Anyone Can Dance program makes dance affordable

Just as Chef Gusteau’s motto in “Ratatouille” was “anyone can cook,” senior Appalachian State University student Emily Sharpe’s motto is “anyone can dance,” which she also made the name of her pay-what-you-can dance program she created in Boone, North Carolina.

“Don’t tell Disney, they’ll come calling,” Sharpe laughed.

Sharpe started dancing when she was 3 years old at her aunt’s dance program in Charlotte, North Carolina, and she continued all the way through high school. She started to help teach dance classes when she was in middle school.

The 21-year-old from Matthews, North Carolina, is majoring in elementary education, with a concentration in social studies. It was a volunteer trip at the beginning of her freshman year at App State, serving lunch to homeless people at Hospitality House, that made her realize how much she missed teaching and sparked the initial idea of getting involved with dance again.

“I was watching the kids that were there, and I was thinking back to teaching [dance], helping teach in high school,” Sharpe said. “And I just thought about those kids and I was like, ‘I would love to teach dance again.’”

A hike with her friends later on further solidified her desire to get involved with dance and possibly create her own dance program, as one of her friends made a comment about there being a sizable gap between the upper and lower classes in the High Country in Boone.

“I was like, wow, it’d be cool to have a dance program that is open and easily accessible to those kids,” Sharpe said. “Because a lot of dance programs will offer scholarships spots, but they tend to be few and generally not for younger kids and a lot of times based on talent, and while that’s great and all, I feel like everybody should have that chance to take dance class, even if they do not have natural talent. They might just have fun with it and that’s fine, or they it might take them longer to develop that natural talent.”

After she came up with the idea, Sharpe said she spent a long time trying to find a space. For a while, she reached out to studios and churches with no luck, but on her way to ballet class at App State one day, she finally got a call from Holly Rivers, studio owner of Northwestern Studios in Boone, who said she was interested in Sharpe’s program idea.

Anyone Can Dance officially began in January 2018, the second half of Sharpe’s freshman year in college. For the first semester, they used the space for just the price of utilities, but they have since become an umbrella program under the studio.  

Emily Sharpe helps a student while teaching a ballet class with Anyone Can Dance (Contributed).

It is a pay-what-you-can dance program for children ages 3 to 12, which involves a sliding scale payment plan depending on income.

“Dance is such an expensive activity to participate in, even at a young age,” Sharpe said. “Like tap shoes are $25 for little kids.”

“And then when you get older, it’s the costumes, it’s the pointe shoes. It’s just so expensive to try to participate in something like that, and so part of the Anyone Can Dance is that anyone can do it and then also, that everyone should get that opportunity. They shouldn’t be hampered by if you have enough money, if you have the right connections.”

The program is also funded by donations, which they mainly acquire through their performances. Instead of charging for recital tickets, they ask for donations. Sharpe said they do occasional fundraisers here and there, including Facebook fundraisers. They also have links and information on their website for donations year-round through PayPal, Venmo or checks.

They also collect and take donations in the form of ballet and tap shoes for students to use if parents cannot afford to buy them.

The program has eight classes in total this year that encompass four different age levels, and all classes are taught by students from App State. Many of the classes are combo classes of ballet and tap, but the older classes take ballet and tap separately. They currently only teach ballet and tap, but Sharpe, who graduates from college in May, is working on transitioning the program over to one of her other teachers, who she told could add on more classes like jazz or modern if she wants to.

Sharpe said the COVID-19 pandemic has affected the program in two main ways – a loss of students and decrease in performance opportunities.  

The past two years, Sharpe said they have had about 65 students enrolled in the program, but in fall 2020 they only had about 32. However, enrollment is now closer to 40 for this spring. She said COVID-19 concerns have been a big impact, and now that they are capping classes a lot smaller to accommodate social distancing, they do not have as many dancers in the studio.

The program’s performances have also taken a toll due to the pandemic. They usually have two performances every year, which is how they get most of their money for costumes for rent. However, they have not made any money from performances this year, which Sharpe said could impact how they are able to do their spring recital.

Although they have not been able to put on their usual, full performances this year, Sharpe has created a few small performance opportunities for the dancers because she believes that performances are very beneficial for students.

Anyone Can Dance students perform a ballet routine on stage (Contributed).

“I believe that the performances help so much in giving those kids confidence, giving them the opportunity to show what they’ve worked on and also for some of these kids who don’t have as many opportunities to do sports or things,” Sharpe said. “These [performances] are really important things that they can invite family members and friends to and just share what they’re doing.”

More than just performance opportunities, Sharpe believes that exposing children to dance in general is important, which is another reason why she wanted to start the program in the first place. She said that dancing helps people regulate their emotions and understand musicality. It is a form of exercise and a way to tell stories. No matter a person’s body shape or financial status, or whether they want to be a professional or dance for fun – anyone can dance.

“It’s just something that I think kids who participate in it gain so much across so many areas,” Sharpe said. “It’s not just building muscle strength or something like that. It’s muscle strength plus confidence, plus being able to regulate your emotions. And then that’s just you dancing, and then dance itself has like your dance family where you gain friends and the parents gain relationships with other parents, and there’s so much more than that.”

As Sharpe prepares to transition the program over to someone else in the next few months, she said she is hopeful that in the future the program will build up to offering more classes, gain more students and have more dance students from App State help with the program.

“I just want it to keep going,” Sharpe said.

To learn more about Anyone Can Dance, visit https://sites.google.com/appstate.edu/anyonecandance/home.

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