By Lauren Wanko
Young dancers are practicing their moves. They’re part of the Kennedy Dancers Inner City Youth Junior Company.
“When you come into the dance studio, when you dance it’s like opening a new world,” said Dariya Kubska.
Founder Diane Dragone launched the professional dance company and school in 1976. A few years after opening the doors, the Jersey City native wanted to find a way to offer classes to moderate to low income kids in town.
“It’s too expensive to jump on a train and get to Manhattan and take classes over in the city. When you have to pay the rent, it’s more important to pay rent then take dance classes,” Dragone said.
There are more than 20 students in the program. They receive either full or partial scholarships and learn ballet, modern, tap, hip-hop, ethnic dance and more. Private and public donations and grants, along with fees from the dance school, cover the tab.
The Kennedy Dancers Inner City Youth Junior Company practices five days a week, for about three hours each time. They sometimes come in on Saturdays too. They have a lot to rehearse. That’s because they perform 10 to 15 times throughout the year here in state and in New York too.
“It gives me a chance to express myself and it’s an inspiration to other children,” said Ebony Greene.
Thirteen-year-old Greene says the dance program inspired her to become a chemist.
“We had numerous people come through the program who became doctors and lawyers and computer analysts. Dance and math go together. There’s sets, there’s numbers,” Dragone said.
“If I’m doing my homework, I’m thinking oh dance I should concentrate like how I do in dance and then I’ll concentrate even more on my homework,” Greene said.
Not every young dancer in the group is set on a career.
“It’s either two things, I either want to continue dancing or be a football star,” said Khalil Servance, 9.
Over the years, Dragone’s watched the kids learn about responsibility, team work and dedication.
“I think it’s very expressive, it transcends language. Especially teenagers, adolescents, they don’t communicate very well or they have different situations where they’re unhappy at home or whatever, it is adolescence, is tough dancing you can bring to the surface different issues. You can create dances about your issues, you can perform and feel good about yourself,” Dragone said.
“Sometimes if I have a problem in school and when it comes to dance I forget about it,” Kubska said.
“Now I get a lot of emotions out of my mind whenever I come to dance and I’m like a little more fit than before,” said Brianna Karioki.
How long does Kubska want to do this for? “As long as possible,” she said.
The Junior Company’s next performance is in March.