While most young people were hitting the beach, heading to the malls and enjoying their summer breaks to the hilt, a local teenager was teaching dance to underprivileged children.
Dancing to the beat
Once a week for four weeks this summer, recent graduate Jessica Neighbors made it her mission to drive to downtown L.A. and spend time with the youth of the Sheenway Youth Enrichment Center.
A ballet dancer since she was four, the 17-year-old belonged to the Dancers Give Back Club at . The newly formed club’s vision is “sharing their passion for dance with others.”
Club founder and friend Quinn Miller invited her to join the club as it was being formed. “I thought it was a really cool idea,” said Neighbors, who became the club’s vice-president.
Open to all high school levels, the club had close to 25 members. The all-girls club met every other Wednesday during their lunch periods to catch up and talk about ways to get involved in the community.
“We would have loved to have boys in the club but there’s only so many of them that are into dance at this age,” said Neighbors.
Putting on their dancing shoes
For their initial project, the girls decorated large boxes and asked permission to set up them up at various local dance studios to collect used dance gear and shoes.
Neighbors was pleasantly surprised by their haul. “We collected so much and it was so easy to do,” she said.
Through Miller’s mom, the girls discovered the enrichment center. The decision was soon made to donate all the collected clothing and shoes to them.
“Everything just fell into place,” said Neighbors, who taught dance to young children ages five to 12.
“Not one of them had any dance background, but they had so much enthusiasm,” she said. On average, the volunteers would teach 18 to 20 youngsters at a time, she said.
Aside from basic ballet and jazz moves, the duo taught the underprivileged young learners stretching techniques, formation, choreography, stage presence and self-confidence.
The last week was tough for the young dancer. “One of them came up to me and asked when we were coming back,” she said. “It totally made my day, knowing that we were appreciated.”
At the culmination of the series, the participants showed off their new-found dance skills to the tune of “Boogie Oogie Oogie.”
After taking a bow, Neighbors and Miller surprised the youngsters with a “performance closet,” consisting of the collected dance gear, shoes and costumes, which they can use for special performances.
“We learned just as much about life from the kids as they learned about dance from us,” said Miller.
Getting her groove on
At UC Riverside, where she is headed this fall, the teen is planning to major in psychology and attend law school afterward. “I want to specialize in the representation of mentally ill patients,” she said.
Before courts and torts beckon, Neighbors anticipates setting up a club with a similar vision. “I hope I find friends and co-dancers who will want to do something like this with me,” she said.
“Maybe we can perform at a retirement home next time.”