's important to expose students, especially those in rural communities, to the types of arts they may not get in school.

"I think they get to see there's definitely a lot of hard work put into this," said Rodgers. "I mean you can't just learn it over one weekend. It takes a lot of practice and there's a lot of time spent rehearsing and going over and over and fixing all the little things to get stage ready."

Life lessons the kids definitely picked up on even though these dancers are expressing themselves through movement without the use of actual words.

"I learned that if you have a goal, you can reach it," said Conejo Middle School student Rodolfo Aguilar.

Proof the performing arts are more than just ballet.

Next week, students will get a taste at how difficult it is to perform ballet when some of the dancers travel to Valley schools to host a short dance workshop.

You too can catch their performance Friday night at 6:30 at the Saroyan Theater. Tickets start at $29 dollars for adults, $21.50 for kids 12 and under.


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