Why Dance Is Essential for Our Youth

Tonight, Ballet Hispanico, a 42-year-old arts and education organization in New York City, proudly honors Randy Falco, CEO of Univision at our annual spring gala. Univision's mission is to inform, entertain and empower Hispanic America by connecting to their ever-growing constituency through innovative and targeted broadcast programming. Ballet Hispanico has a similar mission of celebrating and preserving Hispanic arts and culture, reaching its audience through performance and education. We are kindred spirits acting as cultural connectors as our country experiences sweeping demographic change.

Tonight we also honor our School of Dance. For 42 years, we have provided an extraordinary after-school experience for our students by teaching them the joy and beauty of dance, the Ballet Hispanico way. We do this, in part, because the public schools have abdicated their responsibility to provide a satisfactory arts curriculum. Who needs yet another argument advocating for the arts, and dance in particular, in public schools? We all do, until we own how vitally important it is in shaping a child's self-worth and inner creativity.

As board chair of Ballet Hispanico, I see firsthand the swan-like alteration that takes place in our programs. Many of our students are from under-privileged environments, traveling long distances on subways and buses to come to class. When they open our door, a palpable look of calm and excitement washes over their faces as everything else is left behind. I see it each and every day.

But, the real magic happens inside the studio. A young person stands at the barre a bit wilted from the stress of his or her young life. With gentle encouragement from a teacher, the spine straightens, the shoulders open, and the head and neck lengthen. The class is taught movements that strengthen their arms, their torso, and their legs. Their minds are challenged as they learn complicated combinations, propelling them forward in unison, gliding across the floor as one. What is desired on the football field or the basketball court -- aggressive behavior, personal bests -- is not desired here. What is a necessity in the world outside - defensiveness, toughness, a certain attitude -- is not needed here. What is prized in a dance class is commitment, confidence and personal best, wrapped in elegance and artistry. What is essential in a dance class is trust and the kind of teamwork that comes from having one's own safety literally being in the hands of others.

This is the unique and unequivocal truth about dance. With an upright torso, a posture of pride is created. With arms gracefully outstretched, a connection to the world is made.

At Ballet Hispanico, we joyfully fill the ever-widening gap that is a result of decreased funding for the arts.

How lucky are we to empower young people by helping them discover their own strength and inner beauty? Very lucky, indeed.