After a week of thunderstorms, the sun is unusually shining through the floor-to-ceiling windows of Charlotte Ballet’s rehearsal space in Uptown. On this particular Friday afternoon, Director of Education and Community Engagement Bianca Bonner is leading seven young girls through the correct way to point their toes to stand in first position. These young dancers, some dressed in tights and leotards while others sport bright-colored shorts and t-shirts, are hopefuls auditioning for Charlotte Ballet’s Reach scholarship program.
Going into its 10th year, Reach is a three-year community outreach program that makes beginning-level dance training accessible to students at no cost. Students, ages 7 to 10, are selected based on a natural talent for movement, the potential to be trained in dance, and financial need.
“Access to the arts is extremely important for all communities. If you provide children with those opportunities, you’ll see that they will flourish,” Bonner said.
Dance is the only life that Bonner, 40, has known. She began dancing at six years old and later trained with Mary Barnett, a former associate director of Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater. Bonner continued her career as a professional dancer, choreographer and teacher before landing her current role at Charlotte Ballet in 2013. Although it doesn’t allow her much time to teach, she knows the power of exposure to the arts at a young age. She enjoys opportunities — like the Reach auditions — that connect her back to students.
“I’m originally from [the Bronx, N.Y.] where there was not a lot of opportunities, so I’m a Reach scholar in my own right,” she said. “It’s great being able to teach the children and give them something I was given at a young age.”
Through a partnership with the Mecklenburg County Parks and Recreation department, the selected students meet weekly from September to May at one of six local community centers; they learn ballet and another dance style taught by several teaching artists. First-year participants also receive free dance attire along with tickets to various Charlotte Ballet performances.
Final auditions for the Reach scholarship program will be held at 5 p.m. on Aug. 16 at Charlotte Ballet, 701 N. Tryon St. Audition applications and more information are available at charlotteballet.org.